Cathedral Thinking

In The Good Ancestor (2020), philosopher Roman Krznaric calmly calls for a reorientation toward the future, not to benefit us (as is typically the pitch of the pop-futurist book), but to benefit our far-off descendants. He uses the term cathedral thinking to describe epic projects that will not be completed within our lifetimes, but that are crucial to start now—similar to the work of generations who built medieval cathedrals that only their great-grandchildren would see finished.1

It lies in contrast to the extreme short-sightedness of societies in the contemporary West.

“Are we being good ancestors?” So asked Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine in 1953—but refused to patent it so that more lives could be saved.


Krznaric believes the fate of our societies (and species) depends on our living up to Salk’s exhortation to radical generosity. Krznaric asserts that our exploitative mindsets have “colonized the future”—that the mounting existential threats we’ve left unchecked have brought humankind to the precipice of disaster. And yet, he sees room for hope!2



1 Culp, Samantha. “The Library of Possible Futures.” The Atlantic. Last modified February 1, 2021.

2 “The Good Ancestor.” The Experiment. Last modified April 12, 2021.