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What We Owe the Future

Written by: William MacAskill
Narrated by: William MacAskill
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Publisher's Summary

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 put humanity’s course to right, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will thrive, knowing we did everything we could to give them a world full of justice, hope, and beauty.

©2022 William MacAskill (P)2022 Recorded Books

What listeners say about What We Owe the Future

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Phenomenal theory that will make you more hopeful

Fine balance between a difficult concept explained through the lens of real here and now things and historical anecdotes in- that will really bring you to appreciate how much decisions we make today have the power of influencing future generations thousands and millions of years from now.

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Loved listening to it.

Loved listening to it. A great book to understand how life developed on this earth. Many ideas are thought-provoking.

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Highly manipulated thoughts

While I absolutely believe in long termism and making sure we maintain a better world and resources for future generations to come, i could not agree to many supporting arguments made. Portraying the torture chickens face to promote vegetarianism, undervalue of plastic ban, exaggerated advantage of donations to organization are some of those. Middle chapters are too hard to continue reading, so i had to switch to audible.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 19-08-22

A great outline of the most pressing issues long term

The author lays out the arguments for participating and sharing in the longtermism movement; Engineered pandemics, general artificial intelligence, climate change, and more

Particular highlights are how he discusses moral issues, such as population collapse, moral stagnation, and technological progress

Easy to read and understand - well written

5 people found this helpful

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  • Jennifer Baratta She/Her
  • 07-09-22

Thank you William MacAskill for this book.

This audiobook is a must listen to.
Thank you so much William MacAskill for this book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • James
  • 30-08-22

Excellent Listen, worthy high level science

Good thought, science and philosophy is put into this work. The author is a good narrator as well. In short, worthy of the equation to make life and human civilization better.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Seraphina11
  • 20-08-22

Round of applause

A remarkable presentation of research resulting in a deeply thought provoking piece of work. This is my first introduction to MacAskill’s, work but I’m certain it won’t be the last. However painful it was to listen to at times, the overall picture he paints is inspiring and truly begs the question “what good am I capable of offering the world in my lifetime?”

3 people found this helpful

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  • Aaron
  • 17-08-22

Longtermism 101

A great introduction to EA / Longtermism. I plan on gifting this to friends and family who may be open to these ideas. If you are familiar with EA then a lot of the book is just a refresher on topics you already know a lot about. My favorite parts were the sections on stagnation and the end where he talks about how to most effectively contribute to a positive long term future on a personal level. Definitely inspired me to try to do more!

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  • Oleksandr
  • 25-08-22

Empty philosophising

Painfully slow explanation of obvious facts in order to make the argument (which is not i correct, per se) seem more "academic".
You will not loose anything if you skip this book. It's just "good is good and bad is bad, and future generations need more good and less bad"

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  • Steve Yastrow
  • 01-12-22

An absolute must read - so important

This is one of the most important books I have ever read, and will alter my perspective forever. Just read it. Buy it for your kids. Buy it for your parents. You will begin to understand the power our generations have to affect the lives of billions - or maybe even trillions - of future humans.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 14-11-22

Interesting and mind broadening

Loved history context analysis and use of those examples to set basis for evaluating present pronciples to act towards better future.

1 person found this helpful

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  • JS
  • 14-11-22

Could have been summarized in a small essay

While interesting, I didn’t feel like the content justified an entire book. Most of what is discussed is common sense, padded with historical facts, and then two simple action items: keep society flexible enough for future moral progress (prevent lock-in) and mitigate existential threats such as climate change, AI-takeover, bioweapons, etc.

All of this could fit in a short essay or list of bullet points and isn't as novel as the author implies imo.

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  • Roland Byrd
  • 09-11-22

Insightful and thought provoking

This book helps you consider the true impact of your actions on the future of the world, humanity, and even the cosmos.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Olly Buxton
  • 01-09-22

potty

it took me a while to put my finger on what was so irritating about this book, but there's a patronising glibness about it, and it is positively jammed full of the sort of thought experiments (imagine you had to live the life of every sentient being on the planet kind of thing) that give philosophy undergraduates a bad name.

MacAskill is, as best as I can make out, barely out of undergraduate philosophy class, still haven't left the university, and strikes me as a singularly unlikely person to be dispensing cosmic advice for the planet's future.

but ultimately it is the sub-Sagan, sub-Harari style top-down moral counselling that really grates: we need to solve the problems of the future centrally and this requires brainy people in the academy, like me, to do it.

Thanks — but no thanks.

it is not at all clear that we can do anything to influence the distance future (expected value? seriously? are we rolling dice here?), nor why organisms now should care for the future of their species in 500 million years which, if it survives, will have doubtlessly evolved beyond all recognition. if homo sapiens is as hopeless a case as MacAskill seems to think it would be better off for everyone else if we just winked out now.

if you want sensible and thoughtful writing about the planet and its long term future, try Stewart Brand.

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  • Ray H
  • 29-08-22

Truly thought provoking

An excellent argument for the future of humanity, made very well; supported by science and philosophy. I will recommend this book to all my friends. Most importantly, it has made me question some of my own thoughts and beliefs - which is what any great literature should do! Look forward to the next book by the Author!

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  • Mipsy
  • 19-08-22

Beautifully written and compelling

I was convinced this would be a difficult read and I'd be resistant to the ideas within, even though I am already sold on effective altruism as a whole I've always felt resistance toward longtermism when I'd heard about it. Will has successfully put some really complex ideas into easily digestible chapters, and trusts his audience to follow with him. The audio narration is gentle and easy on the ears. All round I greatly admire this author and all his work, it gives me great reassurance that this movement he started is growing and people out there are kind hearted and care about doing as much good as possible, for all sentient life through all time.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-01-23

An elongated essay in every way

A fan of the author and the overarching idea of the book in theory, but unfortunately found my attention dragging constantly. There’s a lot basic ideas in this book (which are, of course, important ideas nonetheless) but they all felt simplified to almost high school level explanations. I was hoping for theory debates and deeper philosophical ideas but really didn’t get that at all. I do believe that the full thesis of this book can be understood in a 60 minute podcast at most. Suitable for somebody new

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  • Anonymous User
  • 21-09-22

poetic and poignant

excellent book which will make you rethink the human experiment and what we are here on earth for. Narrated by the author which is always an extra boon

1 person found this helpful

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  • S. Smith
  • 24-08-22

Great ideas on long-termism but a shaky foundation

First off, a good audio performance, well read, no lip/breathing sounds or tics, clearly enunciated at a good speed.

The author provides a good framework for evaluating future threats and some good arguments for why we should be tackling these threats as soon as possible. He also does a good job of explaining how we might go about working on these issues and how we might each most effectively help.

Where I feel the book falls down is in the philosophical underpinning of the long-term movement. The author relies on staw man arguments and abstract thought experiments that don't necessarily map back onto real life. To his credit, he is occasionally honest about this, saying that there are still arguments about these topics and he is consciously choosing to come down on a certain side, but I think it shows the shaky ground that this is all built on.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 30-01-23

Life Changing

Fenominal enlightening book, such a change of paradigm
Grateful such people exists, and dedicate their life to make a change and share their knowledge
Impactful 10/10

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  • Mi-mi-
  • 22-01-23

Not easy going but makes you think

I was not a stranger to the longtermism idea, but wanted a stronger overview, and this provided.

I have to admit that not being able to see some of it down on paper made it a bit hard for me to always follow on, and I will need to listen to some of the chapters again, but Will MacAskill did not disappoint. Some thought provoking ideas.

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  • dan smith
  • 09-01-23

optimistic... uplifting

he's been criticised for being too optimistic but this is a good book that puts things in perspective. narrated by the author... It takes half an hour to get used to, but it's an important work, so bear with!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-01-23

Must-read

Very well-written and well-researched thought-provoking book. I can highly recommend reading it. Fascinating range of topics are discussed in support of the book’s main argument so even if the argument doesn’t resonate with you you will still have a great time reading it!

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  • Peter Knight
  • 29-12-22

Interesting exploration of idea of legacy

Really enjoyed the way in which the author conceptualizes humanity’s existence as a single lifetime in which we are only in our infancy, and how our choices effect our future.

Also appreciated the structured approach he takes to weighing up the impact of actions and outcomes, and the sort of Bayesian approach he recommends in the face of moral uncertainty.

The section on population ethics definitely lost me, and although the author does warn listeners / readers up front that it will be esoteric. There are so many abstractions to the philosophical questions that I certainly found the ideas debated pretty remote from real world application. The notion of a critical value for happiness did seem like a reasonable approach in the end.

While a lot of the recommendations flowing from MacAskill’s analysis are pretty generic - be politically active, raise kids well, pursue a meaningful career. Some of his other insights flowing from his analysis I.e. relative risks and impacts of areas like General Artificial Intelligence, are not what I would consider mainstream.

Overall well worth absorbing the ideas and I would agree with the philosophy behind it!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 18-10-22

Important

Optimistic, realistic and exciting option's for the possibility of avoiding a locked-in appalling future.

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  • Tim
  • 10-10-22

More moral philosophy than world saving

I wanted to be inspired and was disappointed in that regard. Good in parts though.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 21-09-22

Best book I've read this year

Incredible introduction and a great finish. This book is really going to make you change your life.

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  • Riley
  • 05-09-22

A surprisingly grounded book about the far future

MacAskill guides us through our reasons for caring about the future, and how we can do our best to steer humanity towards better paths.

It's packed with new research, but it's delivered in an extremely easy to listen to way. I loved it!

You can't trust most books — but you can trust this one. It's rare for an author to care so much about getting things right, and it's clear this book is careful and fact checked.

I especially enjoyed the sections on wellbeing, trying to understand how much suffering and happiness are contained in different human lives, and how to compare this, and whether the entire history of the world has been good or bad overall.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 31-08-22

A great insight into what matters

A great read. The book was full of ideas that seemed so obvious and important I was surprised I had never heard them before. The book left me with a clearer sense of what I want my life to be committed to

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  • Anonymous User
  • 27-08-22

A critical read for anyone with a conscience

I’ve admired MacAskill’s work for some time and resonated with Ord’s The Precipice so much that I changed my career direction to make a greater long-term impact. What We Owe The Future reaffirms that decision, adding texture and colour to Ord’s warnings with compelling philosophical assertions and an optimistic outlook. A firm recommendation.

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  • Rob Howe
  • 27-08-22

Loved the book!

I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in moral philosophy and practical ethics. Succinct and powerful.