“We want to disaggregate benefits and aggregate costs.” – William MacAskill
Will MacAskill (@willmacaskill) is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Lincoln College, Oxford. Just 28 years old, he is likely the youngest associate (i.e. tenured) professor of philosophy in the world.
Will is the author of Doing Good Better and a co-founder of the “effective altruism” movement. He has pledged to donate everything he earns over ~$36,000 per year to whatever charities he believes will be most effective.
He has also cofounded two well-known non-profits: 80,000 Hours, which provides research and advice on how you can best make a difference through your career, and Giving What We Can, which encourages people to commit to give at least 10% of their income to the most effective charities. Between them, they have raised more than $450 million in lifetime pledged donations, and are in the top 1% of non-profits in terms of growth.
He is one of the few non-profit founders who have gone through Y Combinator; for-profit companies get $120,000 for 7% of equity; as a non-profit, 80,000 Hours got $100,000 for 0% of equity.
In this episode, we discuss his story and a ton of actionable tips, including:
- Why “following your passion” in a career is often a mistake.
- Thought experiments: Pascal’s Wager versus Pascal’s Mugging.
- Why working for a non-profit straight out of college is also a mistake.
- How it’s possible to “hack” doing good in the same way you would a business.
- Implications of artificial intelligence.
- The best ways to really evaluate if you (or charities) are going good in the world.
- The reasons donating to disaster relief typically isn’t the best use of your money.
- Why ethical consumerism typically isn’t a great way to do good.
- Running a non-profit in the Harvard/Navy SEALs of startup incubators: Y Combinator.
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
Want to hear another podcast related to philosophy from a world class philosopher? — Listen to my conversation with Sam Harris. In this episode, we discuss his daily routines, the Trolley Scenario, and 5 books everyone should read (stream below or right-click here to download):
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What is your favorite charity and why do you donate? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
- Doing Good Better by William MacAskill
- The Atlantic’s profile piece on William MacAskill
- Learn more about standout charities at GiveWell.org
- Learn more about Pascal’s Wager
- Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit
- Seeking to make a career choice? Visit 80000Hours.org
- Non-human sources for charity at Animal Charity Evaluators and Good Ventures
- Learn more about QuestBridge and listen to my conversation with Reid Hoffman and the QuestBridge team
- Learn more about DuoLingo
- Visit The Founders Pledge to promise 2% of your company’s exit sale price
- Read The Dangerous Myth of the Dream Job
- Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
- The Power of Persuasion by Robert Levine
- Learn more about mobility and posture at Mobility WOD
- Learn more about Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends
- Want to experiment with turning around back pain? Here are some options:
- Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal
- Seeking more thoughts on big career choices? Listen to my interview with Scott Adams
- Seeking to give more? Check out Giving What We Can
- Learn about and connect with William MacAskill:
- The significance of the colleges within Oxford [7:30]
- How do you answer the question, “what do you do?” [8:05]
- How to take a scientific approach to doing good [9:25]
- Common mistakes when giving [10:40]
- The differences between GiveWell.org, CharityNavigator, and a framework for examining the quality of charitable organizations [11:45]
- On the effect of disaster relief [13:10]
- Will MacAskill’s approach to becoming the youngest tenured philosophy professor in the world [14:33]
- MacAskill’s philosophy role models [23:05]
- On Peter Singer and the Trolly Scenario [26:20]
- On the decision between charity spending for the poorest of the poor and investing in future generations [47:25]
- The characteristics of a selfish charitable event [55:50]
- Suggestions for activities that charities should stop doing [58:45]
- The story of being accepted as a non-profit Y Combinator company [1:02:20]
- The most important skills and information learned at Y Combinator [1:06:45]
- Most common debates with participants and partners at Y Combinator [1:13:15]
- Where do your favorite philosophical frameworks have trouble in the real world? [1:16:35]
- On the different motivations between non-profit and profit-driven Y Combinator [1:19:35]
- Is it better to give now or give (more significantly) later? [1:23:20]
- Why pursuing your passion might be a mistake [1:29:05]
- Most gifted books [1:35:15]
- Will MacAskill’s daily meditation practice [1:38:40]
- Daily rituals: breakfast, fitness, and valuable sleep practices [1:43:45]
- Favorite documentaries and movies [1:57:35]
- If you could put a billboard anywhere and write anything on it, where would it be and what would it say? [2:03:20]
- Thoughts on artificial intelligence [2:03:50]
- Will competitive drive and the desire to generate wealth override a safe method of developing artificial intelligence? [2:10:35]
- What existential threat to mankind worries you the most or is the most underrated? [2:14:00]
- Advice to your 20-year-old self [2:16:20]
- A framework for making important life decisions [2:18:05]
- An ask of the audience [2:23:10]
Posted on: November 22, 2015.
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