What does it mean to “do good”?

What does it mean to “do good”?

One way of defining “doing good” is “having a higher social” impact, where your social impact is given by the number of people (or non-human beings) whose lives you improve and how much you improve them, over the long term. (Source.) This presents a more consequentialist perspective.

Alternatively, you might think the best way to do good is to preserve the world by fighting climate change, mitigating existential risks, or generally helping the world flourish.

But there are lots of different philosophies and approaches to doing good.

Is it even possible to compare different approaches to doing good?

We have limited resources for doing good, and so even when we’re actively trying to avoid pitting good projects against each other, we are in fact prioritizing some over others. We can either use the best methods we have for this, or we can arbitrarily privilege the status quo, causes we’re already aware of, or people who are near us or similar to us.

So even though we haven’t found the perfect method for comparing different causes or methods of doing good, we still want to do it as well as possible.

Is self-sacrifice necessary?

You can try to do a lot of good while living happily and accomplishing your personal goals: self-sacrifice is unnecessary.

It’s really difficult to untangle our motivations, but we don’t really need to do that in order to do good. Ultimately, if you put yourself in a place where you’re helping people, then you’re helping, whether or not you do that for pure reasons.

I’d rather live in a world where everyone is selfishly altruistic than in one where everyone is torturing themselves selflessly without helping anyone, and I’m guessing you would, too (but who knows).

What if I really care about helping fight climate change?

It’s great that you care about climate change mitigation, and that people are working on this problem. You can help in several ways, and if you’re intentional about how you choose to, you can have a much bigger impact.