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 35)
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. MacAskill is also the co-founder of Giving What We Can, the Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours.[7] 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] MacAskill 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 later became a guiding principle for his life.[6]

MacAskill earned a BA in philosophy at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 2008 followed by a 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.[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, along with Toby Ord, co-founded the organisation Giving What We Can to encourage people to pledge to donate 10% of their income to effective charities.[1] He co-founded the Centre for Effective Altruism in 2011 as an umbrella organisation of Giving What We Can and 80,000 hours,[16] 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]

MacAskill is Chair of the Advisor Board at the Global Priorities Institute at the University of Oxford[17] and Director of the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research.[18] He is an advisor to Longview Philanthropy.[19]

MacAskill was named in the team list of the FTX Future Fund that committed around $160 million in grants.[20] However, following the bankruptcy of FTX, MacAskill and the rest of the team resigned from the FTX Future Fund.[21][22]


One of the main focuses of MacAskill's research has been the issue of how one ought to make decisions under normative uncertainty; this was the topic of his dissertation for his DPhil.[23] MacAskill has published on this issue in Ethics,[24] Mind,[25] and The Journal of Philosophy.[26] He was named as external investigator on a December 2017 grant to the Center for Election Science from Open Philanthropy.[27]


Doing Good Better[edit]

MacAskill's first book, Doing Good Better, was published in 2015.[28][29][30][31] In the book, 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 normally sentimental world of doing good, opportunities to have a much larger positive impact can be found. The book goes on to propose that fair trade does very little to help the poorest farmers, how boycotting sweatshops makes things worse for the global poor, and why 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] 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".[32]

What We Owe the Future[edit]

MacAskill's second book, What We Owe the Future, makes the case for longtermism.[33]: 35–36  His argument for longtermism has three parts: first, future people count morally as much as the people alive today; second, the future is immensely big since humanity may survive for a very long time; and third, the future could be very good or very bad, and our actions may affect what it will be. 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.[33]

What We Owe the Future received coverage in The New Yorker,[6] Time,[1] and The Bookseller.[34] Adaptations of the book's central thesis have been published by MacAskill in Foreign Affairs,[35] The New York Times,[36] and the BBC.[37]

Talks and media appearances[edit]

MacAskill has appeared on The Tim Ferriss Show,[38][39] the Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris,[40][41] and The Ezra Klein Show podcasts.[18] In 2022, he appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to discuss his book What We Owe the Future.[42] In 2018, MacAskill gave a TED talk on effective altruism at the TED conference in Vancouver.[43] MacAskill has a chapter giving advice in Tim Ferriss' book Tools of Titans.[44]

Personal life[edit]

MacAskill (born Crouch) argues that men should consider changing their last names when they get married. He and his ex-wife changed their last name to "MacAskill", her maternal grandmother's maiden name.[45] MacAskill and his former wife authored articles together on topics of ethical debate.[46][47] They separated in 2015 and later divorced.[1]

MacAskill has experienced both anxiety and depression.[1] Out of concern for animal welfare, he is a vegetarian.[48] MacAskill lives in Oxford.[49][50]


  • 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 g 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". oxford.academia.edu. Retrieved 12 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  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 d 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. ^ "What's bad about being good?". News. University of St Andrews. 20 September 2017. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  17. ^ "People". Global Priorities Institute. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  18. ^ a b "Three Sentences That Could Change the World — and Your Life". The New York Times. 9 August 2022. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 August 2022.
  19. ^ "People". Longview Philanthropy. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  20. ^ "Who we are". FTZ Future Fund. 30 September 2022. Archived from the original on 30 September 2022. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  21. ^ "Sam Bankman-Fried's 'Effective Altruism' Team Resigns Amid FTX Meltdown". Gizmodo. 11 November 2022. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  22. ^ "The FTX Future Fund team has resigned". Effective Altruism Forum. 11 November 2022. Archived from the original on 11 November 2022.
  23. ^ MacAskill, William (2014). Normative Uncertainty (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford.
  24. ^ MacAskill, William (1 April 2013). "The Infectiousness of Nihilism". Ethics. 123 (3): 508–520. doi:10.1086/669564. ISSN 0014-1704. S2CID 143796585.
  25. ^ MacAskill, William (October 2016). "Normative Uncertainty as a Voting Problem". Mind. 125 (500): 967–1004. doi:10.1093/mind/fzv169. ISSN 0026-4423.
  26. ^ MacAskill, William (2016). "Smokers, Psychos, and Decision-Theoretic Uncertainty". The Journal of Philosophy. 113 (9): 425–445. doi:10.5840/jphil2016113929. ISSN 0022-362X.
  27. ^ "The Center for Election Science — General Support". Good Ventures. Archived from the original on 9 December 2022. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  28. ^ Srinivasan, Amia (24 September 2015). "Stop the Robot Apocalypse". London Review of Books. pp. 3–6. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Cowen, Tyler (14 August 2015). "Effective Altruism: Where Charity and Rationality Meet". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  31. ^ "Effective Altruism: A Better Way to Lead an Ethical Life". Intelligence Squared. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  32. ^ "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.
  33. ^ a b MacAskill, William (2022). What We Owe the Future. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-1-5416-1862-6.
  34. ^ Sanderson, Caroline (15 July 2022). "William MacAskill on influencing the lives of future generations". The Bookseller. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  35. ^ MacAskill, William (11 August 2022). "The Beginning of History". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  36. ^ MacAskill, William (5 August 2022). "The Case for Longtermism". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  37. ^ MacAskill, William. "What is longtermism and why does it matter?". BBC. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  38. ^ Tim Ferriss (4 January 2016). "Will MacAskill Interview". The Tim Ferriss Show (Podcast). Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  39. ^ Ferriss, Tim (2 August 2022). "Will MacAskill of Effective Altruism Fame — The Value of Longtermism, Tools for Beating Stress and Overwhelm, AI Scenarios, High-Impact Books, and How to Save the World and Be an Agent of Change (#612)". The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  40. ^ Sam Harris (29 August 2016). "Being Good and Doing Good". Making Sense (Podcast). Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  41. ^ Harris, Sam. "#228 - Doing Good". Making Sense Podcast. Retrieved 11 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  42. ^ "September 27, 2022 – William MacAskill". The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Season 27. Episode 138. 27 September 2022. Comedy Central.
  43. ^ MacAskill, William (April 2018). What are the most important moral problems of our time? (video). TED.
  44. ^ Ferriss, Timothy (2016). Tools Of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-1-328-68405-9.
  45. ^ MacAskill, William (5 March 2013). "Men Should Consider Changing Their Last Names When They Get Married". The Atlantic. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  46. ^ 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.
  47. ^ MacAskill, William; MacAskill, Amanda (19 November 2015). "The truth about animal charities, cats and dogs". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  48. ^ MacAskill, William (2017). "Effective Reducetarianism". In Kateman, Brian (ed.). The Reducetarian Solution. Penguin Random House. pp. 69–71.
  49. ^ "William MacAskill". Twitter. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  50. ^ MacAskill, William (2017). "Effective Reducetarianism". In Kateman, Brian (ed.). The Reducetarian Solution. Penguin Random House. pp. 69–71.

External links[edit]