What We Owe the Future - Summary and Key Ideas

The book "What We Owe the Future" is a moral exploration of our responsibility towards future generations, arguing that our actions today can significantly shape the trajectory of humanity and that we should prioritize long-term impacts in our decision-making.

The target group of "What We Owe the Future" is individuals interested in ethics, philosophy, and future planning, including activists, researchers, policy makers, and anyone who is interested in understanding the moral implications of our actions on future generations.

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What We Owe the Future

Key ideas


The future's value hinges on the balance between potential outcomes and their likelihood, with a trend towards optimism as humanity's progress continues.

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Longtermism emphasizes the profound impact of today's decisions on the vast, uncertain future, urging humanity to consider the high stakes involved in shaping it.

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Moral change, as seen in slavery abolition and women's rights, can significantly shape the trajectory of the future, making today's value shifts crucial from a longtermist perspective.

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The lock-in of values, influenced by cultural, religious, and technological factors, can shape the moral trajectory of society, potentially limiting moral diversity and defining the contours of our future.

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The fragility of civilization, underscored by historical collapses and present threats, necessitates proactive measures to ensure its survival.

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Economic stagnation could potentially last for centuries, altering societal values and increasing the risk of extinction, yet the potential for growth restart remains.

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The morality of creating happiness through population growth is complex and challenges our understanding of what makes the world a better place.

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Summary & Review

The future of humanity is in our hands and the choices we make today will significantly impact the lives of future generations. We have a moral responsibility to consider the long-term implications of our actions and decisions. The concept of longtermism suggests that we should prioritize actions that have a positive impact on the vast number of people who will exist in the future. This includes improving societal values, navigating the development of AI responsibly, preventing the creation or use of new weapons of mass destruction, and maintaining peace between the world's great powers.

William MacAskill

William MacAskill is a Scottish philosopher and ethicist. He is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Oxford and a co-founder of the effective altruism movement.

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