Freedom and responsibility – sustainable prosperity through a capabilities lens

Robeyns, Ingrid (2017) ‘Freedom and responsibility - sustainable prosperity through a capabilities lens’, CUSP essay series on the morality of sustainable prosperity, London: Center for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, 17 pp.

Are we at liberty to live our lives completely as we wish? Or are there constraints we have to be aware of as we want to avoid harming oth- ers and respect principles of ecological justice? And are lifestyles that embrace basic principles of ecological justice always dull and simple lives, where many enjoyable things are beyond reach, and which therefore entail a regress in our quality of life? Or is there a possibility to live lives that are at the same time sustainable and just, and that also allow us to be happy and ourishing?
This set of questions is one of the most central in the task of thinking about sustainable prosperity. To many people’s minds there is an inevitable trade-off between living ecologically sustainable on the one hand and living with higher levels of well-being on the other. If that trade-off is a real one, then those striving to- wards a more sustainable future are facing an uphill task, since ecological sustainability will only be possible by lowering people’s well-being—something most people have so far been unwilling to do. But is this trade-off real or is it spurious? Is it possible to lead good lives that are simultaneously just and ecologically sustainable?
That’s the question I seek to answer in this essay. I will argue that it is possible to live good lives that are also just and ecologically sustainable, if we understand well-being and human ourishing in terms of human capabilities (while giving more weight to the non-material capabilities), and if we are willing to take the necessary steps to change our behaviour and institutions to overcome moral disengagement with our current lifestyles, which are unjust and ecologically unsustainable.

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