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About William MacAskill

Short bio

William MacAskill is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Lincoln College, Oxford. He is also the founder and president of 80,000 Hours, the co-founder and vice-president of Giving What We Can, and the author of Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference.

Long bio

William MacAskill is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Oxford University and Tutorial Fellow at Lincoln College. He was educated at Cambridge, Princeton, and Oxford. His research has two main focuses. The first addresses the issue of how one ought to make decisions under normative uncertainty; in addition to a DPhil on the topic, he has published on this issue in Ethics, Mind, and The Journal of Philosophy. The second is on effective altruism: the use of evidence and reason to promote the wellbeing of all. His book on the topic, Doing Good Better, was published in 2015, and reviewed favorably in The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian and The New York Times. In the future, he plans to work further on the theory and practice of effective altruism, including aggregating wellbeing, time-discounting, moral methodology, career choice and cause prioritization.

William is the cofounder of three non-profits based on effective altruist principles: Giving What We Can (2009), 80,000 Hours (2011) and the Centre for Effective Altruism (2012). These organizations have collectively raised over $15 million for effective charities with a further $700 million in lifetime pledged donations, and sparked the ’effective altruism movement’, with thousands of members and over a hundred local groups around the the world.

William has written over 30 popular articles on ethics and effective altruism for venues such as The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Independent, Time, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post. He has given dozens of public lectures at academic and corporate events, including the Oxford Union, London Intelligence Squared, and the Google Future Forum. He is regularly in the media, appearing in venues such as The Tim Ferriss Show, The Today Programme, and the BBC News at Ten, and has advised a range of external parties including Number 10 Downing Street and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

About Doing Good Better

Most of us want to make a difference. We donate our time and money to charities and causes we deem worthy, choose careers we consider meaningful, and patronize businesses and buy products we believe make the world a better place. Unfortunately, we often base these decisions on assumptions and emotions rather than facts. As a result, even our best intentions often lead to ineffective—and sometimes downright harmful—outcomes. How can we do better?

While a researcher at Oxford, trying to figure out which career would allow him to have the greatest impact, William MacAskill confronted this problem head on. He discovered that much of the potential for change was being squandered by lack of information, bad data, and our own prejudice. As an antidote, he and his colleagues developed effective altruism, a practical, data-driven approach that allows each of us to make a tremendous difference regardless of our resources. Effective altruists believe that it’s not enough to simply do good; we must do good better.

At the core of this philosophy are five key questions that help guide our altruistic decisions: How many people benefit, and by how much? Is this the most effective thing I can do? Is this area neglected? What would have happened otherwise? What are the chances of success, and how good would success be? By applying these questions to real-life scenarios, MacAskill shows how many of our assumptions about doing good are misguided. For instance, he argues one can potentially save more lives by becoming a plastic surgeon rather than a heart surgeon; measuring overhead costs is an inaccurate gauge of a charity’s effectiveness; and, it generally doesn’t make sense for individuals to donate to disaster relief.

MacAskill urges us to think differently, set aside biases, and use evidence and careful reasoning rather than act on impulse. When we do this—when we apply the head and the heart to each of our altruistic endeavors—we find that each of us has the power to do an astonishing amount of good.