The GBS website provides resources on the topics of ethics & politics, rationality, and science. What is the purpose of acquiring knowledge in these areas? For most people the point of knowledge is its usefulness in achieving our goals, for a few people accumulating knowledge is itself the goal. But not all knowledge is equally useful in achieving a certain goal. Knowing how to write beautiful poetry is not useful if our goal is to solve a certain math problem.
This means that we should first clarify our goals. This is not an easy task. It involves disentangling instrumental values, things we want in order to achieve other things, from terminal values, the things we value for their own sake. Anyone who is familiar with debates in politics knows how counterproductive it can be if instrumental and terminal values are not neatly kept apart. And it means that we should try to find hidden contradiction in our goals, and attempt to figure out whether our goals are ultimately egoistic or whether we care for the wellbeing of others, too. On one conception of ethics, all of this falls in the domain of ethics. On other conceptions ethical reasoning should at least contribute to our goals. The resources on this site should provide a useful guide for people who want to clarify their own goals so that they become more effective at achieving their goals. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that clarifying our goal is a good first step toward achieving it. As Nick Bostrom puts it: “If we’re headed the wrong way, the last thing we need is progress.”
Rationality is a measure of how successful we are at achieving our goals. Even if we have figured out what our goals are we can still be fairly bad at achieving them. One cause of systematic irrationality are cognitive biases, patterns of reasoning which evolved in the course of evolution which prevent optimal goal achievement. Knowledge about biases such as the status quo bias and the confirmation bias can help us to avoid them, or at least help us find methods to avoid them.
But knowledge about biases is not the only thing which can improve goal achievement and hence rationality. Imagine you want to visit a friend of yours. You use google maps to find the address. When you arrive at the place you find out that you have the wrong address. One of your beliefs turned out to be false, you thought you had the relevant piece of knowledge but you didn’t. Possessing the relevant knowledge is crucial to efficient goal achievement, and the best and most reliable provider of knowledge is science. Having science falsify one of our beliefs is a bit like winning the lottery. It will most likely help us achieve our goals better in the long term (just like the money we win in a lottery will help us achieve our goals).
Having a basic grasp of ethics, rationality, and science is important. The stakes are high: how well you achieve your own goals depends on it. This is not just something egoists should care about. If altruists achieve their goals this is beneficial for all of us, so, in a way, it is especially important that altruists are effective in achieving their goals.