EA imageResearch Topic:

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement focusing on getting the most good out of charitable activities (donations of money, time, and effort).  It has received much popular attention, but a number of philosophical issues surrounding it remain under-explored.  For example:

  • What is the best statement of effective altruism as a philosophical view, and what is its relation to consequentialism, deontology, or virtue ethics? Is the view tenable?
  • What is the most important cause? Fighting extreme poverty, reducing existential risks, or what? To what extent, if at all, should we take into consideration the well-being of possible future persons? How should we decide where to give if there is no clearly best cause?
  • To what extent is progress in ethical theory a priority, from an effective altruist perspective? For example, how important is it to figure out what well-being consists in, or to solve problems in population ethics?



  • Theron Pummer, “Whether and Where to Give” (public lecture for the St Andrews Philosophy Society, October 2015); see this follow up piece by The Saint.
  • Debate: “Charity Starts at Home” (St Andrews, February 2016).
  • Conference on The Philosophical Foundations of Effective Altruism (St Andrews, March 2016).
  • Theron Pummer, “Effective Justice” (public lecture for Glasgow’s Giving What We Can chapter and for the St Andrews Philosophy Society, September 2016).
  • Jeff McMahan (Oxford), “Doing Good and Doing the Best” (public lecture for the St Andrews Philosophy Society, November 2016) with comments by Theron Pummer.
  • Workshop on Effective Altruism: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford, November 2016), including talks by Ben Sachs and Theron Pummer.
  • Caspar Hare, “Rational Gifts” (CEPPA Talk, January 2017).
  • Theron Pummer, “On Failing to Put My Money Where My Mouth Is” (at Philosophers and the Philosophical Life, St Andrews, February 2017 and for St Andrews’ Giving What We Can chapter, March 2017).
  • Rufaida Al Hashmi and Theron Pummer, “The Philosophy and History of Effective Altruism” (for the St Andrews Branch of the Association of University Administrators, April 2017).
  • The Ethics of Giving Conference (St Andrews, May 2017 – keynote by Peter Singer, talks by Elizabeth Ashford, Adam Etinson, Ben Sachs, Tobias Jung, and many others); see Singer interviewed by The Saint and by Fife Today.
  • Theron Pummer, “Avoid Gratuitous Nonbeneficence” (presentation at a one-day workshop on effective altruism at Trinity College Dublin, October 2017).
  • Larry Temkin (Rutgers), talk on Effective Altruism and Obligations to the Distant Needy (public lecture for the St Andrews Philosophy Society and the Effective Altruism St Andrews, February 2018, based on Lecture 3 of the 2017 Uehiro Lectures, delivered at Oxford). Responses to Temkin by Theron Pummer, Matthew Clark, Peter Singer, Angus Deaton, Will MacAskill, and others are forthcoming in a 2019 issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics.
  • Theron Pummer, “Optimizing Outside Options” (talk given at the Moral Philosophy Seminar at Oxford, April 2018).
  • Theron Pummer, “Whether and Where to Give” (talk given at a masters workshop at the University of Edinburgh in May 2018).
  • Theron Pummer, “Suboptimal Charity” (public lecture for the St Andrews Philosophy Society in October 2018; discussed in a pre-read seminar at the Centre for Ethics, Law and Public Affairs at the University of Warwick in October 2018; talk at Oxford and the London School of Economics, March 2019).
  • Theron Pummer, “Rescue and Charity” (for a master’s class at the University of Edinburgh, March 2019).
  • Theron Pummer, “Effective Altruism, Incommensurability, and Intransitivity” (talk for EA Sweden, April 2019).

Publications and Works in Progress:

  • Theron Pummer:  “Whether and Where to Give” (Philosophy and Public Affairs 2016, featured in a PEA Soup discussion and winner of the 2017 PEA Soup Readers’ Choice Paper Prize); “Risky Giving” (The Philosophers’ Magazine 2016); “Effective giving: how the world’s wealthy could help millions more people for free” (The Conversation 2017, republished in EconoTimes and Alliance); “All or Nothing, But if Not All, Next Best or Nothing” (The Journal of Philosophy 2019); “Charity and Partiality” (in Ethics and the Contemporary World, Routledge); “Effective Altruism and Each-We Dilemmas” forthcoming, Journal of Practical Ethics (co-authored with Matthew Clark – this paper is a reply to Larry Temkin); “Effective Altruism” forthcoming, International Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Hugh LaFollette (co-authored with William MacAskill); “Effective Justice” (under review, co-authored with Roger Crisp); Effective Altruism for Everyone (book in progress, under contract with Oxford University Press).
  • Elizabeth Ashford:  “Severe Poverty as an Unjust Emergency” (The Ethics of Giving, Oxford University Press 2018).
  • Theron Pummer and Hilary Greaves are co-editing a volume called Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2019), which will include the following contributions: William MacAskill, “The Definition of Effective Altruism”; Stephanie Collins, “Beyond Individualism”; Ben Sachs, “Demanding the Demanding”; Emma Saunders-Hastings, “Benevolent Giving and the Problem of Paternalism”; Richard Chappell, “Overriding Virtue”; L.A. Paul (with Jeff Sebo), “Effective Altruism and Transformative Values”; Amanda Askell, “Evidence Neutrality and the Moral Value of Information”; Andreas Mogensen “The Callousness Objection”; and more.

Affiliated Student Organisations:


  • In autumn 2016, Theron Pummer and Tim Mulgan co-taught an honours-level course at St Andrews on effective altruism.
  • In autumn 2017, Theron Pummer and Tim Mulgan co-taught an MLitt seminar on population ethics.


  • Currently seeking funding for: teaching buyouts, postdoctoral researchers, PhD scholarships, postgraduate research assistants, and events.
  • The March 2016 Effective Altruism conference was funded by the British Academy.
  • The May 2017 Ethics of Giving conference is funded by the Mind Association, the Society for Applied Philosophy, the JN Wright Trust, and the Scots Philosophical Association.


  • Theron Pummer (St Andrews Philosophy), Project Leader
  • Ben Sachs (St Andrews Philosophy)
  • Elizabeth Ashford (St Andrews Philosophy)
  • Adam Etinson (St Andrews Philosophy)
  • David Ulph (St Andrews Economics)
  • Margaret Leighton (St Andrews Economics)
  • Tobias Jung (St Andrews Management and Director of the Centre for the Study of Philanthropy & Public Good)
  • L.A. Paul (UNC Chapel Hill Philosophy and St Andrews Arché)
  • Peter Singer (Princeton University Center for Human Values)
  • William MacAskill (Oxford Philosophy)
  • Hilary Greaves (Oxford Philosophy)
  • Roger Crisp (Oxford Philosophy)
  • Andreas Mogensen (Oxford Philosophy)