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SPEAKER: Matthew Adler, Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law and Professor of Economics, Philosophy and Public Policy Duke University

TITLE: Prioritarianism and Policy

Prioritarianism is an ethical view that gives extra weight to the well-being of the worse-off. Like utilitarianism, prioritarianism is consequentialist (it evaluates choices in light of their possible outcomes) and welfarist (the goodness of outcomes is seen as reducible to facts about individuals’ well-being). Utilitarianism ranks outcomes according to the simple sum of well-being. Prioritarianism, by contrast, employs a concave transformation function for well-being—the effect of which is to accord priority to the worse-off. Prioritarianism is operationalized for governmental policy choice via a “social welfare function” (SWF). In this talk, I will discuss the SWF framework generally and prioritarianism specifically, and then discuss its application to risk regulation, Covid-19 policy, and climate change.

Matthew D. Adler is the Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law and Professor of Economics, Philosophy and Public Policy at Duke University. Adler is the author of numerous articles and several monographs, including New Foundations of Cost-Benefit Analysis (Harvard, 2006; co-authored with Eric Posner); Well-Being and Fair Distribution: Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis (Oxford, 2012); and Measuring Social Welfare: An Introduction (Oxford, 2019).

The Science and Values in Climate Risk Management Speaker Series hosts invited speakers to generate discussion bridging the scientific and ethical sides of climate change research. The speakers will present new ideas designed for an interdisciplinary audience.

This series is organized by the Center for Climate Risk Management and the Climate and Sustainability Ethics Initiative in the Rock Ethics Institute, which is convened by Casey Helgeson, Klaus Keller, and Nancy Tuana.