Have you heard of the Effective Altruism movement?
My introduction to EA came from 80,000 Hours. The premise of EA is, “how can we do the most good?”, and 80,000 Hours explores that question from a career perspective. The name 80,000 Hours, comes from the amount of hours the average adult will work for throughout their career.
The frameworks they have are fascinating. One of which is called Counterfactual. Here’s an example:
Say I’m a high school student, and I’m deciding what I want to study. From an EA perspective I can ask myself, what can I study that would provide the most good?
How about a doctor? That’s a high impact career in which I’ll be saving lives.
However, when thinking about this from a counterfactual point of view. There’s a limited number of spots in med school, which means if you decide to become a doctor, you are taking that spot away from someone else. That person might have been a better doctor than you, thus by becoming a doctor, you have not done the most good.
Keeping this principle in mind, when you are choosing an action, we want to consider not only how good the action is, but how good it is relative to the alternatives.