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Philosopher William MacAskill on how to do the most good

William MacAskill was the youngest person to become an associate professor of philosophy. He currently teaches at Oxford University.
William MacAskill was the youngest person to become an associate professor of philosophy. He currently teaches at Oxford University.

In his new book, “What We Owe The Future,” philosopher William MacAskill makes the case for the moral theory known as “longtermism.” The philosophy posits that the well-being of future generations matters and the decisions we make now affect whether they suffer or thrive.

Longtermism encourages people to invest in curbing future catastrophic threats like artificial intelligence even at the cost of present ones.

The idea builds upon a previous concept of MacAskill’s known as effective altruism. It encourages the use of critical thinking to figure out how to do the most good.

For example, someone motivated to alleviate the world’s suffering might do more good by pursuing a high-paying career and donating much of their salary, rather than working directly for a charity.

In the 15-or-so years since its inception, the philosophy of effective altruism has spawned a movement, with meet-ups on college campuses and across the globe.

We talk to MacAskill about longtermism and effective altruism.

 

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Avery Kleinman