Philosopher Wins 2 Million Euros To Study “Limitarianism”


Ingrid Robeyns, professor of philosophy and holder of the Ethics and Institutions Chair at the Utrecht University, has won a 2 million euro grant from the European Research Council to pursue her research on “limitarianism” over the next five years.

Ingrid Robeyns

Ingrid Robeyns

Her project is called “Can Limitarianism Be Justified? A Philosophical Analysis of Limits on the Distribution of Economic and Ecological Resources,” or Fair Limits, for short. Here is a little about it:

Inequalities in wealth are significant and on average increasing, and various ecological sinks and resources are overused. These circumstances should prompt us to rethink what fairness entails in the distribution of economic and ecological material resources. In particular, are there good grounds to opt for upper limits in the distribution of those resources? Are there, from a moral point of view, certain limits in our appropriation or use of material resources that should not be crossed? Can we say, either individually or collectively, that at some point we are polluting too much and using too many natural resources, or that we are having too much wealth? If so, why—and if not, why not?…

The Fair Limits project will not only push the boundaries of the philosophy of distributive justice, but also pose some fundamental questions of the contemporary dominant paradigm in thinking about justice. Methodologically, this will be done by developing methods for normative political philosophy in non-ideal conditions. In addition, Fair Limits also entails a critical dialogue with non-liberal philosophies, such as Confucian philosophy, African Philosophy, and Indigenous philosophies, to reconsider the soundness of basic assumptions in contemporary liberal theories of justice. Fair Limits thus has the potential to contribute to a paradigm shift in philosophical analysis of questions of distributive justice.

You can learn more about the project and the award here.

Keetje Mans, "Spread 1"

Keetje Mans, “Spread 1”

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Greg Gauthier
4 years ago

Oh, the irony. Philosopher receives TWO MILLION EUROS to study whether having too much wealth is a bad thing. LOLReport

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Greg Gauthier
4 years ago

Because Ingrid is now a millionaire? I didn’t realise that’s how grants worked.Report

Junior Faculty
Junior Faculty
Reply to  Greg Gauthier
4 years ago

Greg — Why is every comment I’ve ever seen you leave on this blog and other philosophy blogs so unkind? Why no helpful suggestions, or patient counterarguments, or good-natured levity, but just harsh, snickering, cynical posturing over and over and over again? I’m actually serious. Why?Report

Greg Gauthier
Reply to  Junior Faculty
4 years ago

Save yourself the trouble, and just block me already.Report

A. Avila
A. Avila
Reply to  Greg Gauthier
4 years ago

2 million euro for 5 years? Is that an “immoral” amount of money? I don’t think so.Report

NotSure
NotSure
4 years ago

I’m not sure I understand what “limitarianism” is. Robenyns writes: “Are there, from a moral point of view, certain limits in our appropriation or use of material resources that should not be crossed? Can we say, either individually or collectively, that at some point we are polluting too much and using too many natural resources, or that we are having too much wealth?” If I am not mistaken, *every* minimally plausible theory of fairness entails that there is some limit to how various resources should be distributed; the limit, of course, depends on what theory one accepts. So what is at stake here? Has anyone ever claimed that “limitarianism” is false?Report

NotSure
NotSure
4 years ago

Aha, got it! Limitarianism is the view that “it is morally objectionable to be rich” and Robeyns has received TWO MILLION EUROS for defending this idea. Great!

Isn’t it morally objectionable for a rich person to accept this grant? By accepting the grant Robeyns will, in some sense, become rich (higher salary, more prestige), but her claim is that being rich is morally objectionable.Report

NotSure
NotSure
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I have read the first 20 pages of her paper “Having Too Much”. It is a great paper! I now feel I understand what Limitarians believe, and I agree that this is an interesting idea worth serious attention by philosophers.

Having said that, I still feel it is somewhat odd to give two million euros to a researcher for defending the idea that it is morally objectionable to be rich. If you want to defend this idea, you should probably make sure that you do not profit from it yourself. (Example: Do not accept any royalties and honoraria for your speeches and books, etc.)Report

NotSure
NotSure
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

You might be right about all this! It is certainly possible that some of the interesting positions you sketch would permit a rich person (let us leave it open exactly what “rich” means in this context) to defend the idea that it is morally objectionable to be rich. However, this seems to impose an unfortunate limitation on the research process: If only some explications of Robeyns’ claim that “it is morally objectionable to be rich” is compatible with herself being rich, this seems to entail that she will not be able to be entirely neutral and objective. She will have a moral incentive to make sure that her explication of the claim “it is morally objectionable to be rich” is compatible with the fact that she is (in some sense) rich.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  NotSure
4 years ago

The sense in which Ingrid is made rich by this award is the same sense in which a dean is made rich when his/her college gets more money to disburse to teaching assistants. And just think: some deans are egalitarian! The hypocrisy! The irony!Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
4 years ago

This just in: capitalist societies use money as a resource allocation mechanism.

Saying “X wins a 2M euro 5-year grant” is really saying something like “X wins 4 2-year post docs, 2 graduate scholarships, 50% of a junior administrator’s time, and a 50% teaching buyout, over 5 years”. It doesn’t usually have any implications for personal income.Report

Raf
Raf
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

Isn’t it closer to the truth to say that capitalist societies use the *market* as a money (=resources) allocation mechanism?Report

Darian Meacham
Darian Meacham
4 years ago

If the headline read Ingrid Robeyns gets funding for 2 post-docs and 3 doctoral students over 5 years alongside some admin support and teaching relief (or something similar) to study inequality and resource distribution I don’t think we’d be seeing the same kinds of undermining comments. If you have an issue with the way that the ERC or EC distributes research funds then please make a case in that direction.Report

Ingrid Robeyns
4 years ago

What David Wallace and Darian Meacham said. I got some flowers from the Dean and that will be the only “additional income-in-kind” as far as I know. There is no need to worry that I will become “rich” according to the conceptualisation that I defend in the paper that Justin linked to (of course, according to Peter Singer’s view, or on a relative metric of affluence, I, as well as most people reading this, will probably count as ‘rich’, but that’s another issue – I defend a context-dependent but absolute measure of ‘richess’ in the paper).
As was suggested above, the main material benefit will be jobs for postdocs and PhD candidates, that we will be able to organise and attend talks and conferences, as well as start a dialogue on the assumptions of mainstream theories of justice between philosophers from very different corners of the world.
Evidently, I’m all for more philosophically informed debate on whether there are any convincing justifications to limiting wealth, and if that comes with a discussion on the irony involved in so much money being given to a team supervised by one scholar, so be it 🙂Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
4 years ago

Another way of putting it is: Ingrid Robeyns wins a huge pile of administrative responsibilities, e.g. selecting the 4 2-year postdocs, supervising the two graduate students, hiring the junior administrator, managing a big budget, writing reports on how it’s been spent, etc., etc. Riches indeed!Report

Linda Barclay
4 years ago

Ah, philosophy. Just never fails to fulfill the stereotypes.
Shall we start again? How about something like this:

What a great project by one of the discipline’s leading political philosophers. This is indeed an under-theorised topic and very timely, given looming ecological disaster and grotesque disparities in wealth all over the world. It also has the potential to breath much needed new life into distributive justice debates, which have flattened out recently. This is a really exciting initiative.

How about that?Report

George Murray
George Murray
2 years ago

I have been proposing a cap on wealth for 5 or 6 years.
I’m thrilled to see there is a whole branch of philosophy devoted to it!
It should be self evident that no human being “earns” much less deserves 100 million dollars, much less 150 billion.
That is simply insane.
Have they found a cure for cancer? Have they solved the energy crisis? Have they invented a perpetual motion machine? Can they raise people from the dead?
If not, they should not have that kind of money under their control.
Furthermore, all units of currency represent to some extent the energy it took to create that unit of value. Since 95 to 98% of that energy has come from the burning of fossil fuels, it stands to reason that the more money you have at your disposal, the more money you have spent, the greater your personal responsibility for climate change.
That person will have to bear the commensurate costs associated with it and the longer the crisis goes on, the greater those costs will be.
We should also assume that the 30 TRILLION dollars of CASH stored in offshore accounts is to a large extent the result of illegal activities, just as was assumed recently with regard to Cyprus banks and the Russian mob.
That money should be embargoed unless and until the owners can definitely prove the money was gained legally.
The banks have knowingly and intentionally laundered TRILLIONS of dollars of money resulting from criminal activities. These are not unfounded allegations. They are FACTS proven in courts of law.
ONE BRANCH of the Bank of Denmark in Estonia laundered over 230 BILLION dollars. ONE BRANCH.
People need to WTFUP.
The world is being ruled by psychopaths and they will destroy civilization and life on the planet itself if they are not recognized and prevented from holding positions of power.
The politicians are only their convenient buffers to take pressure off of them.
And CAPITALISM is the environment that has been selecting for their characteristics of ruthlessness, lack of empathy and conscience and malignant narcissism for centuries, even millennia.
I sincerely hope that Dr. Robeyns will add that element to her research.Report