Legal Topics in Effective Altruism

Course title

Legal Topics in Effective Altruism

Time Zone



18 October - 12 December 2021

Contact email

Applications to this course have closed

This virtual reading group will bring together law students, practicing lawyers, and legal researchers to discuss emerging ideas and long-standing legal doctrines on how the law creates opportunities for — and constrains — potential EA policy interventions and activities across cause areas. Core themes will include: representing the interests of future generations and non-human animals, solving collective action problems, regulating artificial intelligence, and solving institutional design problems, among others.

We highly recommend this program if you:

  • Already have a good understanding of core ideas in effective altruism.
  • Are considering a legal career or wondering what options for doing good a legal career might offer.
  • Can commit at least 2 hours per week to readings and exercises.
  • Can attend at least 7 out of the 8 weekly discussion sessions.

The topics we’ll cover each week:

Week 1: Cause-Neutrality and the “ITN” Framework We introduce the core principles of effective altruism: investigating opportunities to do good, confronting the tradeoffs we face in our altruistic efforts, and exploring tools that can help us find unusually impactful opportunities.

Week 2: Longtermism We explore a different approach to finding interventions: “longtermism,” which calls for us to focus on improving the long-run trajectory of human civilization. Because the long-term future can be so large and we value all the lives that can be lived over its course, reflecting on the ways we can affect its trajectory is especially important.

Week 3: Improving Institutional Decision-Making To do good — or to do anything at all — we have to make choices under uncertainty and other constraints. How can we do this effectively? And how can we help some of the world’s key decision-makers — whose actions affect millions of people — approach difficult problems more effectively?

Week 4: New Holders of Legal Rights Extending our moral concern beyond traditional groups and categories has been a central theme in effective altruism, but it is an area where the law has historically lagged far behind intellectual consensus. This week, we’ll explore how the law might eventually come to recognize and respect the interests of groups, like foreigners, animals, future people, and artificially intelligent agents.

Week 5: Regulating Artificial Intelligence A major concern in effective altruism is the notion that artificial intelligence could radically (and permanently) alter our world. Given that the coming decades might bring about systems capable of that kind of transformation, how can we establish effective rules and regulations around AI development and deployment?

Week 6: International Law and Emerging Technologies It’s difficult to regulate technology in an increasingly globalized and competitive world. Passing the “right” law in one place may not matter if unrestricted development continues in other places. To avoid this outcome, and meet this century’s most pressing challenges, we’ll need to understand how governments and other organizations interact and reach consensus.

Week 7: Animal Law People in the EA community have long valued the experiences of non-human animals, who vastly outnumber humans and suffer terribly in many contexts (from farms to wild environments). Various legal systems have sometimes taken animals’ interests into account, though rarely on a consistent or coherent basis. We’ll explore the history and possible future trajectory of laws as they apply to animals.

Week 8: Putting it into Practice In the final week, we will reflect on the reading group and share our plans for putting some of these ideas into action.