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Can Limitarianism Be Justified? A Philosophical Analysis of Limits on the Distribution of Economic and Ecological Resources

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - FAIR LIMITS (Can Limitarianism Be Justified? A Philosophical Analysis of Limits on the Distribution of Economic and Ecological Resources)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

The Fair Limits project aims to investigate whether upper limits to the distribution of economic and ecological resources can be justified. We all understand, almost intuitively, that it is bad and wrong if people are living below the poverty line and do not have access to minimal amounts of ecological resources, such as water or land - but is there any sound reason to think that the same could be said about the opposite, namely that we could become too rich, or be taking too many ecological resources? This question is being analysed starting from a distributive justice perspective, which allows us to zoom in on the most fundamental moral questions that need to be asked first, before we move to asking what this implies for policy recommendations and institutional design, as well as individual duties that may fall onto us. These are different questions, although in public debates they unfortunately often end up being conflated.

It hardly needs explanation of why investigating these questions is important for society, since we are living in a serious ecological crisis, and since there are increasingly citizens raising their voices against the growing inequalities of wealth and income. What the project aims to offer to society, is scholarly analysis on intuitions that citizens may have: what, if any, sound reasons are there for believing that there should be limits to the possession of economic resources (income, wealth), and to the use of ecological resources? For the latter, the Fair Limits project zooms in on the most urgent societal issue, namely climate change.

The overall objectives are to investigate, firstly, what limitarianism would mean, exactly; secondly, what could be reasons to endorse this view, and whether these reasons can withstand strict philosophical analysis; third, what could be objections to this view and how strong are those objections; and fourth, what would this imply for the design of public policies and institutions.

In doing this research, we are also pushing the boundaries of contemporary political philosophy in two additional ways - one is to make progress on methodological developments for non-ideal (real-world) analysis within political philosophy; and the second is to build bridges between the dominant western academic political philosophy and non-liberal/non-western philosophies.
The Fair Limits team has made progress in understanding what Limitarianism could mean, and what understandings would instead be confused or internally inconsistent. We have also made progress in laying out the reasons for limitarianism in economic and ecological resources, as well as possible objections, and how these could be addressed and/or how these would require hybrid views (and hence modifications to the limitarian view).
While some of our discussions are 'technical' in the sense that one needs to have very advanced training in academic political philosophy to understand them, we have also tried to disseminate as much as possible our results for a wider audience; links to blogs, as well as some articles that can be read by a wider group of professionals and citizens, can be found on the homepage of our project, see
"The Fair Limits team is trying to make contributions to the state of the art of contemporary political philosophy, by developing a substantive view in the field of distributive justice (called ""limitarianism""), as well as making methodological innovations, that should help this academic specialisation to flourish. So far, limitarianism has received a lot of interest by our colleagues internationally - other academic philosophers have also started to conduct research on this topic, and there have already been a few publications by other philosophers investigating this idea (e.g. articles by A. Volacu and A. Dumitru in the journal Philosophia, as well as the article by D. Zwarthood in the journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice).

The Fair Limits team is also trying to perform another important role that political philosophy has played throughout history - namely the role of providing citizens with ideas for how to organise societies, what institutional design to prefer, and how to give shape to public policies. We are therefore devoting a significant part of our time to communicating to citizens, writing blogs and op-ed pieces, and giving interviews to newspapers and online media. The idea of Limitarianism has been picked up by the columnist George Monbiot who write a piece endorsing economic limitarianism in The Guardian, which has led to many further online and offline discussions."
Ingrid Robeyns in an episode of investigative journalism program Tegenlicht