“By choosing wisely, we can be pivotal in putting humanity on the right course. And if we do, our great-great-grandchildren will look back and thank us, knowing that we did everything we could to give them a world that is just and beautiful.”

I found this quote from What We Owe The Future quite striking. I have heard a few different ‘motivators’ for longtermism, but none have quite hit home like this one.

Toby Ord in The Precipice refers to safeguarding the future as continuing a great partnership that has persisted throughout human history. This didn’t really resonate with me as these people are no longer alive - can we really do anything for them now? If we mess up, they aren’t really affected in any way.

Others have mentioned our descendants and the fact that we can make their lives go well. But it was specifically the idea that these descendants might look back with sincere gratitude that I found to be very motivating. Maybe this is just the selfish side of me coming out, but the idea of future people recognising our efforts gives me an added boost.

Perhaps this is a framing we should use more often, or which should even be the longtermist default. The only improvement I can think of is referring to “our great-great-grandchildren and all other generations to come” to give a better sense of scale.

What do you guys think? What’s your favourite longtermism motivator?




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Definitely; I tried to capture this feeling (of future generations looking back at the uncertainty and danger of our own time) in my short story The Toba Supervolcanic Eruption.  For me, this is definitely one of the top motivations -- another one might be the analogy between the death of an individual and the end of civilization, and the death-like horror of a future where civilization had disappeared.  But different people are different.  For instance, some folks just really like the idea of doing the morally right thing, so that they can know they're a morally good person who's faithfully executed their cosmic duty.