William MacAskill

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William MacAskill
William Crouch

(1987-03-24) 24 March 1987 (age 34)
EducationJesus College, Cambridge (BA)
St Edmund Hall, Oxford (BPhil)
St Anne's College, Oxford (DPhil)
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsEmmanuel College, Cambridge
Lincoln College, Oxford
Future of Humanity Institute
Giving What We Can
80,000 Hours
Doctoral advisorKrister Bykvist and John Broome
Main interests
Effective altruism

William MacAskill (né Crouch;[1] born 24 March 1987) is a Scottish philosopher, ethicist, and one of the originators of the effective altruism movement.[2][3] He is Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Oxford, a researcher at the Global Priorities Institute at Oxford[4] and Director of the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research.[5]

MacAskill is also the co-founder and president of 80,000 Hours, the co-founder and vice-president of Giving What We Can,[6] and the co-founder of the Centre for Effective Altruism.[7]

He is the author of the 2015 book Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference.[8]


MacAskill earned his BA in philosophy at Jesus College, Cambridge, his BPhil at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and his DPhil in philosophy at St Anne's College, Oxford in 2014 (spending a year as a visiting student at Princeton University), supervised by John Broome and Krister Bykvist.[9] He then took up a junior research fellowship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge,[10] before taking an associate professorship at Lincoln College, Oxford.[11]

MacAskill's research has two main focuses. The first addresses the issue of how one ought to make decisions under normative uncertainty; in addition to a DPhil on the topic,[9] he has published on this issue in Ethics,[12] Mind,[13] and The Journal of Philosophy.[14]

His popular writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Independent, Time, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post.[15]

MacAskill has been an advisor to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.[16] Bill Gates describes him as "a data nerd after my own heart."[17]

Doing Good Better[edit]

MacAskill's second research focus is on effective altruism. His book on the topic, Doing Good Better, was published in 2015, and reviewed favorably in the London Review of Books,[18] The Guardian,[19] and The New York Times.[20]

In the book, he argues that many of the ways people think about doing good achieve very little, but that by applying data and scientific reasoning to the normally sentimental world of doing good, opportunities to have a huge positive impact can be found. MacAskill also makes controversial claims such as the fact that fair trade does very little to help the poorest farmers, that boycotting sweatshops might make things worse for the global poor and that people who pursue high-income careers such as plastic surgeons or wall street bankers could do more good than charity workers.[8]

MacAskill's argument that young idealists can consider working for Wall Street has been the subject of a New York Times op-ed by David Brooks.[21] Brooks argued that, while effective altruists may start earning to give in order to realise their deepest commitments, their values may erode over time, becoming progressively less altruistic. In addition, Brooks objected to the view on which altruists should turn themselves "into a machine for the redistribution of wealth."[21]

Talks and media appearances[edit]

In 2016, MacAskill appeared on The Tim Ferriss Show[22] as well as repeatedly on the Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris.[23][24]

In 2018, MacAskill gave a TED talk on effective altruism at the TED conference in Vancouver, which was since viewed more than 2 million times.[25]

MacAskill has a chapter giving advice in Tim Ferriss' book Tools of Titans.

Personal life[edit]

MacAskill (born Crouch) argued that men should consider changing their last names when they get married; he and his fiancée changed their name to "MacAskill", her maternal grandmother's maiden name.[1] MacAskill and his former wife, Amanda, have authored articles together on topics of ethical debate.[26][27]

MacAskill lives in Oxford.[28]


  • Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical Way to Make a Difference. London: Guardian Faber, 2015. ISBN 978-1-78335-049-0.
  • with Krister Bykvist and Toby Ord. Moral Uncertainty. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. ISBN 978-1-78335-049-0.
  • with Darius Meissner. Utilitarianism.net — an introductory online textbook on utilitarianism.


  1. ^ a b MacAskill, William (5 March 2013). "Men Should Consider Changing Their Last Names When They Get Married". The Atlantic. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  2. ^ Thompson, Derek (15 June 2015). "The Greatest Good". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  3. ^ Diver, Tony (1 March 2017). "While the papers whine about Oxbridge debauchery, student altruism gets ignored". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  4. ^ "People". Global Priorities Institute. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  5. ^ "About us". Forethought Foundation. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  6. ^ Matthews, Dylan (29 July 2015). "You have 80,000 hours in your career. Here's how to do the most good with them". Vox. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  7. ^ Quaade, Sebastian (5 April 2018). "An Interview with William MacAskill, Founding Member of Effective Altruism". The Politic. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  8. ^ a b MacAskill, William (2015). Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference. London: Guardian Faber. ISBN 978-1-78335-049-0. OCLC 920597471.
  9. ^ a b MacAskill, William (2014). Normative Uncertainty (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.
  10. ^ "New People" (PDF). Oxford Philosophy. 2015. p. 7. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  11. ^ "Members: The Senior Common Room 2015–16" (PDF). Lincoln College Record 2015–16. 2016. p. 9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 April 2020. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  12. ^ MacAskill, William (1 April 2013). "The Infectiousness of Nihilism". Ethics. 123 (3): 508–520. doi:10.1086/669564. ISSN 0014-1704.
  13. ^ MacAskill, William (October 2016). "Normative Uncertainty as a Voting Problem". Mind. 125 (500): 967–1004. doi:10.1093/mind/fzv169. ISSN 0026-4423.
  14. ^ MacAskill, William (2016). "Smokers, Psychos, and Decision-Theoretic Uncertainty:". The Journal of Philosophy. 113 (9): 425–445. doi:10.5840/jphil2016113929. ISSN 0022-362X.
  15. ^ "Press". William MacAskill. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  16. ^ "William MacAskill". The Future of Humanity Institute. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Effective Altruism: A Better Way to Lead an Ethical Life". Intelligence Squared. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  18. ^ Srinivasan, Amia (24 September 2015). "Stop the Robot Apocalypse". London Review of Books. pp. 3–6. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  19. ^ Shariatmadari, David (20 August 2015). "Doing Good Better by William MacAskill review – if you read this book, you'll change the charities you donate to". the Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  20. ^ Cowen, Tyler (14 August 2015). "Effective Altruism: Where Charity and Rationality Meet". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  21. ^ a b Brooks, David (3 June 2013). "The Way to Produce a Person". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  22. ^ Tim Ferriss (4 January 2016). "Will MacAskill Interview". The Tim Ferriss Show (Podcast). Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  23. ^ Sam Harris (29 August 2016). "Being Good and Doing Good". Making Sense (Podcast). Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  24. ^ Harris, Sam. "#228 - Doing Good". Making Sense Podcast. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  25. ^ MacAskill, William (April 2018). What are the most important moral problems of our time? (video). TED.
  26. ^ MacAskill, Amanda; MacAskill, William (9 September 2015). "To truly end animal suffering, the most ethical choice is to kill wild predators (especially Cecil the lion)". Quartz. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  27. ^ MacAskill, William; MacAskill, Amanda (19 November 2015). "The truth about animal charities, cats and dogs". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  28. ^ "William MacAskill". Twitter. Retrieved 29 July 2020.

External links[edit]