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Bahá'í Chair for World Peace Lecture: In this world on fire, what can limitarianism bring us? Professor Ingrid Robeyns

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In this world on fire, what can limitarianism bring us?

Professor Dr Ingrid Robeyns, Chair in Ethics of Institutions at the Ethics Institute of Utrecht University


We are at a crossroads in the history of humanity, where the choices we make will have exceptionally big impacts on the future of human life on this planet. Climate change has now arrived at a critical stage, where we must act swiftly and make profound changes to how we live, if we want to avert really bad outcomes. Yet this critical test for humanity, which requires us to act together and put the collective before our individual interests, also takes place at a time of growing economic inequalities. Those inequalities cause further problems, such as endangering democracy, weakening social cohesion, and overall a lower level of human flourishing compared with what less unequal societies could give us.

Against this critical background, I want to propose that we take seriously what the idea of ‘limitarianism’ could bring to this discussion. In its most general formulation, limitarianism is the idea that there should be limits to how much each of us should be allowed to appropriate valuable scarce resources. Economic resources (in particular, wealth and income), and ecological resources (in particular, how much we take from the global carbon budget with the emissions we cause), are clear candidates for limitarian thinking. Economic limitarianism implies that we arrange societies in such a way that there is a cap on how much money a person could hold; this would limit inequalities in money. Ecological limitarianism implies that we arrange our social institutions and practices in such a way that we limit the emissions each person causes. I will argue for both forms of limitarianism, and also show how they are related and reinforce each other.

Speaker Bio:

Ingrid Robeyns holds the chair in ethics of institutions at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. She was trained as an economist and philosopher, and received her PhD from Cambridge University in 2003, for a dissertation on gender inequality and the capability approach under the supervision of Amartya Sen. She has published widely in economic, social and political ethics, especially on questions of social justice, the capability approach, and what policies and institutions we need for better societies. She served as the 8th president of the Human Development and Capability Association, and is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is currently working on a book on limitarianism, written for a general readership (forthcoming with Astra House towards the end of 2023).


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