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Is it ok to make art?

Here's an article that I think some of you might find interesting. It's an article about 'Effective Altrutism' and whether or not art can be justified on moral grounds. Specifically they reject the argument that art is good for humanity on cultural grounds if it doesn't relieve human suffering. They are highly influenced by Peter Singer and advocate for donating 10% of your wages to charity as a baseline, and working in fields that promote an improvement in living standards rather than add to human enjoyment.

Some selected quotes:

"This is often what EA comes down to: working hard to earn money and then giving as much of it as you can to the needy. Good deeds come in many forms, of course, and there are other ways of making a difference. But the gauntlet that EA throws down is simply this: does your preferred good deed make as much of a difference as simply handing over the money? If not, how good a deed is it really?"

"As EAs see it, writing scripts and making movies demands resources that, in the right hands, could have saved lives. If the movie in question is clearly frivolous, this seems impossible to justify ethically. If, on the other hand, you're making the best movie of all time… well, it could almost start to be worthwhile. But I told Hilton 'no', and felt a lingering sense of futility as we tramped on through the stinging nettles around the cottage."

"From this point of view, the importance of most individual works of art would have to be negligible compared with, say, deworming 1,000 children. An idea often paraphrased in EA circles is that it doesn't matter who does something – what matters is that it gets done. And though artists often pride themselves on the uniqueness of their individuality, it doesn't follow that they have something uniquely valuable to offer society. On the contrary, says Diego Caleiro, director of the Brazil-based Institute for Ethics, Rationality and the Future of Humanity, most of them are 'counterfactually replaceable': one artist is as pretty much as useful as the next. And of course, the supply is plentiful."

"'What's implied by utilitarianism,' explained Michael Bitton, a once-aspiring Canadian filmmaker turned EA, 'is that nothing is sacred. Everything that exists is subject to utilitarian calculations. So there's no such thing as, "Oh, this is art, or, oh, this is my religion, therefore it's exempt from ethical considerations."' Wiblin has a similar view. 'It is true that Effective Altruism would sometimes say that the thing you most enjoy isn't the most moral thing to do,' he told me. 'And yeah, some people wanted to be writers, but actually instead they should go into development aid or go into activism or something else.'"


For the full article please visit the website. It's an interesting piece and deserves the page views.

For further info please see Peter Singer talking on the subject

There's also a website for the Centre for Effective Alturism

So what does everybody think? Does art get a free pass or should it be subject to moral interrogation? Do you think they have the calculations right? Or is Utilitarianism just a load of bunk anyway?

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