#6 - Dr Toby Ord on why the long-term future matters more than anything else & what to do about it
Of all the people whose well-being we should care about, only a small fraction are alive today. The rest are members of future generations who are yet to exist. Whether they’ll be born into a world that is flourishing or disintegrating – and indeed, whether they will ever be born at all – is in large part up to us. As such, the welfare of future generations should be our number one moral concern.
This conclusion holds true regardless of whether your moral framework is based on common sense, consequences, rules of ethical conduct, cooperating with others, virtuousness, keeping options open – or just a sense of wonder about the universe we find ourselves in.
That’s the view of Dr Toby Ord, a philosophy Fellow at the University of Oxford and co-founder of the effective altruism community. In this episode of the 80,000 Hours Podcast Dr Ord makes the case that aiming for a positive long-term future is likely the best way to improve the world.
Apply for personalised coaching, see what questions are asked when, and read extra resources to learn more.
We then discuss common objections to long-termism, such as the idea that benefits to future generations are less valuable than those to people alive now, or that we can’t meaningfully benefit future generations beyond taking the usual steps to improve the present.
Later the conversation turns to how individuals can and have changed the course of history, what could go wrong and why, and whether plans to colonise Mars would actually put humanity in a safer position than it is today.
This episode goes deep into the most distinctive features of our advice. It’s likely the most in-depth discussion of how 80,000 Hours and the effective altruism community think about the long term future and why - and why we so often give it top priority.
It’s best to subscribe, so you can listen at leisure on your phone, speed up the conversation if you like, and get notified about future episodes. You can do so by searching ‘80,000 Hours’ wherever you get your podcasts.
Want to help ensure humanity has a positive future instead of destroying itself? We want to help.
We’ve helped 100s of people compare between their options, get introductions, and jobs important for the the long-run future. If you want to work on any of the problems discussed in this episode, such as artificial intelligence or biosecurity, find out if our coaching can help you.
Overview of the discussion
- Why is the long-term future of humanity such a big deal, and perhaps the most important issue for us to be thinking about?
- Five arguments that future generations matter
- How bad would it be if humanity went extinct or civilization collapses?
- Why do people start saying such strange things when this topic comes up?
- Are there any other reasons to prioritize thinking about the long-term future of humanity that you wanted to raise before we move to objections?
- What is this school of thought called?