Dec 5, 02022: Longtermism at the Crossroads

Dec 5, 02022: Longtermism at the Crossroads

A Long Now Boston Community Conversation with writer and philosopher Kieran Setiya, Philosophy Section Head in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT.

Date: Monday, Dec 5, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Zoom
Free tickets are available on Eventbrite

Longtermism is a new and increasingly popular philosophical framework that applies rational methods to answer the moral question – “How do we value the far future?”  For many long-term thinkers, this approach is a welcome response to the perceived epidemic of short-term thinking (“short-termism”) that pervades our culture and technology.  Pioneered by William MacAskill in What We Owe the Future, Longtermism argues that we need to balance the desire to benefit society now with a calculus that looks at the aggregate future benefits to human civilization, and life itself, in the long term.

But where does this approach take us? 

In August, Professor Setiya published a review of MacAskill’s book in The Boston Review,  The New Moral Mathematics, providing a philosophical perspective on the consequences of Longtermism.  He concluded: “What We Owe the Future is an instructive, intelligent book. It has a lot to teach us about history and the future, about neglected risks and moral myopia. But a moral arithmetic is only as good as its axioms.”  

In our December Conversation, Professor Setiya will expand on the potential drawbacks to Longtermism’s moral arithmetic and consider the long term consequences of this philosophy. 

Among the questions to be addressed in the conversation:

  • How do you respond to the “Repugnant Conclusion” from MacAskill’s population ethics  that a world with many more people living worse off than today is better than a world with fewer people living much better lives?
  • What does a “rational calculus” leave out?  Are there moral considerations that can’t be properly captured in a cost-benefit framework?
  • How do we balance the different values Longtermism is trying to reduce to a single measure, and what gets lost in making the arithmetic tradeoffs?
  •  What axioms could be added to MacAskill’s formulation to better guide our moral evaluations of present versus long term risks and opportunities?

Join the conversation and be part of the solution.

The conversation will be held virtually using the Zoom platform. Login information and password will be provided to registrants prior to the event.

All tickets are free for this event! Please register at Eventbrite.

Login begins at 7:15 p.m.; the conversation begins at 7:30 p.m.

Audience participation is encouraged.

About the Speaker:

Kieran Setiya is the Philosophy Section Head in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT.  He works on issues in ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind and is the author of a number of books including Knowing Right From Wrong (2012) and Midlife: A Philosophical Guide (2017). His new book, Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way (2022) was just released.  In August, Professor Setiya published a book review The New Moral Mathematics (Boston Review) commenting on the philosophical consequences of Longtermism as articulated by William MacAskill in What We Owe the Future (2022).

We’re proud and excited to welcome Kieran to the Long Now Boston community.

Thanks to our generous event sponsor, this event is Free.
Register at:

Cambridge Innovation Center is an in-kind sponsor of this Long Now Boston conversation. We are very grateful for their support.

For information about event or corporate sponsorships, please contact

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