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De Correspondent

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 30, 2013

Today I finished grading more than 250.000 words of MA-theses (that’s what you get when students who don’t graduate by September need to pay fees for an additional year). It feels wonderful, to have an evening in which I can bring the kids to bed without stressing about all that still needs to be done, to make a cup of tea, sit down, and ask myself: ‘So, what shall I do tonight?’.

So lucky me, since today is also the day that De Correspondent got launched, a new completely on-line advertisement-free ‘newspaper’ (not really, no). 100% funded by crowdsourcing – by people who want journalists who serve the readers rather than the stockholders, who don’t want sensation on their frontpage, nor censorship of and selfcensorship by the journalists.

You have to be ‘a member’ to be able to read all the pieces, and it’s all in Dutch. I read a few pieces – on income and wealth inequality in the Netherlands, on the increasing numbers of walls on Earth that separate countries or areas, and a column by Arnon Grunberg—and my first thoughts were: this looks really good. The lay-out is great, it’s user-friendly. I like it. Yet content-wise, it’s much more like our place here then like a newspaper. But with much more power: they have money (more than 20.000 ‘members’ who donated money), and with those monies they could hire journalists – I mean, ‘correspondents’. Some of these correspondents will be writing full-time for De Correspondent, but some will hold other positions, like Ewald Engelen, who holds a chair in financial geography at the University of Amsterdam.

Since the platform is online-only, since pieces will be released at several moments during the day, and since readers can leave comments, I would think that the correspondent is a blog, really – though very likely and hopefully a high-powered blog. It’s interesting that they don’t present themselves as such. Why that would be – I have no idea. In the meantime I’m really glad they are there, proud to be a supporter of this adventure (oops, I should say ‘member’), and looking forward to watching their impact on the quality of the public debate.

New kings in the Low Countries

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 21, 2013

As I am writing this, a new King is being inaugurated in Belgium, King Filip/Philippe. That is only a few months after the Netherlands also saw a change of Royal power, where Queen Beatrix made room for King Willem-Alexander. The new Kings share one thing in common – they both have wives that are more popular than themselves, and both Queens are said to be very smart, warm and sympathetic. But that’s where the comparison ends.
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What makes a popular philosophy book a good book?

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 15, 2013

I’ve lately been contemplating the question of what makes a popular philosophy book a good book. I am focussing on the case of philosophy professors who are writing a book that is explicitly aimed at a broader audience, and who may or may not also have written scholarly articles on the topic of their popular-philosophy book. Which quality-criteria should that book meet? Here are some thoughts.
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One huge step forward

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 26, 2013

This one is for our American friends.


The City of Utrecht, where I live, recently decided to make this Rainbow Crossing in order to make explicit that it wants to be a city where gays are equally welcome as straight people. I took this picture a week ago and wanted to post it next Saturday when Utrecht celebrates Pink Saturday. But I think today is more appropriate. Congratulations to all American Gay activists for this huge step forward in their struggle for genuine equal rights, respect and recognition.

Journal of Practical Ethics: a new open-access journal

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 20, 2013

So this looks interesting – the Oxford Uehiro Center for Ethics has launched a new open access journal called Journal of Practical Ethics, with as subtitle: A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World. Roger Crisp and Julian Savulescu have written a brief introduction in which they explain how they will run their journal and why they believe there is a need for such a journal. They argue, rightly in my view:

We believe that the ideas and arguments of many moral and political philosophers are of significant relevance to problems in contemporary life. Not only are these arguments of interest to the general public, but they are of relevance to political and social leaders, legislators and civil servants. However, there is less than optimal penetration of this philosophical work beyond the confines of academe.

I think this is great news – we need more of these ‘bridges’ between academic philosophy and the wider public that are initiated by academics, since academics have the best access to/information about the latest philosophical research that deserves to be ‘translated’ to a wider audience, and academics can also make sure that no unacceptable simplifications are made (I can’t speak for the UK, but some of what is being published under the heading ‘popular philosophy’ in my country makes me want to cry. Translation for a wider audience shouldn’t mean having no standards at all, apart from the standards of the market for popular philosophy. This, incidentally, is the topic of a blogpost I have been wanting to write for a while and which I promise you for sometime in the next two weeks).

Follow the Turkish protests on Twitter

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 15, 2013

I know philosophers who are skeptical about the value of Twitter—they think it’s merely a time sink, or they make even more ridiculous claims, such as that it is undermining genuine social relations and friendships. Oh Boy. Right now it is an amazing source of information on what is really going on in Turkey – and that doesn’t really look good when I am typing these words. The police is very violently cleaning Gezi park where citizens of all ages have been peacefully protesting. According to various Twitter sources the police is also attacking the hotels in the area which have taken in wounded people. TV coverage (at least in my country) is short and rather superficial—but luckily there is the internet with blogs, online newspapers, citizens’ radios, and twitter. The quickest source of information on what’s going on are live stream coverages like Gezi Radyo and Twitter, where also many pictures can be found. If you want an easy entry point into the tweeps to follow, start with Dani Rodrik and follow those whose tweets he forwards, like Zeynep Tufekci.

Consider this an invitation to post links to more direct sources of information, and also as an ‘open thread’ to discuss what’s happening right now in Turkey.

Good (and bad) news from the Open Access front

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 17, 2013

I recently wrote a short ‘comment’ for the American Journal of Bioethics. The piece is 1788 words long, the names and affiliations of my co-author and myself included. So that will make for 3, perhaps 4 printed pages, right? Now, Taylor and Francis, the publisher of the AJoBE offered the possibility to make this piece Open Access. Price: $2,950. I say: ridiculous. One of my colleagues said: Obscene. Sure, you might say, but they need to pay the editorial office who guards the refereeing proces of the target article to which we respond. But who did the refereeing? Indeed: two (or three) scholars, for free. And where does the net profit of all this goes? Right, not to the author, not to the referees, not to the universities, not to the taxpayers in the case of publically funded research. I know it’s practically very difficult to boycot this commercial Open Access model, but my little revenge will be in making some free advertisement below for two wonderful Open Access initiatives.

The best news from the open access front that reached my desk is that Open Book Publishers, the Cambridge(UK)-based open access publisher (where – full disclosure- I also have a book under contract), has published its first philosophy book. And not just any philosophy book, but a book by the very eminent philosopher David Velleman, called Foundations for Moral Relativism. As with the other books published by Open Book Publishers, it can be read online for free, or bought as a PDF for a few pounds or bought at a low price as a bounded copy via print-on-demand. I love this model, and perhaps should go off the internet completely until I’ve finished my own book that will also be open access. In fact, if I can raise 3500 UK Pounds, I can make the PDF available for free too. I think that’s a much better way to spend (public) funds than $ 2950 for a 3 or 4 page piece.

But equally good news comes from Axel Gosseries and Yannick Vanderborght, who published a year ago a Festschrift for Philippe Van Parijs, called Arguing about Justice. The book was published in paperback by the Presses Universitaires de Louvain, and now, one year later, is available online, here or here. At a conference a few weeks ago, Axel said that this is what he negotiated with the publisher when they published the book with them a while ago. So that’s an Open Access model too—individual negotiation – that some of us can consider to pursue. In any case, the Van Parijs Festschrift has lots of interesting and provocative pieces, well worth browsing and subsequent reading. Enjoy!

Marianne Ferber died

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 17, 2013

Marianne Ferber died a few days ago, at age 90. Ferber was one of the founding feminist economists. There is a nice Obit by Frances Woolley here.

I remember Marianne from the IAFFE conferences that I visited as a grad student. One of the most striking memories I have about her is how she would, despite her seniority and fame/status in the field, talk to anyone – indeed, perhaps she even looked out for those who were young or new to the feminist economic community – a virtue one does not always see among the most senior/famous people in a field, and which was definitely not my experience at other economic events. I also remember some of our conversations – how courageously she was in thinking independently and fearlessly and taking the analysis where the argument goes, rather than where the model forces you to stop. As for other women of her age, you can only dream of how she could have been even much more influential if she had been given the same opportunities as men of her generation.

Marianne Ferber will be much missed, not only by her family and friends, but by everyone in the feminist economics community.

Du kan gå nu.

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 15, 2013

The celebrated Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri has written a powerful open letter to the Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask (original in Swedish, English translation by Rachel Willson-Broyles). Following an interview in which Ask allegedly said that what people claimed to be racial profiling was merely a matter of “personal experience”, Hassen Khemiri gave his account of how it is to grow up in Sweden in a skin that’s darker than pale white, and with black hair. And what the new law that is leading to this racial profiling does to (some) people, including some Swedish citizens.

This is powerful stuff. Do read it.

“Du kan gå nu.” Without apologies.

Good Reads for #WAAD 2013

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 2, 2013

It’s the annual World Autism Awareness Day. Last year, Twitter provided an excellent source of links and information through #WAAD – so check out Twitter later today if you are interested. I’d like to use the occasion to put in a plug for an old book, a classic indeed, that I only read last Summer, but that should be on anyone’s reading list who wants to enter the world of people with autism:
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Giving women in academia genuine equal opportunities

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 8, 2013

Happy international women’s day!

I want to use this occasion to share some thoughts about how to given women in academia a fair chance. I’m not talking about affirmative action or quota, but rather making both the environment more welcoming to women, the formal practices fairer to women, and the informal practices such that they are less disadvantageous for women. The reason why these things need to be discussed is that I increasingly encounter academics (mostly men, I fear) who think that there are no further issues with the environment/procedures/practices, and who believe that in reality women now get better chances in academia than men. While there may be isolated cases of such favorable treatment of women, my judgement of the situation is that all things considered many women are still in many (subtle and not-so-subtle) ways disadvantaged, and that unfortunately many academics do not understand how the practices in academia are disadvantaging women. So, let us look at some of these factors, and ask what each of us can do to give women an equal chance in academia. [click to continue…]

I need a new word, something like ‘richness’

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 25, 2013

I’ve written a paper on the conceptualisation of the phenomenon that is the opposite of poverty. You know, the state in which people who are rich find themselves. Let’s call it ‘richness’. My problem is that ‘richness’ is, to the best of my knowledge, not a word in English. So I need a new word, one that is acceptable to the English language police but that captures what the Germans call Reichtum, the Dutch/Flemish rijkdom, and so on and so forth.
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Can Ideal Political Theory Be Valuable For a Pragmatist?

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 14, 2013

Jack Knight’s and James Johnson’s book is fascinating, interesting and compelling. It is not the kind of book on which I could write deep or far-reaching criticisms, so I fear that I will have to limit myself here to quibbling about what could perhaps be seen as details – and that is their criticism of Rawlsian-style normative political theory. [click to continue...]

Roth and Satz on repugnant/noxious markets

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 19, 2012

Repugnant markets is one of the research topics of Alvin Roth, one of the two winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics. These are markets where a ‘yuck’-factor constraints them from being accepted by the public as legitimate. Examples are the markets in human organs or markets in babies. We (or perhaps better: most of us) find such markets repugnant, and this repugnancy works as a constraint on such a market. Roth argues that economists should take this repugnancy constraint into account when studying markets, but also argues that economists have “an important education role of pointing to inefficiencies and trade-offs, and costs and benefits” [of the persistence of such repugnancy] (p. 54).

What struck me when reading Roth’s paper, is that he doesn’t explicitly include values in his analysis. [click to continue…]

Louis Theroux visits families with autism

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 19, 2012

I’ve always been a great fan of the documentaries made by Louis Theroux. I think he’s an incredible filmmaker - almost a genius how he is able to portrait people and make documentaries that stick to the mind. Most recently, Theroux has made a series called Extreme Love, in which he visits families who are affected by severe autism and by dementia. The first one, on autism, was screened on Dutch TV last Friday, and can be seen on your computer screen for the next 60 hours on this website (Original with Dutch subtitles).

The children with autism featured in this episode are all situated on the severe end of the spectrum. I haven’t done any literature review on this, but my hypothesis is that it is very difficult to truly understand for people who do not have a disability, have never had a disability, or who never cared for people with disabilities, how it is to be disabled or live with someone disabled. We need narratives in order to understand, and preferably narratives not merely composed of words, but also of sounds, images, pictures — things that are able to convey not just factual knowledge but also meanings and emotions. Work like the one produced by Louis Theroux and his team offers us a unique opportunity to get a little closer to a world we may never enter. I may be incredibly naive, but I believe that if more people would regularly watch documentaries such as this one, the world would be a better place. If that’s true, then that would be another reason to watch this - apart from witnessing a genius at work.