“I often think to myself, ‘Could I justify my life now to my 15-year-old self?’ And if the answer is no, then I’m a bit like, ‘Oh, what are you doing? You’re not living up to what earlier Will would’ve wanted for present Will.'”— Will MacAskill
William MacAskill (@willmacaskill) is an associate professor in philosophy at the University of Oxford. At the time of his appointment, he was the youngest associate professor of philosophy in the world. A Forbes 30 Under 30 social entrepreneur, he also cofounded the nonprofits Giving What We Can, the Centre for Effective Altruism, and Y Combinator-backed 80,000 Hours, which together have moved over $200 million to effective charities. You can find my 2015 conversation with Will at tim.blog/will.
His new book is What We Owe the Future. It is blurbed by several guests of the podcast, including Sam Harris, who wrote, “No living philosopher has had a greater impact upon my ethics than Will MacAskill. . . . This is an altogether thrilling and necessary book.”
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.
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Want to hear the first time Will MacAskill was on this podcast? Have a listen to my 2015 interview with Will MacAskill here, in which we discuss how to take a scientific approach to doing good, charity spending for the poorest of the poor versus investing in future generations, the perils of pursuing your passion, underrated existential threats, life decision frameworks, and much more.
What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Will MacAskill:
- What We Owe the Future by Will MacAskill | Amazon
- Bookshop.org members can get 50% off pre-ordering What We Owe The Future with the code FERRISS50 at this link: https://bookshop.org/books/what-we-owe-the-future/9781541618626
- Maximise Your Charitable Impact | Giving What We Can
- Combining Empathy with Evidence | Centre For Effective Altruism
- 80,000 Hours
- Teeter Hang Ups Gravity Boots | Amazon
- Practical Ethics by Peter Singer | Amazon
- Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom | Amazon
- The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord | Amazon
- The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joe Henrich | Amazon
- The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joe Henrich | Amazon
- Richard Dawkins on the Internet’s Hijacking of the Word ‘Meme’ | Wired UK
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky | Amazon
- Existentialism | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- What Is Nihilism? | Verywell Mind
- What is Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum)? | Carneades.org
- Pascal’s Wager about God | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Pascal’s Mugging | LessWrong
- Effective Altruism Is About Doing Good Better | Effective Altruism
- Against Malaria Foundation
- Improving Animal Welfare | Giving What We Can
- Why Cage-Free Eggs Becoming Norm: It’s What People Want | ABC News
- Beneficial Artificial Intelligence | Giving What We Can
- Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness | Giving What We Can
- Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combating COVID-19, Loneliness, and More | The Tim Ferriss Show #417
- Charity Research | GiveWell
- The Easiest, Most Effective Way to Donate | Effective Altruism Funds
- ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’: The Real Reason Why Steven Spielberg’s Alien Eats Reese’s Pieces | Showbiz Cheat Sheet
- How Much Caffeine is Too Much? | Cleveland Clinic
- Teeter EZ-Up Gravity Boots | Amazon
- BOSU Balance Trailer | Amazon
- Seven Benefits of Doing Squats and Variations to Try | Healthline
- How to Goblet Squat | Men’s Health
- Squatting and Culture: A Comparative Analysis of Informal Developments in Latin America and the Middle East | Habitat International
- 12 Plank Exercises That Will Fire Up Your Entire Core and Make Your Workout Way More Fun | SELF
- Men Should Consider Changing Their Last Names When They Get Married by William MacAskill | The Atlantic
- Kid ‘n Play Dance Scene | House Party
- Pso-Rite Psoas Muscle Release and Deep Tissue Massage Tool | Amazon
- Longtermism: An Introduction | Effective Altruism
- Democracy vs. Totalitarianism: A Suggestive Approach | iPleaders
- Timeline of the Human Condition | C. Patrick Doncaster
- My Twelve Rules for Life by Russ Roberts | Medium
- Everybody Worships: David Foster Wallace on Real Freedom and the Skeleton of Every Great Story | Mockingbird
- What Are the Four Noble Truths? | Lion’s Roar
- What Has Posterity Ever Done for Us? | Quote Investigator
- Children of Men | Prime Video
- Why Getting the Big Picture Roughly Right Is More Important Than Focusing on Details | Stockholm Resilience Centre
- How Close Are We to World War III? | BU Today
- Value Lock-In | Effective Altruism Forum
- Hundred Schools of Thought | Wikipedia
- The Development of Confucianism in Ancient China | Constitutional Rights Foundation
- Hànyŭ Pīnyīn | Wikipedia
- Death Of A Nation: The Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia | Rare Earth
- Act of Uniformity 1662 | UK Parliament
- What Are The Most Pressing Dangers Of AI? | One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, Stanford University
- AlphaGo | DeepMind
- Does Pornography Still Drive The Internet? | BBC News
- DALL·E 2 | OpenAI
- Fighting Deepfakes When Detection Fails | Brookings Institution
- Far-UVC Light Inactivates Pathogens Like Coronaviruses | Christie
- Let’s Build A Flourishing Future | Future Fund
- What are Trigger-Action Plans (TAPs)? | LessWrong
- 18 Braw Scottish Words & Their Meanings | VisitScotland
- Dr. Jane Goodall — The Legend, The Lessons, The Hope | The Tim Ferriss Show #421
- Industrialization and Imperialism | Khan Academy
- Mohism | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Trebuchet | Wikipedia
- How to Throw an Atlatl | Live Free or Die: DIY
- Bald Eagle Sends Government Drone Into Lake Michigan | The New York Times
- Our Pledge | Giving What We Can
- Long-Term Future Fund | Effective Altruism Funds
- The Effective Altruism Community’s Annual Conference | EA Global
- EAGx | EA Global
- In Our Time | BBC Radio 4
- The 80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin
- Hear This Idea
- Rationally Speaking Podcast
- Our World in Data
- [07:20] Recommended reading.
- [13:26] How Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment changed Will’s life.
- [18:12] Maintaining optimism in the age of doomscrolling.
- [23:41] What is effective altruism?
- [26:04] Resources for maximizing the impact of your philanthropy.
- [27:45] How adopting a check-in system has most improved Will’s life.
- [32:32] Caffeine limits.
- [34:08] Effective back pain relief.
- [41:18] What is longtermism, and why did Will write What We Owe the Future?
- [43:44] Future generations matter.
- [46:42] Finding the line between apathy and fatalism that spurs action toward ensuring there’s a future.
- [52:23] What Will hopes readers take away from What We Owe the Future.
- [55:56] What is value lock-in?
- [1:01:38] Most concerning threats projected over the next 10 years.
- [1:09:28] Most promising developments happening now.
- [1:13:47] How Will refocuses during periods of overwhelm.
- [1:18:48] Perils of AI considered plausible by the people who create it.
- [1:30:42] Longtermist-minded resources and actions we can take now.
- [1:36:29] Parting thoughts.
MORE GUEST QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW
“I often think to myself, ‘Could I justify my life now to my 15-year-old self?’ And if the answer is no, then I’m a bit like, ‘Oh, what are you doing? You’re not living up to what earlier Will would’ve wanted for present Will.'”
— Will MacAskill
“I give away most of my income, which is a very unusual thing to do. And you might think, oh, that’s a sacrifice that’s making my life worse, but actually I find it kind of empowering because I am making an autonomous decision. I am not merely following the dictates of what social convention is telling me to do, but I’m reasoning about things from first principles and then making a decision that’s genuinely, authentically mine.”
— Will MacAskill
“In the last podcast, we talked a lot about global health and development and what’s the difference you can make? Well, if you are a middle-class member of a rich country, it’s on the order of saving dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of lives over the course of your life, if you put your mind to it. That’s huge. Now, we’re talking about existential risks and the long-term future of humanity. What’s the difference you can make? You can play a part in being pivotal in putting humanity onto a better trajectory for, not just centuries, but for thousands, millions, or even billions of years.”
— Will MacAskill
“The amount of good that you can do is truly enormous. You can have cosmic significance, and that’s pretty inspiring.”
— Will MacAskill
“When you think about the difference you can make rather than just focusing on the magnitude of the problems, I think there’s every reason for optimism.”
— Will MacAskill
“Even just the progress we’ve made over the last few hundred years, people today have far, far better lives. If you extrapolate that out just a few hundred years more, let alone thousands of years, then there’s at least a good chance that we could have a future where everyone lives, not just as well as the best people alive today, but maybe tens, hundreds, thousands of times better.”
— Will MacAskill
“One thing I think that a lot of people find motivating is this thought that you’re part of this grand project, much, much grander than yourself, of trying to build a good and flourishing society over the course of not just centuries, but thousands of years, and that’s one way in which our lives have meaning.”
— Will MacAskill
“We face truly enormous challenges in our life. Many of these challenges are very scary. They can be overwhelming. They can be intimidating. But I really believe that each of us individually can make an enormous difference to these problems. We really can significantly help as part of a wider community to putting humanity onto a better path. And if we do, then the future really could be long and absolutely flourishing. And your great-great-grandkids will thank you.”
— Will MacAskill
- Sam Harris
- Peter Singer
- Nick Bostrom
- Toby Ord
- Joe Henrich
- Richard Dawkins
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Søren Kierkegaard
- Blaise Pascal
- Laura Pomarius
- Christopher Reid
- Christopher Martin
- Russ Roberts
- David Foster Wallace
- The Triple Goddess
- John Stuart Mill
- Niccolò Machiavelli
- Ying Zheng
- Pol Pot
- Joseph Stalin
- Adolf Hitler
- Andy Warhol
- Boris Johnson
- Joe Biden
- George Orwell
- Melvyn Bragg
- Fin Moorhouse
- Luca Righetti
- Julia Galef
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.