Despite scientific research claiming that it’s better to be realistically pessimistic than unrealistically optimistic (Hecht, 2013), the philosophical idea of ‘longtermism’, coined by Oxford philosophers William MacAskill & Toby Ord, can help foster realistic optimism for the future. In 2023, there is no way to escape discourse about the future; the amount of ominous prophecies in the news is enough to devastate anyone. From discussions of a mere 20 years to act before the climate crisis crushes the planet (Turrentine, 2018), to an ongoing war of 584 days being fought on the other side of Europe, it’s no wonder that 39% of US adults believe ‘we are living in end times’ (Diamant, 2022).

This apocalyptic way of thinking will get us nowhere: it’s time for a change. Longtermism, according to Moorhouse (2021) ‘is the view that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time’. This philosophical idea isn’t a completely manufactured or rigid one either – it’s more of a collection of different understandings, agreeing upon the fundamental principle of looking after humanity’s future. MacAskill (2022) states, ‘if you could prevent a genocide in a thousand years, the fact that “those people don’t exist yet” would do nothing to justify inaction’, which encapsulates the underlying motif of this philosophy. In essence, longtermism is important simply because future people matter.

Thus, longtermism poses divisive questions of what or which is more important – future generations or our current one? Longtermists would argue that humanity has a ‘potential’ of its own, which surpasses the potential of each individual human being, and therefore there would be an ‘existential catastrophe’, should any event actually extinguish this potential. However, a clear criticism of longtermism would be its reliance upon utilitarian principles. Torres (2021), outlines this clearly when he explains that for longtermists, such as Ord, MacAskill or Hilary Greaves, a world in which 1 trillion people live a life barely worth living, ‘would be morally better’, than one in which 999 billion people live lives which are ‘extremely good’. The suggestion here from Torres being that longtermists tend to treat human beings as a means to an end, due to longtermism’s emphasis on total utilitarianism. However, whilst longtermists acknowledge that total utilitarianism very much favours longtermism, they would offer that one of Toby Ord’s accomplishments in ‘The Precipice’, is pointing out longtermism’s alignment with other ‘ethical traditions’, such as conservatism. Essentially, it’s possible for someone to endorse a whole host of ethical opinions and still support longtermism.

One of longtermism’s greatest merits is the way that it’s put into practice, and it is this element which allows it to foster such hope and optimism for the future. Longtermist thinking is responsible for the founding of various institutes such as the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) and the Global Priorities Institute (GPI), as well as the Effective Altruism philosophical movement, with the EA movement now possessing $46 billion in dedicated funding (Torres, 2021). Famously wealthy figures such as Elon Musk, or Peter Thiel, have donated huge sums of money to longtermist institutes. Longtermism, through the work of Ord, has also crept into politics, ensuring that its’ core principles are being enveloped in current political policy. In recent years, Ord has been involved in a report from the Secretary General of the UN, which specifically mentioned ‘long-termism’.
Thus, it’s clear to see that longtermism has ignited an optimistic movement, which is still gathering momentum; the scope of longtermism’s impact, whether now or in the future, is irrefutably significant.


Torres, É. (2021) ‘Against Longtermism’, Aeon, Available at: (Accessed: 30 September 2023).

MacAskill, W. (2022) ‘What is longtermism?’, BBC Future, Available at: (Accessed: 30 September 2023).

Steele K. (2022) ‘Longtermism – why the million-year philosophy can’t be ignored’, The Conversation, Available at (Accessed: 30 September 2023).

Dimant J. (2022) About four-in-ten U.S. adults believe humanity is ‘living in end times. Available at: (Accessed: 30 September 2023).

Turrentine J. (2018) Climate Scientists to World: We Have Only 20 Years Before There’s No Turning Back. Available At: (Accessed: 30 September 2023).

Moorhouse F. (2021) ‘Longtermism: An Introduction’, Effective Altruism, Available at: (Accessed: 30 September 2023).

Belfield H. (2021) Response to Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’. Available at: (Accessed: 30 September).