What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading
An Oxford philosopher argues that solving today's problems might require putting future generations ahead of ourselves
The human story is just beginning. There are five thousand years of written history, but perhaps millions more to come. In What We Owe the Future, philosopher William MacAskill develops a perspective he calls longtermism to argue that this fact is of enormous moral importance. While we are comfortable thinking about the equal moral worth of humans alive today, we haven't considered the moral weight of future generations. We have put them at grave risk, and not just with climate change. AI could lock humans into perpetual dystopia, or pandemics could end us. But the future could be wonderful: moral and technological progress could result in unimaginable human flourishing.
The future is in our hands. As MacAskill shows, we can make the world better for billions of years to come. Perhaps even more importantly, he shows us just how much is at stake if we consign future generations to oblivion.
PRAISE FOR "WHAT WE OWE THE FUTURE"
“Touchingly optimistic… With something to ponder on every page, a bracing exhortation to do right by the people of centuries to come.”
“MacAskill delivers a sweeping analysis of contemporary dangers that masterfully probes the intersections of technology, science, and politics, while offering fascinating glimpses into humanity’s possible futures. This urgent call to action will inspire and unnerve in equal measure.”—Publishers Weekly
“No living philosopher has had a greater impact upon my ethics than Will MacAskill. In What We Owe The Future, MacAskillhas transformed my thinking once again, by patiently dismantling the lazy intuitions that rendered me morally blind to the interests of future generations. This is an altogether thrilling and necessary book.”
—Sam Harris, five-time New York Times bestselling author and host of the Making Sense podcast
“This book will change your sense of how grand the sweep of human history could be, where you fit into it, and how much you could do to change it for the better. It's as simple, and as ambitious, as that.”—Ezra Klein, host of The Ezra Klein Show podcast
"An exciting new book."—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
“An extraordinary book. I've never read something so deep and fundamental, and so accessible at the same time . . . The publication of this book is a monumental event. William MacAskill is one of the most important philosophers alive today, and this is his magnum opus.”—Rutger Bregman, Dutch historian and author of Utopia for Realists
“This is a book of great daring, clarity, insight and imagination. To be simultaneously so realistic and so optimistic, and always so damned readable … that is a miracle for which MacAskill should be greatly applauded.”
—Stephen Fry, actor
"There are moments when we can change outcomes easily, but if we don't bend those curves right then, we can lock in enormous long-term damage. This fascinating book makes us think relentlessly and usefully about such pivot points; few prods could be more important.”
—Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author of The End of Nature
“What We Owe The Future makes the case for thinking seriously about the very long term. It gives a profoundly new perspective on human civilization and our place in it.”
—Lydia Cacho, journalist and author of The Demons of Eden
"Many books promise a new ‘big idea’, but few deliver one as brilliant as MacAskill’s in What We Owe The Future. A fascinating, profound read."
—Julia Galef, author of The Scout Mindset
“An optimistic look at the future that moved me to tears.”
—Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor
“Warning: This book may radically upgrade your ethics and expand your compassion. What We Owe The Future is an inspiring roadmap to how we can try to improve the lives of the billions and trillions sentient beings yet to come. It’s perhaps our greatest moral duty. So please do yourself – and your grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren – a favor and read this book.”
—AJ Jacobs, editor at large of Esquire Magazine
“This mind-bending, eon-hurtling, visionary, masterful book raises questions that are among the most crucial we face as a species. MacAskill makes a moral case for the future that is urgent, clear, and utterly convincing.”
—Larissa MacFarquhar, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of Strangers Drowning
“To assess what really matters it always helps to zoom out, and Will MacAskill is probably the world’s best zoom-outer. What We Owe The Future brilliantly shows us the biggest picture of all and persuasively reminds us of the vast impact we can all have.”
—Tim Urban, co-founder of Wait but Why
“I expected William MacAskill to write a forceful and persuasive argument for caring more about future people and this book did not disappoint. But it’s so much more—What We Owe The Future is an engaged and deeply original exploration of questions ranging from the contingency of moral progress, to the perils of AI, to the very nature of a happy and fulfilled life. It’s an important, stimulating, and delightful book.”