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The Greater Good

This course listing applies to a Spring 2016 course. To find current courses, check out the Find a Course page.

Spring 2016
Philosophy 98/198
2 Unit(s)

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About the Course:

How can you best improve the world with your life? 

It can be an overwhelming question. Should you work on climate change? Poverty reduction? Animal welfare? Should you give your time or money? If so, where? Should you be an activist? A scientist? A politician?

The answers are deeply entwined with your values, talents, and worldview. But they should also be deeply informed by reason, reflection, and research. This class is about building the tools that can help us tackle that question:

  • Frameworks to intelligently compare causes by scope and severity
  • Cost-effectiveness analysis of charities; its advantages and limitations
  • Techniques to overcome cognitive biases that can impede our efforts to help
  • Resources to help us decide where to give and where to work

We'll hear from prominent philanthropists, researchers, activists, and community builders on how they're aiming to do the most good they can. We'll learn about the sometimes radical choices they make for their principles, and have important conversations about what we truly care about and how much we're willing to give up for it.

We'll apply insights from speakers, readings, and class activities to create concrete commitments that will help maximize the good we do with our own lifestyle choices, activism, giving, and career. 

How the class works

We'll meet for two hours every Tuesday at 5 PM. Class format ranges from small group discussions to guest talks to panel debates to practical workshops. On weeks where we've invited a guest speaker or speakers, we will host an optional dinner party with the speaker(s) where students can ask more questions and get to know them.

Some weeks, we will hold a "giving game." We will present information about a few selected nonprofits, and students will work in groups of two or three to decide which one receives $50 of real money. On our final giving game, students will work on their own to donate $50, and we will match any money students raise themselves until we run out of funds.

Assignments and grading

We will assign 1-3 short readings every week, along with a reading survey. There will also be a mid-semester and final essay, each one page long.

In addition, we may assign a few short paragraph responses and miscellaneous assignments -- for example, we may ask you to come up with questions for a guest speaker. We expect the work outside class to be about an hour a week.

Grading is based on a points system; points are awarded for attendance, readings, and assignments. See the syllabus (linked below) for details.

How to Enroll:

Please fill out this application; we will process them on a rolling basis and let you know your status by Saturday, January 23rd. The first class is Tuesday, January 26th from 5-7 PM (location TBD). Accepted applicants must attend the first class to receive the CCN.

Course Contact: ajeyac AT berkeley.edu, rohinmshah AT berkeley.edu

Faculty Sponsor: Niko Kolodny

Time & Location:

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Uploaded Files:

NameDateSizeTypeActions
Syllabus: Syllabus.pdfNov 30344kbAdobe PDF (Viewer)View Download

Course info last modified November 30, 2015. This page has been viewed 3368 times.

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