Uri Bram in Cafe:
It's traditional to begin a profile of a Cambridge academic with a description of quads and spires and other quaint English-sounding things. But I meet Will MacAskill not at his college but in the nearby branch of Wetherspoons, a UK pub chain legendary for its improbable willingness to sell craft beer for one pound (one pound!) as an add-on to a burger meal. Everything about MacAskill is similarly unpretentious and amiable, in a highly Wetherspoons-esque way. He has a fondness for mild ales, a rollicking laugh, a warm Scottish accent and a manner that reminds you of the kid everyone likes in senior year of high school—not thepopular kid, mind, but the kid everyone actually likes. Oh: and, at 27 years old, he's already a superstar among his generation of philosophers. And he wants to revolutionize the way you think about doing good.
MacAskill started off thinking about altruism the same way most of us do: trying to balance his own ideas of the good life with a desire to give back to the world. His day-to-day life as an undergraduate in philosophy was happily consumed by obscure questions about language and logic, but when looking for summer work he sought out options with a social impact. He worked at a care home (once, among the hazards of the job, he was punched in the face by an old lady on steroids), volunteered as an English teacher at a school in Ethiopia, and worked for a major international development charity as a street fundraiser—what people in the U.K. call a chugger, a charity mugger. When MacAskill talks about his younger self, I can't help feeling a twinge of recognition of my own self now. “It was more a feeling of guilt that I wasn't really doing things,” says MacAskill. “I had this real ambivalence between normal pressures, but at the same time feeling that I ought to be doing more to make a difference.” He pauses, and frowns. “But then not really acting on that.”