Over the last months, we have added various new working papers to our website and we thought some forum users might be interested in some of them. In addition, Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill recently updated their "The case for strong longtermism" paper (which has already been discussed here).

Updated version of "The case for strong longtermism"

Hilary and Will's paper "The case for strong longtermism" has undergone some significant revisions since the original version that was published in 2019. Main changes in the new (2021) working paper are:

  • The authors now operate with a revised definition of (axiological and deontic) strong longtermism.
  • There are now more details on the relevant empirical matters regarding opportunities to mitigate existential risk.
  • A new section on “fanaticism” (the worry that expected value reasoning is perhaps inappropriate in cases that involve extremely small probabilities of extremely large payoffs) has been included.
  • There is also a new section on “cluelessness”, discussing (inter alia) the issue of conscious unawareness about what the future might be like.

New working papers

Philip Trammell: Dynamic public good provision under time preference heterogeneity: theory and applications to philanthropy


I explore the implications of time preference heterogeneity for public good funding. I find that the assumption of a common discount rate is knife-edge: allowing for time preference heterogeneity produces substantially different funding behavior in equilibrium. In particular, I find that, across a variety of circumstances, patient funders invest, rather than spend, the entirety of their resources for substantial lengths of time in equilibrium. I also find that the implications of this departure from the common-discount-rate case are economically significant, in that the patient payoff to spending in equilibrium, relative to that of spending according to an intermediate time preference rate, can grow arbitrarily large as a patient funder’s share of initial funding goes to zero. Finally, I discuss applications of these results to the timing of philanthropic spending, and to patient philanthropists’ willingness to pay to avoid legal disbursement minima.

Teruji Thomas: Doomsday and objective chance


Lewis’s Principal Principle says that one should usually align one’s credences with the known chances. In this paper, I develop a version of the Principal Principle that deals well with some exceptional cases related to the distinction between metaphysical and epistemic modal­ity. I explain how this principle gives a unified account of the Sleeping Beauty problem and chance-­based principles of anthropic reasoning. In doing so, I defuse the Doomsday Argument that the end of the world is likely to be nigh.

Nick Beckstead (Open Philanthropy Project) and Teruji Thomas: A paradox for tiny probabilities and enormous values


We show that every theory of the value of uncertain prospects must have one of three unpalatable properties. Reckless theories recommend risking arbitrarily great gains at arbitrarily long odds for the sake of enormous potential; timid theories permit passing up arbitrarily great gains to prevent a tiny increase in risk; non-transitive theories deny the principle that, if A is better than B and B is better than C, then A must be better than C. While non-transitivity has been much discussed, we draw out the costs and benefits of recklessness and timidity when it comes to axiology, decision theory, and moral uncertainty.

David Thorstad: The scope of longtermism 


Longtermism holds roughly that in many decision situations, the best thing we can do is what is best for the long-term future. The scope question for longtermism asks: how large is the class of decision situations for which longtermism holds? Although longtermism was initially developed to describe the situation of cause-neutral philan- thropic decisionmaking, it is increasingly suggested that longtermism holds in many or most decision problems that humans face.  By contrast, I suggest that the scope of longtermism may be more restricted than commonly supposed. After specifying my
target, swamping axiological strong longtermism (swamping ASL), I give two arguments for the rarity thesis that the options needed to vindicate swamping ASL in a given decision problem are rare. I use the rarity thesis to pose two challenges to the scope of longtermism: the area challenge that swamping ASL often fails when we restrict our attention to specific cause areas, and the challenge from option unawareness that swamping ASL may fail when decision problems are modified to incorporate agents’ limited awareness of the options available to them.


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