Longtermism and the future of humanity
Time: 14:00 - 16:30
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HP193
Duration: 2 sessions (over 2 weeks)
What is the course about?
In expectation, the future is vast. The average mammalian species survives for approximately one million years. Our close relative, Homo erectus, survived for almost two million. We Homo sapiens have been around for only 200,000 years. With the benefit of technology and foresight, we could in principle survive for at least as long as the earth is habitable; probably around 600-800 million years or more.
Most of us think that future generations matter. When forests are cut down or rivers and oceans polluted, we think this is immoral not just because of the damage done to those alive today, but also because the world is ruined for those to come. If someone were to plant a bomb and set it to blast in two-hundred years, would still consider them guilty of a horrific crime.
If future generations matter, and we have reason to believe that there are potentially thousands of future generations, then this seems to imply that it is overwhelmingly important that we ensure the future goes well. If you care about helping people, no matter where or when they’re born, then you ought to devote considerable efforts to improving and safeguarding the billions and billions of lives in humanity’s future. This view is known as Longtermism.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
This course is an introduction to contemporary academic discussions and debates over Longtermism. Over the two weeks, we will explore the following questions:
- Does the future matter more than the present?
- Do we have moral obligations to future generations?
- How bad would human extinction be?
- Is a small very happy population preferable to a large merely satisfied population?
- How should you act if you are uncertain about moral facts?
- What is the best way to help future generations right now?
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
- Evaluate the arguments for and against Longtermism.
- Understand what is meant by existential risk, existential hope, normative uncertainty, population axiology, and other key terms in the debate.
- Think critically about the value of humanity’s long-term future.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
This course is suitable for students of all levels. There is no expectation that students will have studied any philosophy beforehand. All that is required is an enthusiasm for learning and a willingness to engage with difficult, sometimes abstract, concepts and arguments.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The course will consist of two classes of 2.5 hours. Reading for the course will be made available in the course’s Google Classroom. Each class will consist of an interactive lecture, with plenty of opportunity for Q&A and group discussion.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Just your curiosity and enthusiasm!
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Please see our website for details of all upcoming courses in philosophy.
Oliver holds a postgraduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. Since graduating, he has taught a wide variety of courses to a broad range of students, from adults and children exploring the subject for the first time through to advanced undergraduates. His main areas of interest are the Philosophy of Mathematics, Metaphysics, the Philosophy of Language, and Logic. Recently, his research has focussed on developing medieval approaches to semantic paradoxes using modern mathematical methods. When Oliver’s not teaching or writing up papers, he’s either lost in a good book or somewhere deep in the English countryside.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.