'Birth and Death' with Sir Partha Dasgupta

Past Event

15 January 2016, 1:00pm - 2:30pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

Adobe Stock Crowd elenabsl
© Adobestock/elenabsl

This event is part of a 4 day conference on "Climate Ethics and Climate Economics: Discounting the Future" organised by the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations and the ESRC

It has long been known that in finite economies the Classical Utilitarianism of Henry Sidgwick commends large populations with low living standards, and that the stronger is the aversion to income inequality, the lower is the living standard in the Utilitarian optimum. This feature of the theory was subsequently named the Repugnant Conclusion (RC). Most escape routes from RC have invoked the language of "benefits" and "harms", which are familiar notions in social cost-benefit analysis. Those notions however have been found to lead to paradoxes involving the Non-Identity Problem. The one escape route that hasn't invoked the language of benefits and harms, namely Critical Level Utilitarianism, can be shown to have intractable problems.

In this lecture Sir Partha Dasgupta will follow Sidgwick's theory in its pristine form, where the normative focus is on well-being: period. He will introduce into the theory a weak notion of person-hood (one that has a strong appeal to our moral intuition) and show that the formulation, when put to work in economies with finite resources, commends agreeable population policies. The introduction of person-hood in population ethics raises the spectre of intransitivity of ethical relations between states of affair. He will show however that the notion of person-hood leads to shifting population domains, meaning that the "intransitivity" is illusory.

About the speaker

Sir Partha Dasgupta is Frank Ramsey Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, and Professorial Research Fellow at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester. He taught at the London School of Economics during 1971-1984 and moved to the University of Cambridge in 1985 as Professor of Economics, where he served as Chairman of the Faculty of Economics in 1997-2001. During 1989-92 he was also Professor of Economics, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Program in Ethics in Society at Stanford University; and during 1991-97 he was Chairman of the (Scientific Advisory) Board of the Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, Stockholm. Since 1999 he has been a Founder Member of the Management and Advisory Committee of the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE), Kathmandu. In 1996 he helped to establish the journal Environment and Development Economics, published by Cambridge University Press, whose purpose has been not only to publish original research at the interface of poverty and the environmental-resource base, but also to provide an opportunity to scholars in developing countries to publish their findings in an international journal.

Professor Dasgupta's research interests have covered welfare and development economics, the economics of technological change, population, environmental and resource economics, the theory of games, the economics of undernutrition, and the economics of social capital. His publications include Guidelines for Project Evaluation (with S.A. Marglin and A.K. Sen; United Nations, 1972), Economic Theory and Exhaustible Resources (with G.M. Heal; Cambridge University Press, 1979 (recipient of the United States Association of Environmental and Resource Economists "Publication of Enduring Quality Award 2003"); The Control of Resources (Harvard University Press, 1982); An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993); Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment (Oxford University Press, 2001; revised edition, 2004); and Economics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007).