An Instant New York Times Bestseller
“This book will change your sense of how grand the sweep of human history could be, where you fit into it, and how much you could do to change it for the better. It's as simple, and as ambitious, as that.”
An Oxford philosopher makes the case for “longtermism” — that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.
The fate of the world is in our hands. Humanity’s written history spans only five thousand years. Our yet-unwritten future could last for millions more — or it could end tomorrow. Astonishing numbers of people could lead lives of great happiness or unimaginable suffering, or never live at all, depending on what we choose to do today.
In What We Owe The Future, philosopher William MacAskill argues for longtermism, that idea that positively influencing the distant future is a key moral priority of our time. From this perspective, it’s not enough to reverse climate change or avert the next pandemic. We must ensure that civilization would rebound if it collapsed; counter the end of moral progress; and prepare for a planet where the smartest beings are digital, not human.
If we make wise choices today, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will thrive, knowing we did everything we could to give them a world full of justice, hope and beauty.
In this sobering treatise, University of Oxford philosophy professor MacAskill (Doing Good Better) argues that improving humanity's long-term future is a "key moral priority of our time." The author contends that the threats posed by artificial intelligence, pandemics, climate change, and nuclear war make the present a pivotal moment in history, and urges readers to combat these threats and "ensure civilization's survival." On the many perils facing humanity, the author notes, for instance, that the kinds of engineered pathogens that escaped labs and wrought havoc in high-profile cases in the U.K. and former Soviet Union are going to get increasingly dangerous as biotechnology advances. Confident that humanity has the resources and resilience to deal with these problems, MacAskill suggests that people looking to change the world should evaluate their actions by considering if they would be significant, have long-lasting effects, and address a real need. To create a brighter future, MacAskill encourages eating less meat, donating to good causes, engaging in political activism, and entreating loved ones to adopt a "longtermist perspective." MacAskill delivers a sweeping analysis of contemporary dangers that masterfully probes the intersections of technology, science, and politics, while offering fascinating glimpses into humanity's possible futures. This urgent call to action will inspire and unnerve in equal measure.
Days of Future Past
William MacAskill is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary Philosophers for his pragmatic and formulaic approach to applying philosophy to modern problems. He reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan in his approach to expounding on the big picture and man’s place in it. Which is why it’s disappointing that some professional philosophers miss his effort for want of completing a perfect theory. A consistent thread of nihilistic philosophy that is rooted dominates the current journals and books. The authors operating in fear of the horror of misapplied philosophies in the hands of flawed men.
In contrast, MacAskill builds on some of the ideas of the brave and fresh philosophy from his book, “Doing Good Better.” Exploring the coupling of the foundational values of “do no harm” and “leave things better than you found them” with how we can best impact future outcomes while avoiding values lock in. More specifically, how these first principles applied at a macro scale impact all of humanity present and future. The lived experiences of future people is at the heart of MacAskill’s effort and consistent from beginning to end.
Robert Greene detailed the concept of “Plan all the way to the end” in his book “The 48 Laws of Power.” The concepts and frameworks that MacAskill covers in this one reflect that approach a lot. Moreover, he shows how society’s natural propensity for moral inconsistency means we cannot rely on waiting for the moral arc of history to bend towards justice. These frameworks are often the target of derision by other philosophers because they may oversimplify the problem. For me they are what set his brand of philosophy apart. Making it accessible and actionable to everyone not buried in Academia.