Sensitivity of Cause Prioritization to Moral Frameworks

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Zeynep Hansen


A concern of Effective Altruism (EA), a community focused on maximizing positive impact, is prioritizing causes based on their effectiveness. Cause prioritization (CP) researchers bring evidence and rigor to the practice, but when prioritizing between cause domains (“inter-domain” cause prioritization, e.g. cancer research vs. extreme poverty), moral judgments are likely to be made. This paper analyzes the sensitivity of CP to changes in underlying moral foundations among individuals. Do changes in moral foundations dramatically change CP preferences? Consistent priorities among people with different moral foundations would suggest universalizability of CP. If moral foundations have a strongly correlated with CP however, it would suggest that we should be cautious about CP prescriptions. A survey will be sent to several EA facebook groups, as well as the economics department at Boise State. The survey includes a questionnaire created by MoralFoundations.org that has been widely used for identifying differences in moral foundations between people of differing political affiliation. The data are expected to show that EAs had fairly homogenous moral foundations, and that their CP still varies significantly, which would suggest inter-domain CP may not be an effective use of resources.

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