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Some thoughts on ‘team philosophy’

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 21, 2023

In my academic job, I’ve just started a new 5-year project called ‘Visions for the future‘. In the first year of the project, I’ll tackle some methodological questions, including working out the discussion we had here some years ago on normative audits, and the question what ‘synthetic political philosophy’ is (on which Eric also has, and is further developing, views).

For the subsequent 3 years, I want to experiment with, and also develop the idea of ‘team philosophy’ (and I will hire three postdocs to be part of this). But what is ‘team philosophy’?
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Limitarianism: academic essays

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 28, 2023

Over the last year, I’ve been working on a trade book on limitarianism (USA, UK, NL), on an edited volume on pluralism in political philosophy by bringing various (including ‘non-western’) perspectives together around questions of economic and ecological inequalities (forthcoming with OUP but not quite there yet), and on an edited academic volume with political philosophy papers on limitarianism.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I strongly advice anyone not to follow that example: one book to work on is already more than enough to concentrate on. The circumstances that created this situation in which I found myself editing two books and writing a third one are probably rather rare – trying to deliver outcomes promised in a grant application against the background of a pandemic, combined with some significant professional disruptions beyond my control etc. But while I felt like a juggler for some time, the good news is that the first and the third are now done (though the trade book is not out in English before February 1st), and I’m happy to share with you the link to the open access, hence free to download, book with academic philosophical papers on limitarianism. It’s a combination of reprints and new material, and the essays generally assume some background knowledge in contemporary normative political philosophy. I’m hoping this will be interesting for students and scholars of the philosophy of distributive justice, and related areas. Also, the entire volume is currently being translated into Spanish, and will also be published Open Access before too long. The trade book – although very broadly on the same topic, is a very different beast, about which more some other time.

Some thoughts on activism

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 23, 2023

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how society, and people in my profession (academics), think about activism. It seems to me that there is a widespread insufficient appreciation for the importance of activists in the world; often that attitude is even plainly dismissive. If this is true, then why is this the case, and why is this wrong?

First, I should clarify that I am only talking about activists for whom we have strong reasons to see the ultimate goal they strive for as justified, and the means they employ as reasonable. Hence, I’m only talking here about activists who fight against injustices, or want to make the world a better place. Now I realise this is a very tricky delineation, because in the world as it is, there will be people using activist means and tactics to advance immoral, or at least illegitimate goals, such as racists wanting to keep their settler-society predominantly White or Christian. And I also realise that even if we put those clear cases of activism for immoral causes aside, we will end up disagreeing about borderline cases, where multiple values and principles are at stake and people disagree whether the goals the activists are striving for is laudable or not (think of some cases where it might be seen that activists try to restrict the freedom of speech of those they accuse of using hate-speech). [click to continue…]

45 minutes overview of the capability approach

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 26, 2023

I’ve been largely absent here – wrapping up my editorial work on two academic volumes and the various rounds of edits on the popular book on limitarianism. I promise I’ll be back with substantive posts by late August (after resting and travelling). In the meantime, I thought I might share this 45 minutes podcast episode in which I give an overview of the capability approach. Jack Simpson conducted this interview with me quite a while ago, but it only got released last week (congratulations on getting your PhD-degree in the meantime, Jack!).

Jack not only asked me to explain some things, but also asked me several times for “my take on” strenghts/weaknesses/inspiring examples in this literature – which is fun to talk about, since these are the kind of things you never put in an academic article.

Available via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, via RSS, or one of the other platforms that airs this podcast.

Looking forward to the next episodes of Jack’s podcast The Capability Approach in Conversation.

Should academics fly at all?

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 29, 2023

Earlier this week, I was at a meeting to discuss the question whether my university should cut its ties with the fossil industry, or else impose additional conditions on working with partners from fossil industries. There was quite some agreement that the university should think hard about spelling out and endorsing a moral framework, and based on those values and moral principles work out what (if any) forms of collaboration would remain legitimate in the future. This led our vice-chancellor to ask the question what else such moral framework would imply for university staff. “Should we perhaps completely stop flying?”, he asked.

And then there is, once again, a very depressing IPCC report and we must radically change our modes of production and consumption if we want to leave our children (and our older selves) a planet that will remain safe for the human species. And it’s not just about the future, but about the present: urgent action is needed to lower the number of the deadly climate-related events that we have seen over the last years, from increases in wildfires to deadly floodings – that led poor people, who have made almost zero contribution to this problem, lose their livelihoods, and many simply died. So to me it seems obvious that what we change in response to climate change is a very urgent moral question.

Hence the question: Do academics fly too much? Should we simply stop flying at all?
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How to restore work-life balance in academia

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 13, 2023

There’s recently more and more discussion about what would happen if academics would stop structurally doing overwork, and instead work according to contract – which will in many cases mean 40 hours a week. It was the topic of a feature piece in Nature two weeks ago, and the topic has been discussed repeatedly by academics on social media and around the coffee corner. So what is the problem, and how can it be solved?

First things first. What does work-life balance mean and why should we have it? Clearly it doesn’t mean that one can never work outside office hours or work hard in a particular week, and then take it a little easier in another week. The issue is not to demand the right to work according to rigid hours. And I also don’t think anyone would protest if the unpaid overwork were very limited, say an hour or two per week. But in reality, we are talking here of unpaid overwork that easily amounts to 20-35% of one’s contractual hours (and one ends up working 48-55 hours a week structurally). The demand is to limit such massive structural overwork. [click to continue…]

Film Review: The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 11, 2023

One of the challenges critics of our contemporary form of capitalism face, is how to make the analysis of that beast clear to a broad audience. Let’s face it, most academic books on the topic are hard to understand. Moreover, many people hardly ever read a non-fiction book about politics, let alone the economy. Film is in this respect a great medium, since it is easier to digest than reading a book. And often a picture says more than a thousand words.

Some years ago, I was teaching ‘ethics of capitalism’ to an interdisciplinary group of undergraduate students. Many of them had never had any economics, and since any third-year student could take this course, I had students in that class from all over the university – history, philosophy, economics, geography, anthropology, sociology – even a student from theoretical physics. In the last week of the course, we zoomed in on the financial crisis, and I was worried how to teach such complex material. So, in addition to giving a lecture, I also organised a screening and discussion of Inside Job, and that worked very well. The film was pretty effective to further process the dry material from the lecture, and put all of it into a broader perspective. [click to continue…]

Book note – The Persuaders, by Anand Giridharadas

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 28, 2022

I recently listened to the new book by Anand Giridharadas, who is well-known for his previous book Winner Takes All. That book was about how (some of) the superrich are happy trying to contribute to some of the world’s problems, but never ask any questions related to why the world is so unequal as it is, what power and the workings of capitalism have to do with all of this, and whether their capitalist strategies are at all suited to address these problems. I thought that was a great book.

So I was looking forward to his new book. It is called The Persuaders. Winning Hearts and Minds in a Divided Age. It is a book about why we shouldn’t just give up on people who have political or social views that we find wrong, perhaps even horrible. The book presents a series of cases, the activists involved, and the techniques or strategies they use – interspersed with some insights from social psychology and other sciences on what works (and what doesn’t) to make people change their mind in a non-manipulative way.

My take-away from the book is that there is no point in believing you are right (or have the right policy, or the right analysis on what needs to happen on matter X), and believing the only thing that is needed for change is airing those views and that analysis. It’s just not enough. We need to actually spend time and effort to persuade others that this is the right analysis/policy/direction, and this persuasion cannot be merely cognitive; it requires understanding “where people are”, what makes them believe what they believe, and showing respect for them as a person at the outset. All of that requires listening, and being willing to engage in a genuine conversation, and finding out why people believe what they believe. Just believing I am right (and having all the arguments sorted out in my head) and airing my views, is not enough to also make a difference in the world, especially not in deeply divided societies. And, very importantly, trying to persuade others, and being willing to be persuaded, should be an essential part of any democracy. Thus, this book is also, at a deeper level, about what contemporary democracies need. [click to continue…]

Updates from Russia

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 27, 2022

And so it begins… Yulia Galyamina, the first Russian professor who got fired because “she is a foreign agent”.

And here’s Dmitry Vasilets, a Real Russian Hero.

Also, while we’re talking about Russia: Please consider supporting Meduza. Russians must have access to free press, just like all of us – and after it got banned, Meduza can only continue thanks to subscriptions and financial support from outside Russia.


by Ingrid Robeyns on December 16, 2022

Once in a while, I listen to a book as an audiobook, rather than reading it on paper or on my electronic device. Especially during the pandemic, when I was walking a lot, I loved listening to stories while walking. And clearly, for people who are dyslectic, or who for another reason can’t read easily, they are a real blessing.

But I’ve noted something weird with audio-books that I can’t quite grasp – so perhaps someone here can help me understand what is going on. [click to continue…]

Yesterday I attended/watched four talks on climate action. The first three were at a festival in Amsterdam where Chris Armstrong, a new branch on our crooked tree, was also speaking, on his book on oceans politics. First I attended two talks by some Dutch-speaking people (including David Van Reybrouck, famous author of the colonial histories Congo and Revolusi, who is now fully dedicated to working on ecological causes). Then I attended Andreas Malm’s talk on how to fight in a world on fire. Nothing special to report for those who have read the book – but given the pretty critical discussion of my bookreview of his work here recently I’d thought I should mention that he came across as more nuanced than [how I read] his book. For example, he stressed that the vast majority of the climate movement will remain peaceful, and that those who want to move to sabotage must carefully choose their targets – focussing on targets that are part of the problem, and as part of an action that doesn’t alienate people but instead lets the climate movement grow.

But the most interesting talk of the day was by Greta Thunberg, who launched The Climate Book at the London Literature Festival. Thunberg has put together a one-stop-volume on climate change and climate action. You can watch her speech and subsequent interview here (it effectively starts at 14’35”). In essence, Thunberg believes that governments are not going to do what is needed without millions more climate activists putting pressure on those governments, so that they speed up action and put the interests of ordinary people central. At some point, she mentions that so many individuals have the opportunity to be an activist, but don’t. She clearly sees this as a [moral, political] duty (she also uses the word “burden” at some point), and calls upon everyone to join a local activist group. [click to continue…]

For Women Life Freedom

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 10, 2022

Baraye, or “For”, is the song the Iranian regime took off Instragram as fast as they could, and if you listen to it (and read the translated lyrics) you will understand why. Since the current Iranian regime wants as few people as possible to see this, let’s make our tiny contribution in gettting this viral.

It is such an amazing song. So pure and so intens – both the love and the pain.

The artist who made this, Shervin Hajipour, was first arrested and later released – but god knows what he had to sign before being able to leave prison. He’s been quiet on Twitter since, but it’s nice to see that spotify still has his account and the song.

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, professor of Persian studies at my department, wrote a blogpost explaining the lyrics.

Iran uprising open thread

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 9, 2022

I was hesitating whether I should use “Iran revolution” in the title of this post, but I guess it is too early to tell. I do very much hope for the incredibly courageous people of Iran, that their protests will lead to a revolution which will bring basic freedoms and a respect of their basic human rights.

I have no expertise on Iran, so will not write a post with anything substative, but wanted to open up a space for those of you who do, or for those of you who have come across interesting pieces on the web, to share them.

The heroic women of Iran have asked us, those who live in societies where access to internet is guaranteed and who can express our thoughts freely without having to fear for anything significant, to amplify their voices. My simple strategy to do this has been to try to seek out and follow on Twitter Iranian refugees abroad and journalists who report on Iran, and retweet their reportings and the videos that they share of the women and men who are on the streets, risking their lives, while demanding a regime change.

Also – if I may allow myself a small digression – on moments such as this one, I cannot express how grateful I am to be able to write on a public platform (this blog) where we can have a discussion among people from all continents and all persuasions, and no-one is telling us what to publish and what not. Let’s remember the Lessons from Timothy Snyder, and never take the importance of that freedom for granted.

In his book How to Blog Up A Pipeline, Andreas Malm writes about the need for the climate movement to have a more radical wing (which would do things like blowing up pipelines, or other forms of property destruction). His view is that the climate movement is making a mistake by subscribing to radical forms of non-violence, since the climate crisis is getting worse year by year, while the tactics of the climate movement remain the same – and, in his view, have proven to be ineffective (or at least, insufficiently effective).

One of Malm’s targets is Extinction Rebellion (XR), one of the most visible groups within the climate movement. Local groups of XR are staging various forms of protest, but always non-violent; they do not destroy property. Malm argues that XR has a flawed understanding of how in the past movements operated who were fighting to abolish slavery or abolish apartheid in South Africa, or fighting for women’s political rights or equal civil rights in the US. They all first tried to reach their goals in a peaceful way, but at some point resorted to violence (against property, thereby doing their best to avoid hurting people). And that paid off, since it had the effect of making the claims of the non-violent part of the movement more acceptable to mainstream politics. Malm believes that what XR and other groups in the climate activist movement should learn from the history of the social justice movements, is to have a fraction or a wing in the movement that doesn’t shy away from destroying property. Hence the metaphor of blowing up a pipeline (in case anyone was wondering, Malm doesn’t tell his readers how to actually go about blowing up a pipeline).

This is a thought-provoking book, and I would recommend anyone interested in the future of life on our planet to read it. It is a much-needed book to stir up debate and get us into action, given the desperateness of the current climate situation and the lack of sufficiently effective action (which has been increasingly affecting my mood – as some of my posts here over the last months (one, two) probably revealed). But I don’t think Malm’s book will serve as a one-stop-answer to the question how to make the climate movement deliver results. Why not? [click to continue…]

A typology of research questions about society

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 22, 2022

One of the things I really like about my job, is that I have been appointed on a chair with the explicit expectation to advance interdisciplinary collaborations between ethics and political philosophy on the one hand, and the social sciences (broadly defined) on the other. I’ve been co-teaching with historians, taught some courses that were open to students from the entire university, have been giving guest lectures to students in many other programs including economics, pharmacology, education, and geosciences; and I co-supervised a PhD-student in social work. I’ve written an interdisciplinary book on the capability approach, and have co-authored papers with scholars from various disciplines. So interdisciplinarity is deeply engrained in much of what I do professionally.

But while I love it enormously, interdisciplinary teaching and research is also often quite hard. One of the challanges I’ve encountered in practice, is that students as well as professors/researchers are not always able to recognise the many different kind of questions that we can ask about society, its rules, policies, social norms and structures, and other forms of institutions (broadly defined). This then leads to misunderstandings, frustrations, and much time that is lost trying to solve these. I think it would help us if we would better understand the many different types of research that scholars working on all those aspects of society are engaged in. [click to continue…]