Work-in-Progress Session: "In Defense of Timidity"- Effective Altruism and Longtermism

Tuesday, January 30, 2024 13:00to14:00
Leacock Building Room 927, 855 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 2T7, CA

This work-in-progress seminar will feature "In Defense of Timidity", a paper about effective altruism and longtermism by Keven Bisson, a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at McGill. The seminar will feature a short conference about the paper, followed by a Q&A discussion. Please read the paper prior to the WIP session.

Read the paper


Longtermism is the view that individuals and societies ought to prioritize interventions focusing on long-term consequences like mitigating existential risks. Longtermism is supported by the argument showing that long-term projects have a much higher expected value than short-term projects.

The comparison faces an issue arising when prospects having tiny probabilities of vast payoffs (long-term prospects) have a greater expected value than prospects having a significant probability of a modest payoff (short-term prospects). The prospect with a tiny probability is intuitively so unlikely that it cannot be preferable even if it has a higher expected value even though its has a much higher expected value.

There are two plausible views on this issue: recklessness (favouring long-term prospects) and timidity (favouring short-term prospects). Both views face many crucial objections.

I defend timidity by exposing the three main objections to recklessness and adding two new objections. I then present and respond to timidity's three most significant objections. I argue that a timid discounting view with a range threshold answers two objections and that the last objection can be answered with a slight modification of the discounting.

I conclude that if timidity is true, longtermism does not hold for individual contributions as their contribution for the long-term is discountable. Only societies could have a longtermist duty.

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