William MacAskill

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William MacAskill
William MacAskill Portrait 2015 (cropped).jpg
MacAskill in 2015
William David Crouch

(1987-03-24) 24 March 1987 (age 36)
Glasgow, Scotland
Amanda Askell
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
ThesisNormative Uncertainty (2014)
Doctoral advisors
Main interests
Notable ideas

William David MacAskill ( Crouch; born 24 March 1987)[3] is a Scottish philosopher and author, as well as one of the originators of the effective altruism movement.[4][5][6] He is an Associate Professor in Philosophy and Research Fellow at the Global Priorities Institute at the University of Oxford and Director of the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research. He co-founded Giving What We Can, the Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours,[7] and he is the author of the 2015 book Doing Good Better,[8] the 2022 book What We Owe the Future[9] and co-author of the 2020 book Moral Uncertainty.[10]

Early life and education[edit]

MacAskill was born William Crouch in 1987 and grew up in Glasgow.[1][6][11] He was educated at Hutchesons' Grammar School in Glasgow.[12] At the age of 15, after learning about how many people were dying as a result of AIDS, he made the decision to work towards becoming wealthy and giving away half of his money.[13] At the age of 18, MacAskill read Peter Singer's 1972 essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", which motivated his philosophical and charitable interests.[6]

MacAskill earned his BA in philosophy at Jesus College, Cambridge in 2008 and BPhil at St Edmund Hall, Oxford in 2010. He went on to be awarded a DPhil 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 [sv].[2] He then took up a junior research fellowship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge,[14] before taking an associate professorship at Lincoln College, Oxford.[15]



In 2009, MacAskill and fellow Oxford graduate student Toby Ord co-founded the organisation Giving What We Can to encourage people to pledge to donate 10% of their income to charities "that you sincerely believe to be among the most effective at improving the lives of others".[1][16] He co-founded the Centre for Effective Altruism in 2011 as an umbrella organisation of Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours,[17] which he co-founded with Benjamin Todd, to provide advice on how to use your career to do the most good in the world.[1] In 2018, MacAskill gave a TED talk on effective altruism at the TED conference in Vancouver.[18]

MacAskill has worked as Chair of the Advisory Board at the Global Priorities Institute at the University of Oxford[19] and Director of the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research.[20] He is an advisor to Longview Philanthropy.[21]

He was associated with Samuel Bankman-Fried for a number of years and supported Bankman-Fried against an effort in 2018 to oust him from control of the now-failed trading firm Alameda Research despite being made aware of claims that Bankman-Fried was engaging in inappropriate conduct.[22] He benefited from his association with FTX and he was a member of Samuel Bankman-Fried's FTX Future Fund, which granted $160 million to effective altruism causes in 2022, including $33 million to organizations directly connected to MacAskill.[23] Following the bankruptcy of FTX, MacAskill and the rest of the team resigned from the fund.[24]


One of the main focuses of MacAskill's research has been how one ought to make decisions under normative uncertainty; this was the topic of his DPhil thesis,[25] as well as articles in Ethics,[26] Mind[27] and The Journal of Philosophy.[28]


Doing Good Better[edit]

MacAskill's first book, Doing Good Better, was published in 2015.[29][30][31][32] MacAskill argues that many of the ways people think about doing good achieve very little, but that by applying data and scientific reasoning to the doing good, one can have a much larger positive impact. For example, the book proposes that fair trade does very little to help the poorest farmers, that boycotting sweatshops is bad for the global poor, and that people who pursue high-income careers could do more good than charity workers by donating large portions of their wealth to effective charities, i.e. earning to give.[8] However, in the same year the book was published, MacAskill deemphasised earning to give saying "only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term".[33]

What We Owe the Future[edit]

MacAskill's second book, What We Owe the Future, makes the case for longtermism.[34]: 35–36  His argument has three parts: first, future people count morally as much as the people alive today; second, the future is immense because humanity may survive for a very long time; and third, the future could be very good or very bad, and our actions could make the difference. The book also discusses how bad the end of humanity would be, which depends on whether the future will be good or bad and whether it is morally good for happy people to be born—a key question in population ethics. He concludes that the future will likely be positive on balance if humanity survives.[34]

Role in Twitter acquisition talks[edit]

In 2022, as tech magnate Elon Musk sought funding for his purchase of Twitter, MacAskill liaisoned between Musk and Bankman-Fried. Musk and MacAskill were previously acquainted; Musk described What We Owe the Future as "a close match for my philosophy". MacAskill contacted Musk to arrange a conversation with Bankman-Fried, describing him as "my collaborator".[23] Ultimately, Bankman-Fried, whose corporate ventures were facing shortfalls that were not yet publicized, did not participate in the acquisition.[35]

Personal life[edit]

MacAskill (born Crouch) argued that men should consider changing their last names when they get married. He and his now ex-wife, Amanda Askell, changed their last name to "MacAskill", her maternal grandmother's maiden name.[36] MacAskill and his former wife authored articles together on topics of ethical debate[37][38] before their separation in 2015 and later divorce.[1]

MacAskill has experienced both anxiety and depression.[1] Out of concern for animal welfare, he is a vegetarian.[39] As of 2022, MacAskill lives in Oxford.[40][41]


  • What We Owe the Future. Basic Books, 2022. ISBN 978-1541618626.
  • 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 and Richard Yetter Chappell. Utilitarianism.net — an introductory online textbook on utilitarianism.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bajekal, Naina (10 August 2022). "Want to Do More Good? This Movement Might Have the Answer". Time. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  2. ^ a b MacAskill, William. "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). fhi.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  3. ^ "Centre for Effective Altruism". Companies House. GOV.UK. Director's details changed for William David Crouch on 5 November 2013.
  4. ^ Thompson, Derek (15 June 2015). "The Greatest Good". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  5. ^ Diver, Tony (1 March 2017). "While the papers whine about Oxbridge debauchery, student altruism gets ignored". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Lewis-Kraus, Gideon (8 August 2022). "The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism". The New Yorker. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  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. ^ MacAskill, William (6 December 2021). What We Owe the Future by William MacAskill. Basic Books. ISBN 9781541618633. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  10. ^ MacAskill, William; Bykvist, Krister; Ord, Toby (2020). Moral Uncertainty (PDF). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-872227-4.
  11. ^ Tett, Gillian (9 September 2022). "Philosopher William MacAskill: 'The world is a darker place than it was just five years ago'". Financial Times. Retrieved 26 January 2023.
  12. ^ Morrison, Hamish (15 August 2022). "William MacAskill: Effective altruism philosopher backs Scottish independence". The National. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  13. ^ Anthony, Andrew (21 August 2022). "William MacAskill: 'There are 80 trillion people yet to come. They need us to start protecting them'". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  14. ^ "New People" (PDF). Oxford Philosophy. 2015. p. 7. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ "Our pledge". www.givingwhatwecan.org. Retrieved 30 March 2023.
  17. ^ "What's bad about being good?". News. University of St Andrews. 20 September 2017. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  18. ^ MacAskill, William (April 2018). What are the most important moral problems of our time? (video). TED.
  19. ^ "People". Global Priorities Institute. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  20. ^ "Three Sentences That Could Change the World — and Your Life". The New York Times. 9 August 2022. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 August 2022.
  21. ^ "People". Longview Philanthropy. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  22. ^ "Exclusive: Effective Altruist Leaders Were Warned About Sam Bankman-Fried Years Before FTX Collapsed". 15 March 2023.
  23. ^ a b Alter, Charlotte (15 March 2023). "Exclusive: Effective Altruist Leaders Were Warned About Sam Bankman-Fried Years Before FTX Collapsed". Time. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
  24. ^ "Sam Bankman-Fried's 'Effective Altruism' Team Resigns Amid FTX Meltdown". Gizmodo. 11 November 2022. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  25. ^ MacAskill, William (2014). Normative Uncertainty (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.
  26. ^ MacAskill, William (1 April 2013). "The Infectiousness of Nihilism". Ethics. 123 (3): 508–520. doi:10.1086/669564. ISSN 0014-1704. S2CID 143796585.
  27. ^ MacAskill, William (October 2016). "Normative Uncertainty as a Voting Problem". Mind. 125 (500): 967–1004. doi:10.1093/mind/fzv169. ISSN 0026-4423.
  28. ^ MacAskill, William (2016). "Smokers, Psychos, and Decision-Theoretic Uncertainty". The Journal of Philosophy. 113 (9): 425–445. doi:10.5840/jphil2016113929. ISSN 0022-362X.
  29. ^ Srinivasan, Amia (24 September 2015). "Stop the Robot Apocalypse". London Review of Books. pp. 3–6. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Cowen, Tyler (14 August 2015). "Effective Altruism: Where Charity and Rationality Meet". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  32. ^ "Effective Altruism: A Better Way to Lead an Ethical Life". Intelligence Squared. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  33. ^ "80,000 Hours thinks that only a small proportion of people should earn to give long term". 80,000 Hours. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  34. ^ a b MacAskill, William (2022). What We Owe the Future. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-1-5416-1862-6.
  35. ^ "How a Scottish Moral Philosopher Got Elon Musk's Number". New York Times. 8 October 2022. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
  36. ^ MacAskill, William (5 March 2013). "Men Should Consider Changing Their Last Names When They Get Married". The Atlantic. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ MacAskill, William; MacAskill, Amanda (19 November 2015). "The truth about animal charities, cats and dogs". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  39. ^ MacAskill, William (2017). "Effective Reducetarianism". In Kateman, Brian (ed.). The Reducetarian Solution. Penguin Random House. pp. 69–71.
  40. ^ "William MacAskill". Twitter. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  41. ^ MacAskill, William (2017). "Effective Reducetarianism". In Kateman, Brian (ed.). The Reducetarian Solution. Penguin Random House. pp. 69–71.

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