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Will Crouch, University of Cambridge

Does philanthropy propagate an unjust system?

A week ago, Peter Buffett—the son of business magnate Warren Buffett—published an op-ed in The New York Times on what he called “the charitable-industrial complex.” His central thesis was that modern-day philanthropy is a form of “conscience laundering”: by engaging in large public acts of giving, the rich “sleep better at night” while keeping “the… Read More »Does philanthropy propagate an unjust system?

Wall St, Charity, and Saving the World

Today I started writing for Quartz magazine, the Atlantic’s new on-line business magazine.  My first article is on saving the world by funding charities rather than working for charities – a topic that I’ve written on previously for the Practical Ethics blog. The basic idea is that, often, one can do more good by choosing to fund not-for-profits rather than work for them directly – and that a good way to fund them is to ‘earn to give’, that is to deliberately take a high-earning career and donate a large chunk of one’s earnings to the best causes.

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The most important unsolved problems in ethics (Or, How to be a high impact philosopher, part III)

In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert published a list of 23 of the most important unsolved problems in mathematics. This list heavily influenced mathematical research over the 20th century: if you worked on one of Hilbert’s problems, then you were doing respectable mathematics.

There is no such list within moral philosophy. That’s a shame. Not all problems that are discussed in ethics are equally important. And often early graduate students have no idea what to write their thesis on – and so just pick something they’ve written on for coursework previously, or pick something that’s ‘hot’ at the time. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine the same is true of many other academic disciplines.  Read More »The most important unsolved problems in ethics (Or, How to be a high impact philosopher, part III)

How to be a high impact philosopher, part II

In a previous post, I discussed how, as a philosopher, one should decide on a research areas.  I suggested that one method was to work out what are potentially the biggest problems the world faces, work out what the crucial normative consideration are, and then work on those areas.  Call that the top-down method: starting with the problem, and working backwards to the actions one should take.

There’s a second method for high impact philosophy, however.  Let’s call it the bottom-up method.

  1. Begin by asking ‘which are the biggest decisions that one typically makes in life?’
  2. Then ask: ‘What are the crucial normative considerations that might affect how I should make those decisions?’
  3. Then figure out which of these crucial considerations is most likely to produce an action-relevant outcome given your marginal research time.
  4. Then work on that topic!

As in my previous post, I’ll go through each step in turn.

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How to be a High Impact Philosopher

Philosophy is often impractical. That’s an understatement. It might therefore be surprising to think of a career as a philosopher as a potentially high impact ethical career – the sort of career that enables one to do a huge amount of good in the world. But I don’t think that philosophy’s impracticality is in the nature of the subject-matter. In fact, I think that research within certain areas of philosophy is among some of the most important and practical research that one can do. This shouldn’t be surprising when one considers that philosophy is the only subject that addresses directly the fundamental practical question: what ought I to do?

In this post I’ll focus in on normative ethics, practical ethics, and decision theory. Within these areas, I’m going to give a recipe for choosing research topics, if one wants to maximise the practical importance of one’s work as a philosopher. Here it goes:

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The P-Factor

Electoral reform is an often-discussed topic.  But the issues often concern minor modifications to the status quo. Here I suggest an entirely new approach to electing leaders of a country.  It would have numerous benefits over the current system, including: –       Better voter turnout –       Better representation of the working classes among those who vote… Read More »The P-Factor