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The Good GlowCharity and the Symbolic Power of Doing Good$
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Jon Dean

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781447340027

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447340027.001.0001

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Effective altruism and ignoring charity’s symbolic power

Effective altruism and ignoring charity’s symbolic power

(p.143) 7 Effective altruism and ignoring charity’s symbolic power
The Good Glow

Jon Dean

Policy Press

This chapter presents an alternative way of thinking about charity: the effective altruism movement. It explores how the movement's proponents deal with the concept of the symbolic power of doing good, when that movement's central desire is for one to see past the symbolic power of charity, to be able to ignore it, so one can throw off the shackles of clumsy emotion and really focus on putting charity to work, for as much good as it can muster. One needs to remove the ‘thrill’ from charity because ‘relying on good intentions alone to inform your decisions can be potentially disastrous’. This feeds into a critique of the consequences of ‘moral licensing’, where people who perform good or charitable actions ‘often compensate by doing fewer good actions in the future’, showing that ‘people are often more concerned about looking good or feeling good rather than actually doing good’. By applying data and rationality to a charitable endeavour, one does not rob the act of virtue but instead do the more virtuous thing, which is to act on more than virtue. Ultimately, there is a need to basically bypass the social norms and symbolic rewards offered by charity and doing good.

Keywords:   charity, effective altruism, symbolic power, moral licensing, charitable actions, good actions, virtue, social norms, symbolic rewards

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