Topic 5: Introduction to Long-Termism

Objectives

The theme for this week is long-termism, which is the idea that the most important impacts of our actions lie in how they affect the long-run future. This is quite an abstract idea, so don’t worry if you’re not able to grasp it right away! With this in mind, we recommend you progress through the following resources in the order listed. The expected overall reading time is 1 hour.

 

Note that this week, you will discuss these readings in-depth at a 1:1 meeting with your personal mentor.  

Essential readings (expected reading time 1h)

To begin, visit this EA concepts page (2 min), which provides a very concise summary of why the long-term future may or may not be the most important factor in any decisions we make. 

Next, read this 80,000 hours article (15 min) to learn a bit more about long-termism. This article explains why it is important, before discussing how our actions today can have tangible impacts on the future.  

The next resource to look to is the introduction (15 min) to The Precipice by EA Co-Founder Toby Ord, which is a book arguing that safeguarding humanity’s future is the defining challenge of our time. This section provides a summary of why our current time period is such a dangerous time for humanity. 

Building on this idea is another 80,000 hours article (12 min). It initially outlines general mechanisms whereby humanity can change the long-run future, before focusing on more specific ways we are able to improve it. (Note, however, that there are many more mechanisms than are mentioned here). 

Finally, this thought-provoking GiveWell article (5 min) builds on some of the previous reading on Global Health from Week 2, looking at this problem from a long-termist perspective.  

Optional readings

‘What we owe the future’ is a talk (40 min) by Will MacAskill, given virtually to Harvard University. He explores long-termism and its implications further, using engaging examples and visuals.  

Another great resource is ‘Orienting towards the long-term future’, which is a talk (25 min) given by Joseph Carlsmith at an EA Global Conference. He discusses the orientation towards long-term futures, and what motivates some individuals to focus on it.