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How we hope you will approach the program

Taking ideas seriously

Often, conversations about ideas are recreational: we enjoy batting around interesting thoughts and saying smart things, and then go back to doing whatever we were already doing in our lives. This is a fine thing to do — but at least sometimes, we think we should be asking ourselves questions like:

  • “How could I tell if this idea was true?”

  • “What evidence would it take to convince me that I was wrong about an idea?”

  • “If it is true, what does that imply I should be doing differently in my life? What else does it imply I’m wrong about?”

  • “How might this impact my plans for my career/life?”

And, zooming out:

  • “Where are my blind spots?”

  • “Which important questions should I be thinking about that I’m not?”

  • “Do I really know if this idea/plan will help make things better or not?”

Answering these questions can help make our worldviews as accurate and full as possible and, by extension, help us make better decisions about things that we care about.

Disagreements are useful

When thoughtful people with access to the same information reach very different conclusions from each other, we should be curious about why and we should actively encourage people to voice and investigate where those disagreements are coming from. If, for example, a medical community is divided on whether Treatment A or B does a better job of curing some disease, they should want to get to the bottom of that disagreement, because the right answer matters — lives are at stake. If you start off disagreeing with someone then change your mind, that can be hard to admit, but we think that should be celebrated.


Helping conversations become clearer by changing your mind in response to arguments you find compelling will help the community act to save lives more effectively  Even if you don’t expect to end up agreeing with the other person, you’ll learn more if you acknowledge that you disagree and try to understand exactly how and why their views disagree with yours.

Be aware of our privilege and the seriousness of these issues

We shouldn’t lose sight of our privilege in being able to read and discuss these ideas, or that we are talking about real lives. We’re lucky to be in a position where we can have such a large impact, and this opportunity for impact is the consequence of a profoundly unequal world. Also, be conscious of the fact that people in this program come to these discussions with different ideas, backgrounds, and knowledge. Some of these topics can be uncomfortable to talk about — which is one of the reasons they’re so neglected, and so important to talk about — especially when we may have personal ties to some of these areas.

Explore further

This handbook aims to introduce people to effective altruism in a structured manner. There are far too many relevant topics, ideas, and research for all but a small fraction of them to fit into this very short program. If you are interested in these topics, you may find it very useful to dive into the linked websites, and the websites those sites link to, and so on.

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