The hinge of history is a hypothetical time in human history in which humanity has disproportionate influence over the long-term future. The hinge of history hypothesis is the view that we are currently living at the hinge of history.[1][2] The hypothesis has been explicitly endorsed by a number of key figures in the effective altruism community, including Derek Parfit,[3][4][5] Toby Ord[6] and Holden Karnofsky,[7] and is arguably implicit in the writings of other prominent authors, such as Eliezer Yudkowsky and Nick Bostrom.

Whether the hinge of history hypothesis is true may determine how the present generation ought to prioritize between causes or choose between giving and investing, and may have other important implications.

Further reading

Fisher, Richard (2020) Are we living at the “hinge of history”?, BBC Future, September 23.

Kelsey Piper (2019) Is this the most important century in human history?, Vox, September 26.

MacAskill, William (2022) Are we living at the hinge of history?, in Jeff McMahan et al. (eds.) Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 331–357.

Trammell, Philip (2020) Philanthropy timing and the Hinge of History, Effective Altruism Global, February 11.

Wiblin, Robert & Keiran Harris (2020) Will MacAskill on the moral case against ever leaving the house, whether now is the hinge of history, and the culture of effective altruism, 80,000 Hours, January 24.

cause prioritization | long-term future | patient altruism | timing of philanthropy

  1. ^

    MacAskill, William (2019) Are we living at the most influential time in history?, Effective Altruism Forum, September 3.

  2. ^

    MacAskill, William (2022) Are we living at the hinge of history?, in Jeff McMahan et al. (eds.) Ethics and Existence: The Legacy of Derek Parfit, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 331–357.

  3. ^

    "the part of our moral theory [...] that covers how we affect future generations [...] is the most important part of our moral theory, since the next few centuries will be the most important in human history." (Parfit, Derek (1984) Reasons and Persons, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 351)

  4. ^

    "We live during the hinge of history. Given the scientific and technological discoveries of the last two centuries, the world has never changed as fast. We shall soon have even greater powers to transform, not only our surroundings, but ourselves and our successors. If we act wisely in the next few centuries, humanity will survive its most dangerous and decisive period. Our descendants could, if necessary, go elsewhere, spreading through this galaxy." (Parfit, Derek (2011) On What Matters, vol. 2, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 616)

  5. ^

    "I think that we are living now in the most critical part of human history. The twentieth century, I think, was the best and worst of all centuries so far. But it now seems fairly likely that there are no intelligent beings anywhere else in the observable universe. Now, if that's true, we may be living in the most critical part of the history of the universe... [The reason] why this may be the critical period in the history of the universe is if we are the only rational intelligent beings, it's only we who might provide the origin of what would then become a galaxy-wide civilisation, which lasted for billions of years, and in which life was much better than it is for most human beings. Well, if you look at the scale there between human history so far and what could come about, it's enormous. And what's critical is that we could blow it, we could end it." (Parfit, Derek (2015) Full address, Oxford Union, October 10, 12:47–15:51)

  6. ^

    Ord, Toby (2020) The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

  7. ^

    Karnofsky, Holden (2021) Roadmap for the ‘most important century’ series, Cold Takes, June 30.