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In case you’re interesting in teaching EA classes: I’ve done a major overhaul of my ‘Psychology of Effective Altruism’ course that I’ve been teaching since 2018. The newly updated, complete syllabus (21 pages) is here. The class schedule, topics, readings, and videos, with complete links (which might be the most useful bits for other EAs) are copied and pasted at the end of this introductory text.

In 2018 I shared the first version of the syllabus in this post on EA Forum. That class assigned the William MacAskill (2016) book Doing good better as the main required textbook. It also included a pretty heavy load of fairly technical reading, including journal papers in moral philosophy and psychology, plus a lot of optional readings and videos. The focus was on psychological aspects of EA, such as moral psychology, utilitarian ethics, cognitive biases in cause prioritization and existential risk assessment, animal sentience and welfare, cognitive and moral enhancement, emerging neuro-technologies (whole brain emulations, robotics, extended reality), artificial intelligence, digital sentience, and career choices. We did not spend as such time on philosophical, governance, economic, or technical AI alignment issues. 

I taught this initial version of the class 3 times, in 2018, 2019, and 2020, to about 8-12 students each year (mostly undergraduates, with one or two grad students each term). It got good reviews from students, the discussions were fun and spirited, and the term papers students wrote were pretty good. However, in retrospect, the required reading load was too demanding for the typical undergraduates at my university. And the MacAskill (2016) book is now somewhat outdated. I’ve also found that that is an increasing number of short, high-quality EA-related videos on YouTube that undergrads enjoy watching, and that serve as helpful complements to assigned readings.

So, in updating this course, I tried to be as realistic as possible about what my undergrads can actually handle in terms of readings and videos, and the depth and complexity of ideas they can follow. Most of my students are psychology majors, with very little background in moral philosophy, economics, cognitive science, computer science, or other typical EA fields. I teach at a large state university in New Mexico, USA, that includes students with a wide range of cognitive abilities, motivation levels, backgrounds, and ages. Many of them are first-generation college students, military veterans, parents with young kids, or recent immigrants with English as a second language. 

The class meets once a week for the 15-week term, for a 2.5-hour class session. We meet in a small seminar room; most of the class time is spent discussing the readings and videos. I give a few mini-lectures using Powerpoint slides (available on request, if you email me: gfmiller@unm.edu )

I’d welcome any suggestions for good readings, videos, exercises, topics, etc for next time I teach this. Feel free to use, borrow, modify, and update any elements from my syllabus if you think they might be useful for your own teaching. 

Below is the course schedule, including topics, readings, and videos, with links.

 

Schedule of topics and readings week by week

Note: Each reading includes word count and expected reading time (assuming 200 words per minute reading speed). Each video includes duration of content in minutes and seconds (mm: ss). 

Class 1: Course overview and mechanics

  • Required videos: none
  • Required readings: none

Class 2: Introduction to Effective Altruism

Required videos:

  • Caring about future people is common sense. Will MacAskill on The Daily Show. (2022). Link. (11:56 mins). 
  • Effective Altruism: A global movement of do-gooders (2022). Global News channel. Link. (9:23 mins)
  • Highlights from EA Global: San Francisco (2022). Centre for Effective Altruism channel. Link. (2:09 mins)
  • There are vast tragedies happening right now that we are failing to see (2021). Rational Animations channel. Link. (7:18 mins)
  • Longtermism: An idea that could save 100 billion trillion lives. (2021). Rational Animations channel. Link.  (6:11 mins)

Required readings:

  • Four ideas you already agree with (2022) by Sam Deere. Link. (1,400 words; c. 7 mins)
  • What is Effective Altruism? (2020) by Centre for Effective Altruism. Link. (3,000 words; c. 15 mins)
  • 500 million, but not a single one more (2014) by Jai. Link. (700 words, c. 4 mins)
  • The world is awful. The world is much better. The world can be much better (2022) by Max Roser. Link. (1,200 words; c. 6 mins)
  • Jaeger, B., & van Vugt, M. (2022). Psychological barriers to effective altruism: An evolutionary perspective. Current Opinion in Psychology, 44, 130-134. (3 pages, 1,500 words, 8 mins) Link

Optional videos:

  • Welcome to Effective Altruism. Peter Singer. Ethics Lectures. (2022). Link. (6:39 mins)
  • Introduction to Effective Altruism for Christians. (2021). EA for Christians channel. Link. (5:00 mins)
  • The Egg: A short story by Andy Weir. (2019). Kurzgesagt. Link. (7:54 mins)

Class 3: Cause prioritization: Evidence-based analysis 

Required videos:

  • Bjorn Lomborg: Global priorities bigger than climate change (2007). TED. (17:27 mins) Link 
  • Why farmed animals? Cause prioritization explained. (2019). Animal Charity Evaluators. (2:14 mins) Link
  • What are the most important moral problems of our time? (2018). Will MacAskill TED talk. (11:54 mins) Link 
  • Our top 3 lessons on how not to waste your career on things that don’t change the world (2018). 80,000 Hours. (6:45 mins)  Link 
  • Fable of the dragon-tyrant (2018). CGP Grey. (12:43 mins) Link

Required readings:

  • Scope insensitivity: Failing to appreciate the numbers of those who need our help. Animal Ethics. (1,300 words; c. 7 mins)  Link
  • On caring. (2014). Nate Soares (‘So8res’), EA Forum (2,900 words; c. 15 mins) Link 
  • Marginal impact (2022). Probably Good. (1,000 words; c. 5 mins) Link
  • Global priorities research (2022). Roman Duda for 80,000 Hours. (4,400 words; 22 mins)  Link 
  • EA Survey 2020: Cause prioritization. (2021). David Moss, EA Forum. (1,000 words, c. 5 mins). Link 

Optional videos:

  • What is triage? (2017). ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospital. (1:18 mins). Link 
  • The Eisenhower matrix: How to manage your tasks. (2012). Eisenhower. (2:24 mins) Link 
  • One billion dollars. (2011). Gustavo A. Rios. (3:25) Link
  • Why die? (2017). CGPT Grey. (4:35 mins) Link
  • Why age? (2017) Kurzgesagt. (6:48 mins) Link 

Class 4: Utilitarian philosophy and psychology

Note: This class is cancelled, due to Geoffrey being out of town; material for this class will be combined with Class 5 

Class 5: Moral psychology, the moral circle, empathy, and dissonance

Note: This week includes some material that normally would appear in Class 4.

Required videos:

  • Philosophy: Utilitarianism: Peter Singer (2017) Hay Levels (2:54 mins) Link
  • Utilitarianism: Crash Course Philosophy #36 (2016) CrashCourse (10:00) Link 
  • The psychology of morality (2022). Professor Dave Explains (16:49 mins) Link 
  • Joshua Green on learning to use our moral brains (2012). CID Harvard (18:13 mins) Link 
  • Why I’m against empathy: Paul Bloom (2022) Big Think (4:54 mins) Link 
  • The moral roots of liberals and conservatives: Jonathan Haidt (2012). Ted-Ed. (18:39 mins) Link 

Required readings:

  • A utilitarian FAQ (2000). Ian Montgomerie. (10,000 words; 50 mins) Link [Note: You only need to read the sections through ‘Common questions about utilitarianism’; you don’t need to read the 27 ‘Common criticisms of utilitarianism’)
  • Moral psychology for the twenty-first century (2013). Jonathan Haidt, J. of Moral Education, 42(3), 281-297. (7,000 words; 35 mins) Link 
  • Empathy and its discontents (2016) Paul Bloom, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(1), 24-31. (4,700 words; 24 mins) Link 
  • Is it time to take the ‘you’ out of utilitarianism? (2022) Charles Kenny, Center for Global Development. (1,600 words; 8 mins) Link 

Optional videos:

  • The psychology of moral grandstanding: Brandon Warmke (2019). Big Think. (7:18 mins) Link
  • Why moral people tolerate immoral behavior: Liane Young (2020) Big Think (5:04 mins) Link
  • Why your brain loves feeling outraged and punishing people’s bad behavior: Molly Crockett (2017) Big Think (6:46 mins) Link 
  • Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality (2012). CBS News (13:32 mins) Link

Class 6: Effective charities, ethical consumerism, and virtue-signaling

**Term paper stage 1 due in class: Provisional title, abstract, and bibliography

Required videos:

  • How to find the highest impact charities (2021). Giving What We Can (12:49 mins) Link 
  • Ethical consumerism (2022) Ethical consumer (2:59 mins) Link 
  • What makes a company ethical? (2022) Ethical consumer (7:26 mins) Link 
  • Effective altruism and virtue signaling: Diana Fleischman interviews Geoffrey Miller (2019). Geoffrey Miller channel. (40:29 mins) Link

Required readings:

  • Process for identifying top charities (2022). GiveWell. (2,100 words; 10 mins) Link 
  • Why is it so expensive to save lives? (2022). GiveWell (800 words; 4 mins) Link
  • What are the best charities to donate to in 2023? (2023) Giving What We Can (1,800 words; 9 mins) Link 
  • Miller, G. F. (2012).  Sex, mutations, and marketing. EMBO Reports, 13(10), 880-884. (2,700 words; 14 mins) Link 
  • Conspicuous consumption will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now (2019) Peter Singer in Vox. Link (700 words; 4 mins) Link 

Optional videos:

  • What charity really means (2016). The School of Life (4:50 mins) Link
  • Consumer ethics (2016) Isaac Manley (3:21 mins) Link
  • Why invest ethically? (2020). Wealthify. (1:50 mins) Link 
  • Sustainable selves (2019, based on a 2013 book chapter) Geoffrey Miller channel (22:10 mins) Link
  • Waste is good (2019, based on a 1996 essay) Geoffrey Miller channel (41:48 mins) Link   

Class 7: Global poverty and health

Required videos:

  • A selfish argument for making the world a better place: Egoistic altruism (2018) Kurzgesagt (7:14 mins) Link 
  • Poverty & our response to it (2017) CrashCourse (8:53 mins) Link
  • Overpopulation & Africa (2019) Kurzgesagt (7:42 mins) Link 
  • Is giving money directly to the poor a good idea? (2015) ReasonTV (8:20 mins) Link
  • Cash transfer recipients in Kenya tell their stories (2020) GiveDirectly (3:12 mins) Link 
  • Cardano Africa: A vision for Africa with Charles Hoskinson (2021) Input Output (8:37 mins) Link 
  • Bed nets for Benin (2020) Bill Gates (3:25 mins) Link 
  • The most gruesome parasites: Neglected tropical diseases (2016) Kurzgesagt (5:42 mins) Link
  • The fly catchers fighting river blindness (2016) Al Jazeera English (3:00 mins) Link 

Required readings:

  • Global health and development (no date) Jess Whittlestone. Effective Altruism. (4,000 words; 20 mins)  Link 

Optional videos:

  • Extreme poverty: Choices (2014) USAID Video (2:12 mins) Link 
  • There is only one way out of poverty (2017) PragerU (4:10 mins) Link 
  • A counterintuitive solution to poverty: Stop trying to eradicate it: Efosa Ojomo (2019) TEDx Talks (9:25 mins) Link 
  • Why is it so hard to escape poverty? Ann-Helen Bay (2022) TED-Ed (4:45 mins) Link
  • Joy Sun: Should you donate differently? (2014) TED (7:39 mins) Link 
  • Universal basic income explained: Free money for everybody? (2017) Kurzgesagt (10:05 mins) Link

Class 8: Existential risks: Psychology and practicalities

Required videos:

  • The 4 greatest threats to the survival of humanity (2022) TED-Ed (5:23 mins) Link 
  • The precipice: Existential risk and the future of humanity: Toby Ord (2020) Centre for Effective Altruism (20:12 mins) Link 
  • Doomsday Machine author Daniel Ellsberg says Americans have escaped self-annihilation by luck (2017) PBS NewsHour (7:00 mins) Link 
  • How synthetic biology could wipe out humanity: Rob Reid (2019) TED (16:36 mins) Link
  • Psychology of existential risk and longtermism: Stefan Schubert (2019) Centre for Effective Altruism (26:58 mins; Note: you only need to watch the first 19 minutes, before the Q&A) Link [Note 2: A full transcript of this video is available here]
  • Why alien life would be our doom: The great filter (2018) Kurzgesagt (9:35 mins) Link 

Required readings:

  • The case for reducing existential risk (2017/2022) by Ben Todd, 80,000 Hours. (7,200 words; 36 mins) Link 

Optional videos:

  • Peter Singer: Extinction risk & Effective Altruism (2014) Science, Technology, (6:57 mins) Link 
  • Existential risk: Managing extreme technological risk (2017) CSER Cambridge (13:01 mins) Link 
  • Effective altruism, existential risk, and existential hope: Max Tegmark (2017) Centre for Effective Altruism (35:10 mins) Link 
  • Everything might change forever this century (or we’ll go extinct) (2022) Rational Animations (32:34 mins) Link 
  • Engineered viruses are the new biological weapons (2019) Seeker (9:18 mins) Link 

Class 9: Artificial Intelligence as an X-risk: Psychology and ethics

Required videos:

  • The power of intelligence (2023) Rational Animations. (Based on a 2007 essay by Eliezer Yudkowsky). (7 mins) Link 
  • What is Artificial Intelligence? (2019) Simplilearn (5 mins) Link 
  • Journalist had a creepy encounter with new tech…. (2023) CNN (7 mins) Link 
  • Slaughterbots (2019) Dust (8 mins) Link 
  • Aligning AI systems with human intent (2022) OpenAI (4 mins) Link 
  • Is AI a species-level threat to humanity? (2020) Big Think. (17 mins) Link 

Required readings:

  • Preventing an AI-related catastrophe (2022) Benjamin Hilton for 80,000 Hours. Note: just read up to the section header ‘What you can do concretely to help’ (about 2/3 of the way through the essay). (9,700 words; 49 mins) Link 
  • AI alignment with humans… but with which humans? (2022) Geoffrey Miller for EA Forum. (900 words; 5 mins) Link 

Optional exercise: 

  • If you haven’t already spent some time using Chat GPT, please use this link and sign up for an account. Once you’re verified, spent a few minutes asking it some challenging questions, and see how it does.

Optional readings:

  • AI Principles from the 2017 Asilomar Conference (2017) Future of Life Institute (700 words; 4 mins) Link 
  • AI Alignment (2023) Wikipedia. (4,800 words; 24 mins) Link 
  • The religion problem in AI alignment’ (2022) Geoffrey Miller for EA Forum (3,300 words; 17 mins) Link 

Optional videos:

Class 10: Moral and cognitive enhancement

**Term paper stage 2 due in class: Revised abstract, outline, and bibliography

Required videos

  • The scientific and ethical elements of human enhancement (2016) Pew Research Center (3:37 mins) Link 
  • Peter Singer: Suffering, ethical progress, & moral enhancement (2014) Science, Technology, & the Future (6:55 mins) Link 
  • Moral enhancement: Julian Savulescu (2016) Science, Technology, & the Future (3:08 mins) Link 
  • Smart drugs: Dave Asprey (2019) Big Think (4:25 mins) Link 
  • Couples therapy with MDMA? Brian Earp & David Rabin (2021) The Doctors (4:58 mins) Link
  • Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now (2011) TED (8:23 mins) Link 
  • About genomic prediction (2022) Genomic Prediction (4:57 mins) Link

Required readings

  • Hendricks, S. (2021) Moral enhancement explained: Can science make us better people? Big Think. (1,200 words; 6 mins) Link
  • Dresler, M., et al. (2019). Hacking the brain: Dimensions of cognitive enhancement. ACS Chemical Neuroscience, 10, 1137-1148. (5,500 words; 28 mins) Link
  • Miller, G. (2013). Chinese eugenics. Edge.org Link (1,000 words; 5 mins) Link

Optional videos

  • What will humans look like in 100 years? Juan Enriquez (2016) TED (15:45 mins) Link 
  • Max More: Transhumanism and the Singularity (2012) Science, Technology, & the Future (20:43 mins) Link
  • Psychedelics are fueling a mental health revolution (2020) Bloomberg Originals (11:42 mins) Link 
  • Cognitive enhancement: Anders Sandberg (2016) Science, Technology, & the Future (15:44 mins) Link 
  • Genomic prediction, IVF, and the first baby screened for polygenic disease risk: Steve Hsu (2021) Foo Camp. (6:54 mins) Link 
  • Genetic engineering will change everything forever: CRISPR (2016) Kurzgesagt (16:03 mins) Link

Class 11: Ethics of robots, brain emulations, and virtual reality

Required videos:

  • This is how Boston Dynamics robots evolved in 10 years (2012-2022) (2022) Wefiliates (1:23 mins) Link 
  • Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses now work with Spotify (2022) CNET Highlights (3:00 mins) Link 
  • Ready Player One (2018): the Oasis scene (2018) TrashPanda Movie Clips (4:48 mins) Link
  • Blade Runner 2049 scene (2017) FelixB (4:16 mins) Link 
  • What would happen if we upload our brains to computers? Robin Hanson (2017). TED (12:16 mins) Link 
  • Is reality real? The simulation argument (2017) Kurzgesagt (8:45 mins) Link

Required readings:

  • Jacy Reese Anthis (2023) Key questions for digital minds. Sentience Institute (2,000 words, 10 mins) Link
  • Holden Karnofsky (2021) Digital people FAQ. Cold Takes. (4,600 words, 23 mins) Link 

Optional videos

  • Are we living in a simulation? Zohreh Davoudi (2019) TED-Ed (4:23 mins) Link
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the Simulation Hypothesis (2020) StarTalk (7:52 mins) Link 
  • Whole brain emulation and neuromorphic AI with Anders Sandberg (2016) Science, Technology, & the Future (10:43 mins) Link 
  • Several ‘Black Mirror’ episodes concern life as an Em (an uploaded mind): ‘San Junipero’, ‘USS Callister’, ‘Hang the DJ’, ‘White Christmas’, 
  • Best movies about Ems, androids, and post-humans: The Matrix (1999), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), I, Robot (2004), Free Guy (2021) 

Class 12: Animal sentience and welfare I

Required videos:

  • You can prevent animal suffering. Here’s how (2022) Giving What We Can (10:07 mins) Link 
  • What is sentience? (2020) Animal Ethics (10:59 mins) Link 
  • How do animals experience pain? Robyn J. Crook (2017) TED-Ed (5:06 mins) Link 
  • Do insects feel pain? (2018) Draw Curiosity (7:07 mins) Link 
  • What fish feel when they are killed for food (2020) NowThis News (3:00 mins) Link 
  • Wild animal suffering: An introduction (2020) Animal Ethics (10:09 mins) Link

Required readings:

  • Understanding evolution made me vegan (2013) Diana Fleischman. Dianaverse. (2,000 words; 10 mins) Link 
  • Animal ethics and evolutionary psychology: 10 ideas (2020) Diana Fleischman. Dianaverse (2,800 words; 14 mins) Link 
  • Past interventions with promising future welfare applications (2022) Amy Klarup for Wild Animal Initiative (1,400 words, 7 mins) Link 

Optional videos:

  • Why the insect brain is so incredible: Anna Stockl (2016) TED-Ed (4:22 mins) Link 
  • Invertebrate sentience (2020) Animal Ethics (12:08 mins) Link 
  • Should vegans care about wild animal suffering? Jacy Reese Anthis (2021) Humane Hancock (8:25 mins) Link

Class 13: Animal sentience and welfare II

Required readings:

  • Farmed animal fundamentals (2023) Faunalytics (1,300 words, 7 mins)  Link 
  • The ethical case for eating oysters and mussels: part 1 (2013) Diana Fleischman. Dianaverse (1,200 words, 6 mins) Link
  • The ethical case for eating oysters and mussels: part 2 (2013) Diana Fleischman. Dianaverse (1,500 words; 8 mins) Link 
  • UK passes its own animal sentience act after leaving EU (2022) Andrew Rowan. WellBeing International. (1,100 words, 6 mins) Link 

Required videos

  • Why meat is the best worst thing in the world (2018) Kurzgesagt (8:48 mins) Link
  • Why is chicken so cheap? (2019) The Economist (6:23 mins) Link 
  • What if the world became vegan? (2017) BBC Earth Unplugged (5:58 mins) Link
  • Why are vegans so annoying? (2017) Thinking Out Loud (7:31 mins) Link
  • Rethinking the future of lab-grown meat (2022) Seeker (9:04 mins) Link

Optional

  • Can lab-grown steak be the future of meat? (2022) Insider Business (8:14 mins) Link – good
  • Why are vegetarians annoying? (2016) vlogbrothers (3:54 mins) Link

Class 14: Career choices and life strategies

Required readings

  • 80,000 Hours (2022). The highest-impact career paths our research has identified so far. (1,600 words; 8 mins) [Note: It’s OK to just read the material in this post, but also feel free to do some deeper dives on some of the recommended career paths that sound interesting, by clicking on the ‘read more’ links]  Link 
  • Todd, Benjamin (2021). Personal fit: Why being good at your job is even more important than people think. 80,000 Hours. (1,600 words; 8 mins) Link
  • Fastest growing occupations (2021) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (200 words; 2 mins) [Plus, click on a few specific occupations to learn more] Link
  • ChatGPT may be coming for our jobs. Here are the 10 roles that AI is most likely to replace (2023) Business Insider  (1,700 words; 9 mins ) Link

Required videos:

  • How to find fulfilling work (2015) The School of Life (5:12 mins) Link
  • What are you doing with your life? (2021) Kurzgesagt (9:35 mins) Link
  • The rise of the machines: Why automation is different this time (2017) Kurzgesagt (11:40 mins) Link 

Optional videos:

  • 9 best jobs for the future (2022) Tae Kim (15:17 mins) Link 
  • Want to change the world? Start with your career: Amarins Veringa (2022) TEDx Talks (14:20 mins) Link 
  • The big debate about the future of work, explained (2017) Vox (9:02 mins) Link 
  • Will AI take our jobs? Sam Altman and Lex Fridman (2023) Lex Clips (9:57 mins) Link 
  • The School of Life has many excellent videos about work and careers in its ‘Work + Capitalism’ playlist

Optional readings:

  • Starter Guide (2022) 80,000 Hours. (A free 155 page pdf book on career strategies). 
  • I also recommend taking advantage of the free one-on-one career advice calls that 80,000 Hours offers. This can be helpful whatever stage you’re at in thinking about your future career Link 

Class 15: Last day of class: The future of altruism

**Term paper stage 3 due in class: Final term paper

Required videos

  • Past predictions of the future every decade (2020) Hochelaga (10:02 mins) Link 
  • China never sleeps: Rise of the megacities (2021) Reporterfy Media (3:26 mins) Link 
  • Can we make the future a million years from now go better? (2022) Rational Animations (9:56 mins) Link 
  • The Egg: A short story by Andy Weir. (2019). Kurzgesagt. Link. (7:54 mins)
  • Grand Central Station: Street Lovingkindness (2015) Sharon Salzberg (1:47 mins) Link 

Optional videos

  • Everything might change forever this century (or we’ll go extinct) (2022) Rational Animations (32:34 mins) Link 
  • Longtermism: An idea that could save 100 billion trillion lives (2021) Rational Animations (6:11 mins) Link 
  • Why age? Should we end aging forever? (2017) Kurzgesagt. (6:48 mins) Link 
  • What if humanity is among the first spacefaring civilizations? (2022) PBS Space Time (20:49 mins) Link 
Comments4
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:03 AM

Thanks for sharing! My suggestion at a high level would be to include more materials with a somewhat critical perspective for balance purposes. That may be challenging given the reading/watching time constraints you identified, but including most of them in the optional reading/watching section would mitigate that. (I'm also curious if the requirements for grad students match those for undergrads; the suggestion above would apply particularly to grad students.) 

Jason - this is an interesting issue. In previous iterations of this class, I included more anti-EA critiques. But, honestly, the anti-EA critiques mostly relied on moral intuitions that many students already have. So, the same points tend to come up organically in the seminar discussions, as students raise issues, objections, and criticisms.

In other words, the added value from including anti-EA critiques, above and beyond the critiques that students already think up on their own, has proven fairly limited.

Another take on this might be: very few anti-EA critiques are any more informed or sophisticated than the arguments that a typical undergrad at a state university can make for themselves.

PPS I've uploaded all the powerpoint slides for this course to a dropbox folder, and I can send you a dropbox share link if you email me (gfmiller65@gmail.com). 

PS For links to other people's EA course syllabi, Pablo Stafforini has been keeping a very helpful list here

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