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Robert_Wiblin comments on Contra the Giving What We Can pledge - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 09 December 2016 10:47:22PM 1 point [-]

Firstly: I think we should use the interpretation of the pledge that produces the best outcome. The use GWWC and I apply is completely mainstream use of the term pledge (e.g. you 'pledge' to stay with the person you marry, but people nonetheless get divorced if they think the marriage is too harmful to continue).

A looser interpretation is better because more people will be willing to participate, and each person gain from a smaller and more reasonable push towards moral behaviour. We certainly don't want people to be compelled to do things they think are morally wrong - that doesn't achieve an EA goal. That would be bad. Indeed it's the original complaint here.

Secondly: An "evil future you" who didn't care about the good you can do through donations probably wouldn't care much about keeping promises made by a different kind of person in the past either, I wouldn't think.

Thirdly: The coordination thing doesn't really matter here because you are only 'cooperating' with your future self, who can't really reject you because they don't exist yet (unlike another person who is deciding whether to help you).

One thing I suspect is going on here is that people on the autism spectrum interpret all kinds of promises to be more binding than neurotypical people do (e.g. https://www.reddit.com/r/aspergers/comments/46zo2s/promises/). I don't know if that applies to any individual here specifically, but I think it explains how some of us have very different intuitions. But I expect we will be able to do more good if we apply the neurotypical intuitions that most people share.

Of course if you want to make it fully binding for yourself, then nobody can really stop you.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 20 December 2016 02:47:51AM 6 points [-]

Secondly: An "evil future you" who didn't care about the good you can do through donations probably wouldn't care much about keeping promises made by a different kind of person in the past either, I wouldn't think.

[...] there's no point having a commitment device to prompt you to follow through on something you don't think you should do

Usually we promise to do something that we would not have done otherwise, i.e. which may not be in line with our future self's interests. The promise "I will do X if my future self wants to" is gratuitous.

When I promise to do something I will try to do it, even if my preferences change. Perhaps you are reading "evil" as meaning "lacks integrity" rather than "is not altruistic," but in context that doesn't make much sense.

It seems reasonable for GWWC to say that the GWWC pledge is intended more as a statement of intent than as a commitment; it would be interesting to understand whether this is how most people who come into contact with GWWC perceive the pledge. If there is systematic misperception, it seems like the appropriate response is "oops, sorry" and to fix the misperception.

Thirdly: The coordination thing doesn't really matter here because you are only 'cooperating' with your future self, who can't really reject you because they don't exist yet (unlike another person who is deciding whether to help you).

It does not seem to me that the main purpose of taking the GWWC pledge, nor its main effect, is to influence the pledger's behavior.

Comment author: espertus 24 December 2016 05:01:06PM *  1 point [-]

I totally agree with Paul_Christiano and Telofy: "a pledge that you can un-take is incompatible with my understanding of what a pledge is." I feel as bound by my word as I would be by a legal contract (or perhaps even more). I'm troubled by the people who say you can just untake the pledge later if you change your mind.

I've applied this principle throughout my life. I did not promise my husband that I would love him forever and remain married always; I made promises I knew I could keep (and we're happily married 18 years later). I was unable to join a college honor society because I refused to make a vow that was sprung on us in the initiation ceremony.

While I'd be happy to state an intention to continue giving at least 10% of my income to helping the very poor, I will not make a pledge because, if circumstances dramatically change, I will have to either break it or go against my future best judgment.

Robert Wilbin, whose work I've long admired, writes:

I expect we will be able to do more good if we apply the neurotypical intuitions that most people share.

He may be right, although that excludes some of us. It's good that the EA community is large enough to accommodate different types of people. I hope it is useful to Rob to know why more (generous, principled) people don't take the GWWC pledge and that he can respect our position, even as he focuses on other types of people who benefit from his approach.

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 10 December 2016 07:45:16AM 2 points [-]

One thing I suspect is going on here is that people on the autism spectrum interpret all kinds of promises to be more binding than neurotypical people do.

Fascinating! I’m not formally diagnosed with Asperger’s, but intuitions associated with Asperger’s have often felt reassuringly familiar to me.

We certainly don’t want people to be compelled to do things they think are morally wrong – that doesn’t achieve an EA goal.

Indeed, hence why I would be more comfortable with something like “statement of intent.” I would rather abandon the term than diminish the meaning it has for me. Then again the term probably serves its intended function for at least 99.5% of the population. Pretty good by 80/20 standards.

Asperger’s may have a higher incidence among EAs, so maybe it’s worth setting up a slightly reworded aspie pledge page. The EAS/EAF pledge page (that perhaps aspie friends of mine have helped set up) goes in that direction: “In certain exceptional situations, not following through with donating can be a pragmatic decision in accordance with the goals of the pledge. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you think you are in such a situation.” It’s still a bit iffy since it makes EAF the pledge arbiter, and I don’t think people pledge to EAF, but it does help signal a limit to its irreversibility.

An “evil future you” who didn’t care about the good you can do through donations probably wouldn't care much about keeping promises made by a different kind of person in the past either, I wouldn’t think.

Possible, but these types of moral motivations feel very separate to me so my surprise if both of them changed would be close to the product of my surprise if one of them changed.

The coordination thing doesn’t really matter here because you are only “cooperating” with your future self, who can’t really reject you because they don't exist yet (unlike another person who is deciding whether to help you).

I should’ve made clear that I was thinking of cooperation with people who observe my taking and possibly un-taking the pledge – e.g., because we’re in a GWWC Facebook group together that only members get invited to or because I tell them – and form an opinion of me based on those observations.

Comment author: Elizabeth 16 December 2016 02:22:39AM 1 point [-]

" I think we should use the interpretation of the pledge that produces the best outcome. "

Why not write the pledge that has the best outcome? If pledging the behavior for life produces better outcomes, I think it's worth thinking about why.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 19 December 2016 10:11:29PM 2 points [-]

The question is under what conditions you can break a pledge, as it's ambiguous.

I think 'this pledge no longer accomplishes the underlying goal which motivated my past self to take it' is a generally acceptable reason, and rightly so. Your past self would have wanted to write in such an exit clause if they had anticipated it (or had the flexibility), so there's no breakdown in cooperation.

Comment author: Elizabeth 19 December 2016 11:41:17PM 2 points [-]

I think I have a model where this makes sense: if you made a promise to another person, that's essentially an asset they have, and you could trade something they wanted more in exchange for being released from the promise. You view the GWWC pledge as making a promise to your past self and/or the world at large, so if something comes along that is a better trade for the world, you feel free to take it.

Does that sound right?

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 21 December 2016 12:41:45AM 0 points [-]

Well yes - something that benefits all relevant parties (present self, past self, and the world as a whole your past self cared about) plainly dominates, so a pledge that forces you to do something they all disprefer should be abandoned.