Matthias Kramm, Ingrid Robeyns

Published On


Page Range

pp. 61–90


  • English

Print Length

30 pages

3. Limits to Wealth in the History of Western Philosophy

In contemporary political philosophy, it has recently been proposed that upper limits should be put on individual wealth acquisition. In this article, we discuss the arguments made by canonical writers in the history of economic and political phi- losophy about ideas that can be considered prototypes of limitarianism. In contemporary discussions, a distinction has been made between intrinsic and non-intrinsic limitarianism, whereby it has been doubted that, in present-day pluralistic societies, the former can be justified. We have found proto- limitarian claims or justifications for limitarianism in four moral domains: moral psychology, moral reasoning, virtue ethics and political morality. While in the present-day context, the view that there should be an upper limit to wealth may sound much too radical, we show that throughout history, many influential philosophers made limitarian or proto-limitarian claims, including many intrinsic arguments for wealth limitarianism. We end the article by outlining the implications of those historical insights for systematic contemporary discussions of limitarianism.


Matthias Kramm

Postdoctoral Researcher in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University & Research

Matthias Kramm is a postdoctoral researcher in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation (KTI) group of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. In his research, he is interested in how philosophical discourses can be applied to political, economic and environmental problems. He focuses in particular on political philosophy, non-Western philosophy and development ethics. He has published in CRISPP, the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Journal of Global Ethics, among other places.

Ingrid Robeyns

Chair in Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University

Ingrid Robeyns holds the chair in Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University. She received her PhD dissertation from Cambridge University in 2003 and has since been publishing widely on questions of distributive justice, inequalities, applied ethics, and methodological considerations. She served as the first Director of the Dutch Research School of Philosophy, as the former director of Utrecht University’s Ethics Institute, and as the eighth president of the Human Development and Capability Association. She has co-edited two edited volumes and three special journal issues, and has previously published the book Wellbeing, Freedom and Social Justice (2017, with Open Book Publishers. She currently has a contract with Allen Lane (UK) and Astra House (USA) for a trade book on limitarianism (with translation rights sold to seven other publishers), which is scheduled to appear in the winter of 2023–2024.