The Science of Doing Good: My Conversation with William MacAskill [The Knowledge Project Ep. 36]

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On this episode of The Knowledge Project, I’m happy to have William MacAskill.

William is the co-founder and President of the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) and an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Oxford University. He is also the founder and president of 80,000 Hours, the co-founder and vice-president of Giving What We Can, and the author of Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference.

William’s work is primarily focused on encouraging people to use reason and evidence to find the best possible ways they can use their resources to make the biggest possible impact in the world.

We cover a lot of ground in this interview, including:

  • Why good intentions aren’t enough when giving to charity and how we can do better
  • How William’s giving philosophy was formed and how it developed into The Centre for Effective Altruism
  • The best metrics to assess how good a charity is before donating a dime
  • How letting our emotions guide our charitable giving can lead to ineffective, and sometimes harmful outcomes.
  • How many charities today unknowingly reward low dollar donors and sell themselves short millions of dollars in potential donations
  • A powerful thought exercise to help you gain a different but valuable perspective about helping the poor and suffering in the world
  • The one cognitive bias William believes is the most damaging to any business, organization or individual
  • William’s foundational values that guide his day to day decisions and actions
  • William’s take on “radical honesty” and when honesty can be taken too far and is no longer constructive
  • William’s definition of success and the imaginary conversation he has with himself on his deathbed to make sure he’s on the right track (this is awesome)
  • The most common mistake William sees people make over and over (and the embarrassingly simple way to avoid making it)
  • And then to wrap up, I gave him a softball question: What is the purpose and meaning of life?

If you’ve wanted to make more of a positive impact in the world around you, this insightful interview will give you plenty to think about. Your resources are precious and should be optimized to improve the lives of those you help. I don’t know of a better person to guide you than William.

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