The Moral Value of the Far Future

Holden Karnofsky’s GiveWell blogpost on the Moral Value of the Far Future (March 18 2015):

In brief:

  • I broadly accept the idea that the bulk of our impact may come from effects on future generations, and this view causes me to be more interested in scientific research funding, global catastrophic risk mitigation, and other causes outside of aid to the developing-world poor. (If not for this view, I would likely favor the latter and would likely be far more interested in animal welfare as well.) However, I place only limited weight on the specific argument given by Nick Bostrom in Astronomical Waste – that the potential future population is so massive as to clearly (in a probabilistic framework) dwarf all present-day considerations. More
  • I reject the idea that placing high value on the far future – no matter how high the value – makes it clear that one should focus on reducing the risks of catastrophes such as extreme climate change, pandemics, misuse of advanced artificial intelligence, etc. Even one who fully accepts the conclusions of “Astronomical Waste” has good reason to consider focusing on shorter-term, more tangible, higher-certainty opportunities to do good – including donating to GiveWell’s current top charities and reaping the associated flow-through effectsMore
  • I consider “global catastrophic risk reduction” to be a promising area for a philanthropist. As discussed previously, we are investigating this area actively. More



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