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How to Improve the World for the Generations to Come with Will MacAskill

Should care about people who are yet to be born, or should we focus our help on people who are living and suffering now? 

‘Relative to everyone who could come after us, we are a tiny minority. Yet we hold the entire future in our hands.’ – Will MacAskill

Will MacAskill is becoming one of the world’s most important intellectuals. Acclaimed by the likes of Stephen Fry and Elon Musk, he is currently featured on the cover of Time magazine. He is an Oxford philosopher and co-founder of the Effective Altruism movement, which uses evidence and reason to help people maximise the good they can do through their career, projects and donations. That often means helping people thousands of miles away whom we will never meet or know. 

Now MacAskill has widened the moral net further, and in his major new book What We Owe The Future: A Million-Year View he argues that we need to care about people thousands and even millions of years in the future.  In September 2022 he came to Intelligence Squared to argue that influencing the very long term is the most urgent moral priority of our times – because the fate of future generations depends on the decisions that we make in our lifetimes. 

As MacAskill explained, this is not just about climate change. Issues like nuclear war, engineered viruses and advanced AI are just as important and are radically more neglected. Many of his conclusions are counterintuitive: we should have more children, not fewer. We should buy coal mines and shut them down so that we have accessible coal if we need to re-industrialise after the collapse of civilisation. And we should worry far less about recycling or flying and think more about our donation and career decisions.

Is MacAskill right that we should care about people who are yet to be born, or should we focus our help on people who are living and suffering now? 

Praise for Will MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future

A book of great daring, clarity, insight and imagination. To be simultaneously so realistic and so optimistic, and always so damned readable… well that is a miracle for which he should be greatly applauded.’ – Stephen Fry

No living philosopher has had a greater impact upon my ethics than Will MacAskill. And much of the good I now do is the direct result of his influence. In What We Owe The Future, MacAskill has transformed my thinking once again, by patiently dismantling the lazy intuitions that rendered me morally blind to the interests of future generations. This is an altogether thrilling and necessary book.’ – Sam Harris

‘A monumental event. William MacAskill is one of the most important philosophers alive today, and this is his magnum opus.’ – Rutger Bregman, author of Humankind



Will MacAskill

Philosopher at Oxford University and author of What We Owe The Future: A Million-Year View

Associate Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University. His academic work spans a breadth of fields within normative philosophy, including practical ethics, population ethics, social choice theory and decision theory. At age 28 he became the youngest tenured professor of philosophy in the world. MacAskill is the co-founder of Giving What We Can, 80,000 Hours, the Centre for Effective Altruism and the Oxford University-based Global Priorities Institute. He’s recognised as a World Economic Forum Young Global Shaper and a Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur. He is author of Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference and What We Owe The Future: A Million-Year View.  

Max Roser

Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Global Development and founder and editor of Our World in Data

Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Global Development at the University of Oxford. His work focuses on the history and future of living conditions around the world and he has published work on poverty, global health, infectious diseases, hunger, violence, humanity’s impact on the environment, and inequality. In 2011 he founded OurWorldInData.org, an open-access and open source online publication that presents the data and research necessary to make progress in these areas. The publication, which is read by several million readers every month, is used by policymakers and cited over a thousand times every year by both academic publications and in the popular media.