Chris Lakin

Does ‘Intelligence Responsibility’ Exist?

Person A was born with a gift for solving problems and learning. But they didn’t do anything to deserve this, it was (mostly) decided before they even considered themself conscious.

Anyone else could have received the gift, and the vast majority of the time, it would've been someone else. But A was lucky.

(Assumptions: There is a fixed amount of gifted intelligence to be ‘distributed’ in the short term, and acceptance of the premise ‘It could have been anyone else.’)

It's not obvious to me that, just because someone was born with an ability, that they should then be the sole benefactor of that ability.

If A didn't have this ability but instead Person B did, A would probably wish that B would focus their efforts towards the good of everyone.

In this regard, I believe being born with gifted intelligence bears a responsibility. All people like Person A were lucky—not special.

If, for example, you had the power to choose what the most intelligent people worked on, where would you place them?

I think I’d put them working on some of the largest and most neglected global problems.

But would you independently choose that many (at least of the quantitatively-inclined portion) of them should work in quantitative finance, or something like it? And would you place many of the rest of these minds in the field of law?

I would certainly choose to place those minds elsewhere. (But the free market doesn’t care—quant finance and law are often unusually lucrative fields.)

I’m not saying that intelligence shouldn’t be priced into the labor market, nor am I saying that hard work doesn’t deserve compensation.

I just think the way to do the most good for the world is to have smart people work on the right problems. Isn’t this the best thing for everyone?

Of course, though, this was just an easy-to-argue thought experiment to show the world isn’t perfect. But maybe we individuals can make better choices.


I’m not sure this argument is correct (if it can be ‘correct’), or even useful. I held back this idea for a few months before posting it. Part of the reason I’m posting now this is to solicit feedback. Particularly, I suspect there may be something misleading about the assumptions I listed above.

Do you have any counter arguments or objections? Supplemental thoughts, subtractions, additions? Please let me know.

Note: If you’d like to focus your career on doing good for the world—and not merely just doing some good, but aiming at the most good—then you might be interested in learning more about the Effective Altruism community.

Posted 2020 September 30, last updated 2020 November 15.

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