The Moral Case for Long-Term Thinking

In Natalie Cargill & Tyler M. John (eds.), The Long View: Essays on Policy, Philanthropy, and the Long-Term Future. London: FIRST. pp. 19-28 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

This chapter makes the case for strong longtermism: the claim that, in many situations, impact on the long-run future is the most important feature of our actions. Our case begins with the observation that an astronomical number of people could exist in the aeons to come. Even on conservative estimates, the expected future population is enormous. We then add a moral claim: all the consequences of our actions matter. In particular, the moral importance of what happens does not depend on when it happens. That pushes us toward strong longtermism. We then address a few potential concerns, the first of which is that it is impossible to have any sufficiently predictable influence on the course of the long-run future. We argue that this is not true. Some actions can reasonably be expected to improve humanity’s long-term prospects. These include reducing the risk of human extinction, preventing climate change, guiding the development of artificial intelligence, and investing funds for later use. We end by arguing that these actions are more than just extremely effective ways to do good. Since the benefits of longtermist efforts are large and the personal costs are comparatively small, we are morally required to take up these efforts.

Author Profiles

Elliott Thornley
Oxford University
Hilary Greaves
Oxford University
William MacAskill
Oxford University

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