Flourishing in the Future
By Alice Temnick
When you think of the future, how far out does your imagination take you? Next year, a century, a half million years? In this episode, Will MacAskill presents “longtermism” to us, suggesting that we have a moral responsibility to the people who will live after us, as their numbers will be substantially greater than those who live now or who lived before us. Host Russ Roberts asks provocative questions that will undoubtedly leave you wondering…What do we owe the future? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
1- In the opening thought experiment that Russ reads, what images came into your mind of living others’ lives in the proposed long future? What most worried you and what most resonated with you as you visualized the world in which the majority of humanity will likely live?
2- The billions of people who live after of us will likely be considerably materially richer thanks in part to our groundwork. MacAskill believes that we are morally responsible for preserving the opportunity for future generations to flourish. What differentiates their richness and flourishing and why do you think each is important?
3- MacAskill refers to Big Gods in world religions as an innovation. How does he connect this to free-riding? Do you worry about an increasingly atheist or agnostic world? Why or why not?
4- How does MacAskill’s thought experiment about catastrophic population destruction illustrate Smithian gains from division of labor? What remaining population numbers might be necessary for gains from the extent of trade?
5- What do you think of MacAskill’s preference-satisfaction view: living for positive conscious experiences–like happiness, joy, bliss, meaningful moments–and the avoidance of negative experiences–like suffering, misery, depression? Does this view contrast with societies that encourage moral entrepreneurs such as Benjamin Lay? Explain.