The weekly link roundup is where I list links for the links that I liked for the week. Remember that I don’t necessarily agree with everything stated in every article. Feel free to comment or ask. Lastly, it may be worth noting that I do try to sort these links in the order that I like them, descending. You can see the other roundups via the category page.
- Encourage Discussion, Not Defensiveness: “Getting more people behind a cause you care about can be a great way to really multiply your impact. To do this you need to be able to communicate your ideas in a way that allows people to engage with them fully. But this isn’t always easy. Rather than encouraging constructive discussion, presenting new ideas – especially about moral issues – can often spark confrontation.”
- Why Local Food is Not Effective Altruism: “I’m going to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on ‘local food’ and then later ‘fair trade’ to explain why I don’t think they are worth putting much effort into. I hope it will inspire you to do the same for whatever approaches you currently use to make the world a better place.”
- Professional Philanthropy vs. Professional Influencing: “To discuss cost-effectiveness, we will use a point of comparison. Let’s put ourselves into the shoes of Jane. Jane is a professional donor, someone who earns money and donates it as cost-effectively as possible. If Jane earns a typical American income for forty years and donates 10%, she can expect to save 44,000 years worth of healthy life. One day, however, Jane makes a change. She cuts down her hours at her relatively well-paid job so that she can no longer afford to donate in order to spend more time persuading other people to donate professionally. As a philanthropic influencer, will she save more years of life or less?”
- Value Receptacles [PDF]: “Utilitarianism is often rejected on the grounds that it fails to respect the separateness of persons, instead treating people as mere ‘receptacles of value’. I develop several dierent versions of this objection, and argue that, despite their prima facie plausibility, they are all mistaken. Although there are crude forms of utilitarianism that run afoul of these objections, I advance a new form of the view ‘token-pluralistic utilitarianism’ that does not.”
- Read History of Philosophy Backwards: “Back when I was in college, my chief complaint about my philosophy course was that it spent all its time teaching things that Aristotle or Plato or Descartes thought that were just obviously wrong. [...] None of these classes were billed as “history of philosophy”, but as “philosophy” itself. [...] Today I was discussing Sartre with a friend, and a lot of the discussion centered around why people care about Sartre. Sartre’s main point – that no one else can tell you who you are, and you choose what your own values are – seems so cliched, so much like what an uncreative graduation speaker might say – that it hardly seems worth elevating him to the Canon Of Philosophical Greatness. My hypothesis – and I don’t know if it’s true – is that this is only cliched now because Sartre won. The point of studying Sartre is not to learn that you choose your own identity, but to read him backward – to start with this idea that choosing your own identity is obvious, and then read Sartre to learn exactly how controversial it was at the time and what sorts of arguments Sartre had to go through to get people to accept it, and eventually understand the position that the original reader of Sartre was supposed to have started with.”
- The Cobra Effect: “Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “The Cobra Effect.” The gist: when you want to get rid of a nasty pest, one obvious solution comes to mind: just offer a cash reward. But be careful — because nothing backfires quite like a bounty. This is a story-filled episode that looks at the unintended consequences of trying to control everything from traffic to rodent populations to dangerous gases.”
- Study Shows Gender Bias in Science is Real. Here’s Why it Matters.: “Half the scientists were given the application with a male name attached, and half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. Results found that the ‘female’ applicants were rated significantly lower than the “males” in competence, hireability, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student. [...] The scientists also offered lower starting salaries to the “female” applicants: $26,507.94 compared to $30,238.10.”
- The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty [YouTube]: “Are you more honest than a banker? Under what circumstances would you lie, or cheat, and what effect does your deception have on society at large? Dan Ariely, one of the world’s leading voices on human motivation and behaviour is the latest big thinker to get the RSA Animate treatment.”
- Bill Gates Reviews “The Better Angels of Our Nature”: “People often ask me what is the best book I’ve read in the last year. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined stands out as one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever. The book is about violence, but paints a remarkable picture that shows the world has evolved over time to be a far less violent place than before. It offers a really fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world. Pinker presents a tremendous amount of evidence that humans have gradually become much less violent and much more humane. The trend started thousands of years ago and has continued to this day. As I’m someone who’s fairly optimistic in general, the book struck a chord with me and got me to thinking about some of our foundation’s strategies.”
- Deontology is a Bug: “There are two possibilities: (1) Objects and events have physical properties, which we indicate when we speak of morally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actions [or] (2) Type-2 shouldness is a bug. Those who favour explanation #1 face a serious problem. If the physical act of murder has a little physical tag attached to it, made of atoms, which says ‘bad’, then the Universe’s complexity is vastly increased. Occam’s razor, or Solomonoff induction, strongly prefers simple theories, which don’t propose the existence of these little tags littering the world. In addition, putative moral properties are suspiciously anthropomorphic. Why should features of the external environment, independent of human brains, be such a good fit for our contingent, evolved intuitions?”
- Book Review: The Swerve, Part 1: “But Epicurus didn’t stop just because he had invented atoms, molecules, relativity, and quantum indeterminacy three centuries before Christ. He went on to say that the universe was made mostly of void, that within the void were millions of worlds, that many of these worlds had life on them, and that the Earth held no special place in the Universe. Since he mentioned life, he proposed that the first life-forms had come about as random arrangements of atoms, and that other more complicated life-forms evolved from these first forms by natural selection. Humans were merely another life-form that had evolved in this way, albeit the most advanced and rational. They originated as primitive hunter-gatherers, but formed more complicated societies when they realized the advantages of the rule of law, eventually creating the complicated city-states and empires of his own day.”
- What The 2012 Election Would Have Looked Like Without Universal Suffrage: “President Barack Obama has been elected twice by a coalition that reflects the diversity of America. Republicans have struggled to win with ever-higher percentages of the shrinking share of the population that is white men — ‘a Mad Men party in a Modern Family world,’ in the words of one strategist.
But at America’s founding, only white men could vote, and the franchise has only slowly expanded to include people of color, women, and — during the Vietnam War — people under 21. These maps show how American politics would have looked in that undemocratic past.”
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