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A philosophical experiment about inequality

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 3, 2018

Crossposted by co-writer Tim Meijers at Justice Everywhere

Political philosophers often engage in thought experiments, which involve putting hypothetical persons in hypothetical scenarios. However, it is often challenging to find ways to involve real, non-hypothetical, people with the questions we are dealing with, aside from the more traditional ways to engage in outreach such as debates and opinion pieces. Recently, the Fair Limits team* – which studies the plausibility of upper limits in the distribution of economic and ecological resources – attempted a new way to engage the public by making use of a participatory “veil-of-ignorance” thought experiment. [click to continue…]

Lang leve de jarigen!

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 3, 2018

It’s Chris’s 60th birthday today – Happy Birthday, Chris!

Since this blog owes a lot to Chris (that is an understatement…), I want to let you know that on FB, Chris has launched a fundraiser for Bristol Refugee Rights, an organisator supporting refugees in Bristol of which Chris is the Chair of the trustees. If you’re on FB I am sure you can find your way there to the place to donate; otherwise, you can use this link.

Chris shares his birthday with my sister (Gelukkige verjaardag, zusje!) and with my former PhD-supervisor Amartya Sen, who celebrates his 85th birthday today (Happy birthday, Amartya!).

Since I was writing to them today, it occurred to me that the Dutch language has a word that, according to my knowledge of English and the online dictionary that I consulted, doesn’t have an equivalent in English: de jarige – the person who has their birthday. Either I am wrong, and then you sharp people will surely teach me a new word, or else I may have found one of the very few words in Dutch that doesn’t have an English equivalent (most of the time, it’s the other way around).

Lang leve de jarigen!

Three cheers for Urgenda!

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 9, 2018

I’ve been absent here since over the last weeks all my time except for teaching and other non-postponable duties has gone into nation-wide activism to end the underfunding of universities in the Netherlands – about which another time, hopefully soon, more in another blogpost. But I wanted to briefly interrupt my absence to share with you the good news that Urgenda, has won the Appeal that the Dutch State made against the famous 2015 Climate Case that Urgenda won, on which I wrote here at the time. For some brief reports about today’s ruling, see the NYT, the Guardian, or in Dutch, NRC. [click to continue…]

Touched by the hands in Pech Merle

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 4, 2018

We visited the Cave of Pech Merle yesterday, which is famous for its prehistorical paintings of bisons, mammoths, horses, and other animals. Those paintings have been made by people who, according to our guide, were almost identical to us, except, she said, that they were taller than us – on average 1 meter 85 centimeter. Pech Merle has a website that is a bit slow (at least, given my present internet-conditions), but it has a very interesting part where you can enter the cave virtually.
I’ve visited many caves in my life, but never one with prehistorical paintings, and was very impressed. If you ever get a chance to see them, do go see them! Although the crown piece of the cave are two dotted horses, which are large and in excellent condition and include something of an optical illusion (avant la lettre?)—I was especially touched by the painting of the hands of the people. There are a number of hands, painted in black, close to the dotted horses, presumably by a man (or several men); and then there is this single hand in red, which is presumably from a woman. At first, I was surprised to note that the hands touched me more than the animals (which may be seen as artistically more sophisticated). I guess that seeing a hand brings the presence of the human being closer than seeing a non-human animal. People, almost identical to us, who made paintings in a cave, some 20.000 years ago, that we can still watch today…


by Ingrid Robeyns on July 28, 2018

I hope those of you based in the right places enjoyed the red moon last night. The day before yesterday, we enjoyed a fabulous bright and almost full moon, while sipping some French wine on top of a hill in the Midi-Pyrénées. But alas, yesterday we had only clouds around the time we had hoped to enjoy the red moon. Still, they were pretty spectacular too – at least, a bit earlier in the evening.

Twelve Stars project – join in!

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 16, 2018

So folks, I want to draw your attention to the Twelve Stars project – a project set up up by some (mainly German) philosophers who will publish a book, in the run-up to the European Elections of 2019, in which philosophers will defend a specific policy proposal that that the European Union should adopt. There are 25 propositions that will be defended, including that the EU should not tolerate member states to restrict freedom of religion (defended by Rainer Forst), that the EU should offer citizenship to people from Island nations inundated by rising see levels (Mark Alfano), that the EU should abolish intensive farming (Mara-Daria Cojocaru), that the EU should encourage new forms of governance in which companies are run by employees (Lisa Herzog) and many more. For a list of all propositions, take a look here. Our own Miriam Ronzoni will defend the claim that the European Parliament should be elected on the basis of transnational lists, and I will defend the claim that the EU should institute high levels of taxation on air travel.

An interesting feature of the project is that the authors will try out their proposals in a “change my view” debate with anyone who wants to join the discussion. The first three debates are this Friday, with Peter Dietsch arguing that the European Central Bank should consider the distributive effects of its monetary policy, Clement Fontan arguing that the EU should adopt stricter financial regulations, and Jakub Kloc-Konkołowicz arguing that the European Union should involve its national parliaments more strongly when reshaping its institutions and politics. Feel free to join those discussions, and those following over the next weeks!

Many scholars, journalists and commentators have written how in many (all?) European welfare states government-based systems of support and solidarity are being restructured, scaled down, or eliminated. One common ideological basis in all those reforms is the view that people should be made maximally self-reliant and, if need be, families should support other family members in need – hence this would justify a cut-back of state involvement. The European welfare states have always been something most Europeans have been proud of – the idea that civilisation implies that we collectively care for the most vulnerable people in our political community, and that we collectively pool risks that, if left to the market, would lead to some people paying much more to secure those risks than others.

In several countries, the reforms are targeting the income- and labour market support systems for the disabled. In the Netherlands, this has now taken a really ugly turn, as was very well described in an article (in Dutch) by Gijs Herderscheê and Sheila Sitalsing, which was published today in De Volkskrant. [click to continue…]

Some thoughts for #WAAD

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 2, 2018

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, and I’m trying generally to post something on this topic around this time of the year. (NB: I’ll use “autistic people” and “people with autism” interchangeably, since members of the autistic community are divided on which of these terms they prefer – and in my view, both sides have good arguments to prefer it they way they prefer.)

First, we’ve been talking here in the past about the importance of listening to the voices of people with autism (something that Pete Warmby argues is lacking in the Autism Awareness week). There is a very simple and accessible way of doing that – and that is via Twitter – just type “#actuallyautistic” in the search field. The tweets with the hashtag #actuallyautistic will sometimes include links to blogs on which much lengthier pieces can be read. [click to continue…]

Support the Yaoundé seminar in political philosophy

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 3, 2018

Thierry Ngosso, a Cameroon philosopher (PhD Louvain-la-Neuve, currently based in Sankt Gallen), together with some other philosophers based in Belgium and the Netherlands, are organising for the fifth year a summerschool in political philosophy in Yaoundé. The aim of the seminar is “a genuine and lasting North-South conversation, understanding and solidarity in academic philosophy.” The seminar is open for PhD-students in philosophy/political theory from the Global North (who have to pay their own way) as well as for PhD-students from countries in the global South. The Yaoundé seminar has always been able to count on the support of a great line-up of professors, who also pay their own way.

In order to be able to waive fees and financially support the students coming from the South, the organisers have set up a fundraiser. They need 4000 Euro for this year’s travel grants, but have stated that any additional support will go to the travel bursaries at next year’s event.

I think this is a wonderful initiative, and hope that some of our readers will be willing to make a donation – whether small or larger. The donations are handled by Leiden University, and the page where you can make a donation can be found here.

Introducing new blogger: Miriam Ronzoni

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 9, 2018

Good news, Folks! Miriam Ronzoni is joining the Crooked Timber Crew.

Miriam is a Reader in Political Theory at the University of Manchester. She has a background in both philosophy and politics and has worked in the UK, Germany, and Italy. She is interested in the interdependence between global and domestic justice, issues of domination across borders, feminism, the definition of the very concept of justice, and the methodology of constructivism. She lives in South Manchester with her husband Christian and their two children Francesco and Sara. She is a keen traveler and cyclist (kids allowing).

Miriam, welcome!

Academics writing trade books: what should they know?

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 27, 2018

A befriended academic has written a non-scholarly book, and has been approached by a publisher who picked it up and wants to negotiate a contract. She asked her FB-friends for advice, and almost everyone suggested to get an agent. I suspect that very few academics know how to publish smartly outside academia, and whether one should get an agent (and if so, where to get one, and what to know). I confess I know nothing about this myself when it concerns the English-language publishing world—but would be interested to learn more about this too.

Since this blog has a wide readership, perhaps we can call on the collective wisdom and experience here: what should academics who want to publish a (non-academic) trade book know? It would be great if some agents, those who’ve worked with agents, publishers, as well as authors who have traveled this path can share their views and advice.

Where do people put the riches-line?

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 6, 2018

I’ve written here before about the research I’ve been developing on ‘limitarianism’ – the view that we put upper limits or caps on how much of some valuable resource people can have or use. One thing that struck me when giving talks about limitarianism of financial resources/wealth, is that there’s always someone in the audience shouting: “Give me a number!” If the claim is that there should be an upper limit to how much income and wealth someone can have, people want to know what those limits are. Also, I’ve noted that whether or not someone finds the financial limitarian view plausible depends, among other things, on where exactly that ceiling would be put.

One question one could ask, is whether within a political community, there is something of a shared view (or dominant view), of where that ceiling should be (assuming people hold that there should be such a ceiling in the first place, obviously). So I decided to team up with a colleague from economic sociology who has ample experience with conducting surveys, and try to measure, among the Dutch population, whether they hold the view that there should be an upper limit to wealth, and if so, where they would put the cut-off line between ‘rich’ and ‘extremely rich’. Is there a level of material affluence at which we find that people are having not just a lot, but too much? [click to continue…]

On the marginal position of research on X in discipline A

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 20, 2017

In the tread following the announcement of my book, I had a brief discussion with our reader ccc about the fact that my book doesn’t engage with non-human animals. In their second comment, ccc wrote the following:

Political philosophy in general has a big problem though. It seems most authors can find some perfectly non-malicious, workload-related reason for giving non-human animals the excluded-via-footnote treatment. But the aggregate effect of all such cases is ongoing marginalization of the topic of non-humans from political philosophy. (The near complete absence of that topic on Crooked Timber over the years is a good illustration.)

Gladly there are some signs of (slow) change now, thanks in part to the “political turn” in animal ethics pioneered by among others Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson.

This type of critique is not specific to political philosophy, and should be taken seriously, so let’s discuss it outside the context of that particular book. [click to continue…]

The Capability Approach: an Open Access TextbookPlus

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 11, 2017

So, folks, here it is, my book on the capability approach that has been in the works for a very long time. I’m very happy that it is finally published, I am happy that you can download the PDF for free at the publisher’s website, and that the paperback version is also about half the price of what a book with a university press would cost (and a fraction of the price it would cost if published by one of the supercommercial academic presses whose names shall not be mentioned here).

I am not going to sell you my book – in a literal sense there is no need to sell you anything since you can download the book (as a PDF) for free from Open Books Publishers’ website (and I have no material interest in selling you hardcopies since I will not receive any royalties). And in a non-literal sense I should not sell this book either, since it is not up to me to judge the quality of the book. So I’ll only make three meta-comments. [click to continue…]

The week after Open Access week

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 30, 2017

It was Open Access week last week, but I was too busy trying to meet the deadline today for submitting my book manuscript to Open Book Publishers. That sounds like a good excuse if one cares about open access, right? I slept too little for too many days, so don’t expect any creative thoughts or subtle analyses from me tonight. But here’s two interesting things I discovered while having a look on the web figuring out whether anything interesting happend during Open Access week.
First, Cambridge University digitalised the PhD dissertation of Stephen Hawking and put it online. Apparently the website crashed when that got announced. Any Cambridge University alumni who want to make their PhD dissertation Open Access are invited doing so (no more need to go to the reading room and sign a fat notebook that one has accessed a particular PhD dissertation, as I once did. Although, I should confess, it felt like an adventure. But it’s highly inefficient obviously).
Second, for some weeks now, Open Book Publishers has been offering the PDFs of all of their books open access, to celebrate the 100th book they published (their regular regime is to have the books as html open access and selling the PDFs for a few pounds, or else the author can pay a fee for making the PDF open access). Importantly, this may only last for another a day or two (I am drawing from my memory when I saw a tweet on that about two months ago), so while it lasts it may be worth checking out their collection of books in the humanities and the social sciences, such as Naom Chomsky’s Delhi Lectures, Ruth Finnegan’s book on Oral literature in Africa or textbooks on maths for university. All for nothing. Because, as their slogan goes, knowledge is for sharing.