Should welfare equality be a global priority? (Parfit Memorial Lecture 2021)
H. Orri Stefánsson (Stockholm University, Swedish Collegium For Advanced Study, Institute for Futures Studies), H. Orri Stefansson (University of Copenhagen, Stockholm University, Institute for Futures Studies)

June 14, 2021, 4:30pm - 6:30pm
Department of Philosophy, Global Priorities Institute, University of Oxford

Oxford OX2 0DJ
United Kingdom


Oxford University
Oxford University

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Abstract: Suppose that some near-future generation can make an investment that would hugely benefit some far-future generation (up to the largest metaphysically possible increase in welfare) at the cost of a slight decrease in welfare for the near-future generation. There will otherwise be perfect equality between the two generations. Most people presumably think that it would be better if the near-future generation made the investment, at least as long as the near-future generation would enjoy a sufficiently high standard of living despite the small cost. However, in “Calibration dilemmas in the ethics of distribution,” Jake Nebel and I show that there exist calibration theorems that show that prioritarians or egalitarians who endorse this kind of verdict are committed to giving up what might otherwise seem to be reasonable aversion to inequality when relatively small welfare differences are at stake. The aim of this talk is to discuss calibration dilemmas like these and what they imply for global priorities.

About the speaker: Orri Stefansson is the Associate Professor (Docent) of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University, Pro Futura Scientia Fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, and advisor at the Institute for Futures Studies, where he is part of a project on climate ethics. He is also associate editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, and a regular visitor of the Global Priorities Institute. His current research concerns decision-making under extreme uncertainty, distributive ethics, population ethics, and catastrophic risk.

About the lecture: The Parfit Memorial Lecture is an annual distinguished lecture series established by the Global Priorities Institute (GPI) in memory of Professor Derek Parfit. The aim is to encourage research among academic philosophers on topics related to global priorities research - using evidence and reason to figure out the most effective ways to improve the world. This year, we are delighted to have Professor Orri Stefansson deliver the Parfit Memorial Lecture. The Parfit Memorial lecture is organised in conjunction with the Atkinson Memorial Lecture.

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June 13, 2021, 11:45pm BST

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#global priorities research