Agents seeking to use their resources to impartially do the most good – for instance, many in the effective altruism community – must prioritise among many different global problems, and many means of tackling them. This priority-setting requires answers to thorny questions, both normative and descriptive, and both philosophical and applied. It is these questions which the workshop (and global priorities research more broadly) seeks to answer.
Here are some examples of such questions.
• How does the variation of the cost-effectiveness of interventions within social causes compare to the variation of cost-effectiveness among causes?
• When faced with the opportunity to purchase small probabilities of astronomical welfare payoffs, can altruistic actors rationally depart from expected utility maximization?
• Given the ethical implications of discounting across generations, and the empirical difficulties of estimating time preference in the absence of long-term investments, how should we discount costs and benefits that occur in the distant future?
• How can economic tools most rigorously be used to estimate policy and intervention impacts on animal welfare (as distinct from human preferences regarding animal welfare)?
• How, concretely, should we adapt (endogenous) growth models to weigh the benefits that growth may pose for the long term against the catastrophic risks that may come with technological development?
• How can mainstream cost-benefit analysis methodology most fruitfully be generalized so as to account for policies’ impacts on future populations’ identities and sizes, under various views in population ethics?
• How can institutional mechanisms be designed so as to incorporate the interests of future generations?
• What forecasting methods, if any, are well-suited to long-term prediction?
• What characteristics of individuals and choice-contexts predict ‘pure’ vs. ‘warm glow’ altruistic behaviour?
• How can results from the mechanism design literature help altruistic individuals and organisations to coordinate in a more effective manner?
• What is the best feasible voting system from the perspective of impartial welfarism?
• Are we both rationally and morally required to maximise expected moral value, even when doing so involves producing extremely low probabilities of extremely high payoffs?
• What form/s of welfare should altruists promote (and what does this imply in practice)?
• Should we accept longtermism: the view that the primary determinant of the differences in moral value of the actions we take today is the effect of those actions on the very long-term future? And, in practice, what actions should a longtermist take?
• How should we compare benefits to humans and to non-human animals?
• How can we measure the welfare of non-human animals (and what do these methods imply in practice)?
• Do we have moral reasons to bring future persons into existence, and how do these compare to our reasons to benefit present (or necessary) persons?
• How might other duties (e.g., those arising from issues of justice) interfere with duties of beneficence?
• How should altruists respond to uncertainty over which moral theories are correct?
• To what extent should a government take actions that are better for the world even if they conflict with the interests of their own citizens?
• How should we respond to different forms of evidence about how effective different actions are in promoting value?
For further examples, see the research agenda of the Global Priorities Institute at the University of Oxford.