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Sufficientarianism – Can Justice Get Enough?

15 – 16 October 2015, Dept. Philosophy, University of Bayreuth, Germany
Room S59, building 'RW' (Rechts- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften)

Organization: Rudolf Schüssler
Contact: Philipp Kanschik

Sufficientarianism is a new theory of justice building on old intuitions. Many people believe that there should be a limit to what we owe others in terms of distributive justice.

Sufficientarians capture this belief through the motto ‘enough is enough’. We do not owe people, who already have enough, support with further resources. There is a threshold of possessing wealth, welfare or resources above which a person has to rely on her own means and cannot claim aid from others. On this basis, sufficientarians challenge egalitarian claims that any undeserved inequalities of wealth, welfare, or resources need to be levelled. They also reject the prioritarian claim that the worse-off deserve priority over the better-off regardless how affluent they are in absolute terms.

Sufficientarianism has attracted considerable academic interest over the last decades. It also came under severe criticism by defenders of incumbent theories of justice, such as egalitarianism and prioritarianism. The conference wants to discuss, how successful sufficientarians have been in warding off the arguments of their opponents and what shape of theory (or its variants) emerges as a result.


David Axelsen (London)
Robert Huseby (Oslo)
Philipp Kanschik (Bayreuth)
Lukas Meyer (Graz)
Kirsten Meyer (Berlin)
Lasse Nielsen (Aarhus)
Daniel Petz (Graz)
Merten Reglitz (Frankfurt)
Liam Shields (Manchester)
Rudolf Schüßler (Bayreuth)
Joachim Wündisch (Duesseldorf)



Participation at the conference is free. Conference participants pay for accommodation and travel - some recommendations and options are suggested below. In order to register, please send a mail to p_kanschik@hotmail.com.


We recommend you to arrive on Wednesday, October 14th. Unless you are very close to Bayreuth, it will not be possible to arrive in time if you travel on Thursday morning. The conference ends on Friday, Oct 16th, at 3 p.m.

The closest airport from Bayreuth is Nürnberg Airport. In Nürnberg, the metro line U2 connects the airport with the Hauptbahnhof (Central Railway Station), from where you can catch a regional train to Bayreuth. Be careful that you enter the train in the right carriage, as the carriages are sometimes separated before Bayreuth, with one carriage not going to Bayreuth. You can buy a train ticket in advance at http://www.bahn.de/p_en/view/index.shtmlor at any station.

If there is no reasonable connection for you to travel to Nürnberg, the next closest airports are Munich and Frankfurt. From both airports, it takes you about 3-4 hours to travel to Bayreuth by train. Note that for both, there is no direct train connection to Bayreuth.


We recommend the following hotels in Bayreuth to you:


All conference sessions take place in room S 59, building 'RW' (Rechts- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften). Below is a schedule of all events.

October 15th

08:45 – 09:00 Welcome (Rudolf Schüssler)
09:00 – 09:45 Liam Shields – What sorts of pluralists should sufficientarians be?
09:45 – 10:30 Robert Huseby – The currency, threshold, and value of sufficientarianism

10:45 – 11:30 Kirsten Meyer – Ethics of Future Generations: Egalitarianism or Sufficientarianism?
11:30 – 12:15 Daniel Petz – Harming the Future

13:45 – 14:30 Merten Reglitz – Why No More Than Sufficiency?
14:30 – 15:15 Panel 1: Sufficientarianism and its critics

15:30 – 16:15 Philipp Kanschik – Why Sufficientarianism is not Indifferent to Taxation
16:15 – 17:00 Joachim Wündisch – A Sufficientarian Theory of Political Self-determination

October 16th

09:30 – 10:15 Lukas Meyer – Sufficientarianism and the Non-Identity Problem
10:15 – 11:00 David Axelsen – What in the World is Enough? Basic Misunderstandings about Global Sufficiency

11:15 – 12:00 Rudolf Schüssler – Sufficientarianism and relative poverty
12:00 – 12:45 Lasse Nielsen – Welfare State Equality: Egalitarian Intuitions, Sufficientarian Reasons

14:15 – 15:00 Panel 2: The future of sufficientarianism


David Axelsen – What in the World is Enough? Basic Misunderstandings about Global Sufficiency

In this article, I elaborate on the claims of justice people have on citizens of other countries with respect to three areas; basic need fulfilment, inequality within foreign states (henceforth, foreign inequality), and inequality between states (henceforth, international inequality). More specifically, I start from the assumption that everyone is entitled to having enough, to sufficiency, and explore what this means for what people can claim from citizens of other countries. I will conclude that this goal is significantly more demanding than often assumed in all three areas, and that its attainment, not least, involves curbing both foreign and international inequalities to a substantial degree. This goes against the standard view on global sufficiency, since theorists who defend sufficiency on an international level usually operate with a very minimal conception of what it takes to ensure that everyone has enough and, especially, one that denies that this involves eliminating foreign and international inequalities. Further, it seeks to reconcile global sufficiency with claims, made by global egalitarians, which often reject sufficientarian views due to their overly permissive view on inequalities in foreign countries and international inequality.

Robert Huseby – The currency, threshold, and value of sufficientarianism

The purpose of this paper is to further clarify and defend a welfarist telic conception of sufficientarianism. According to this view, distributive justice requires that everyone has enough in terms of welfare, where enough is interpreted in a partly subjective way. It is subjective in the sense that people ought to be content with their welfare level. It is only partly subjective, however, because there is a limit to the resources we ought to provide to individuals who have difficulties achieving contentment. The rationale behind this constraint is that sufficiency will be undermined over time if we allow resource drain. This view will be defended against a) rivalling conceptions of the currency of sufficientarian justice, b) the objection that it is impossible to define the relevant threshold in a justified manner, and c) the objection that sufficiency cannot be grounded in any personal or impersonal values the way for instance egalitarianism and prioritarianism can.

Philipp Kanschik - Why sufficientarianism is not indifferent to taxation

The indifference objection is one of the most severe objections against sufficientarianism. Critics have argued that sufficientarianism is objectionably indifferent to the distribution of benefits and burdens. This article focuses on the latter type of the objection and in particularly the claim that sufficientarianism cannot justify progressive taxation. Counter this objection, it is argued that sufficientarianism permits progressive burdening. The reason is that even those who are sufficiently well-off face a risk of being pushed below sufficiency. This risk decreases the better-off someone is, because it is easier for the better-off to deal with sufficiency-threatening circumstances. It is argued that risk of insufficiency understood as a function of distance to the threshold justifies progressive burdening. The proposed line of reasoning is in line with the sufficientarian conviction that there should be no redistributions amongst the rich, as the differences in risk of insufficiency eventually become marginally small amongst the very well-off. Further, the proposed rationale for progressive burdening does not depend on prioritarian or egalitarian reasoning. Rather, it turns out that sufficientarianism is well-suited to justify the progressive redistributive regimes of the modern welfare state.

Lukas Meyer – Sufficientarianism and the Non-Identity Problem

The paper argues that bringing-into-existence a person with a well-being below a sufficientarian threshold specified in terms of basic rights is harmful for the person and can be wrong. Both claims are defended as compatible with a person-affecting understanding of ethics. “By having been brought into existence the person is in a harmed state according to the threshold” implies neither that this is worse or better for the person than neverever existing nor that the person has a life not worth living. Rather, it means that this person is worse off than the threshold specifies she ought to be. “Bringing into existence the person in a harmed state according to the threshold is wrongful” means that this person is worse off than she ought to be and that this gives those making decisions about bringing the person into existence a reason for refraining from procreation. This reason does not reflect the view that we should bring into existence another person whose life is above the threshold or that we should maximize the number of people with lives above the threshold: if we have a choice between bringing into existence a person with a life worth living, but below the threshold, and bringing into existence a person with a life worth living at or above the threshold, the reason speaks against doing the former but not in favor of doing the latter. The person would be wronged by having been brought into existence in a harmed state according to a sufficientarian threshold understanding of what is owed to her. That the person will have a life worth living is not sufficient reason to render permissible bringing the person into existence and in a harmed sub-threshold state. The ground for this reason does not rely on a comparison with how well off the person or other people would be if we refrain from bringing the person into existence or acted differently.

Kirsten Meyer – Ethics of Future Generations: Egalitarianism or Sufficientarianism?

The aim of this talk is to defend a deontological egalitarianism in the ethics of future generations. My talk is divided into two parts. First, I will address the question whether we owe anything to future generations at all. I will briefly explain the Non-Identity Problem, then discuss some of the solutions presented in the literature, and finally show a way to avoid the problem. I will thus hold that we do indeed owe something to future generations. In the second part of the talk I will then argue that the content of our duties towards future generations should be determined by egalitarian considerations. First, I will discuss the sufficientarian approach and give an example to point out its limitations. A modification of the same example will then help to outline the egalitarian approach, which I will also defend against some objections. What speaks against sufficientarianism is that the sufficiency threshold, unless it is set very low, cannot be determined without coming back to egalitarian considerations. Moreover, there are additional duties of justice, duties of equal distribution, that sufficientarianism cannot account for. In contrast, there are good reasons to refute the alleged objections to deontological egalitarianism.

Lasse Nielsen – Welfare State Equality: Egalitarian Intuitions, Sufficientarian Reasons

At the heart of any welfare state’s institutional design is a vaguely conceptualized and abstract idea of the value of equality. This conception finds a more concrete form when put in terms of political slogans that ground welfare state institutions, such as ‘equal access to health care’ or ‘equal educational opportunities for all’. Such slogans have strong intuitive appeal and, inarguably, few members of the public in any democratic society will disagree with them. Furthermore, they sit well with egalitarian political theory such as Ronald Dworkin’s equality of resources, G.A. Cohen’s equal access to advantages or numerous welfare-based egalitarian alternatives. In this paper, I investigate the normative basis on which this conception of the value of equality is based. I take issue with the connection it is said to have to egalitarianism as an ideal in political theory, and argue that, more plausibly, it builds upon sufficientarian reasoning. This argument carries significant political implications, as it encourages welfare states to set aside the goal of eliminating inequality. Instead, they should focus on tackling the problem of some citizens facing significant deficits in central social capabilities.

Daniel Petz – Harming the future: Exploring challenges to sufficientarianism as a theory of intergenerational justice in the context of risk and uncertainty regarding climate change impacts

The paper claims that a sufficientarian conception of justice, based on a threshold nation of harm and using capabilities as currency, is a strong candidate for a comprehensive theory of intergenerational justice that can help to decide on just/unjust options in terms of climate change, particularly as it presents a plausible solution to the non-identity problem. It focuses on one major challenge to such a conception, which is how to define a threshold that is normatively strong, clearly defined, comparable and valid over generational boundaries, and just for current and future generations. After having inquired those criteria, it highlights a number of challenges that risk and uncertainty surrounding possible future harm from the effects of climate change might have on such a conception.

Merten Reglitz – Why No More Than Sufficiency?

In recent publications, sufficientarians have refined their position and argued that the notion of sufficiency does not have to be limited to basic human needs, but can instead account for much more demanding distributive requirements. Some sufficientarians have also argued that their position is compatible with other conceptions of justice – in particular, relational egalitarianism. These contributions have been extremely helpful in clarifying ideas and concepts in the debate about the ‘right’ theory of distributive justice.

However, in my talk I will focus on three points that lend support to the thought that sufficiency is really not all that justice requires, and that this notion cannot account for some of the most important aspects of egalitarianism. First, I will point out the important ways in which sufficientarianism and relational egalitarianism come apart. Second, I will argue that sufficientarians do not pay enough attention to the origins of inequalities that might exist above any threshold of sufficiency. Finally, I show that sufficientarianism does not provide any guidance when it comes to the question of how to distribute unowned resources, and that this silence is condemning for the approach if it is taken to outline all that distributive justice requires. My conclusion will be that justice requires more than what would be ‘enough’ for people.

Rudolf Schüßler – Sufficientarianism and Boundaries of Relative Poverty

Sufficientarianism is usually characterized by two claims: It is good to live above a threshold of sufficiency, but duties of distributive justice (mainly of resource provision) only exist up to this threshold. The threshold in question is often assumed to be a poverty threshold (e.g. in Valentyne 2010), and in particular a threshold of relative poverty. Under this premise, sufficientarianism appears implausible because societies that are more equal above familiar poverty thresholds seem more just. This paper argues that the appropriate threshold of sufficiency is at best an upper bound for thresholds of relative poverty, but not a relative poverty line as ordinarily understood. Some obstacles have to be removed on the way to this conclusion, because in many definitions, relative poverty is unbounded. Moreover, the capability approach, which is used to justify sufficientarian thresholds, seems to relate to poverty lines but not to boundaries for them.

Liam Shields – What sorts of pluralists should sufficientarians be?

Sufficientarians hold that securing enough of some goods is an especially important demand of justice. In its most general form, being a sufficientarian means believing both that it is better to have enough than less than enough and that the appropriate moral responses to supra-threshold distributions should be quite different from our attitudes to sub-threshold distributions. I believe that sufficientarians can respond most strongly to the objections that have been made of them if they hold that some moral reasons still apply to supra-threshold distributions. But this general structure requires sufficientarians to be pluralists in at least some ways.

In this paper I examine the different ways in which sufficientarians can be pluralists in order to strengthen their position. I begin by setting out the account of sufficientarianism as shift-sufficientarianism, which was developed elsewhere, and then draw on this account to assess different sorts of pluralism and how that relates to 1) fundamental/instrumental reasons 2) pluralism about the currency of justice and 3) pluralism about thresholds.

Joachim Wündisch – A Sufficientarian Theory of Political Self-determination

A sufficientarian theory of political self-determination has strong initial plausibility because our intuitions about political self-determination suggest that many peoples are properly politically self-determined although a myriad of economic, social, political, and geographical factors constrain their option sets. Further, even if political self-determination is understood as a continuum rather than a binary notion, we tend to heavily deprioritize improvements in political self-determination for peoples who already have “enough”. In this talk I have two principle aims. First, I seek to assess whether a sufficientarian theory of political self-determination holds promise beyond its initial plausibility. Second, I seek to determine whether sufficientarian notions can – beyond their role in distributive justice – be relied upon in the context of compensatory justice in order to demarcate the line between what can be compensated monetarily and what must be compensated in-kind.

Verantwortlich für die Redaktion: Univ.Prof.Dr. Matthew Braham

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