Philosophy Lecture

Tuesday 17 October 2023

What an amazing first talk to kick off the Kitcher Philosophy Talks this year! The question was what wealth is worth and whether economic growth is the best measure of social progress. The evening started with an overview of both philosophy and economics within the question by the chair, Mr Stannard. He went on to share his own experience, transitioning from an investment banker with a very comfortable income to a teacher and house parent, which brought moral gains and a sense of wellbeing. Mr Stannard ended by comparing countries with extreme wealth gaps as a challenge to the view that overall GDP is everything.

Our first speaker, Mr Bryant, delved into the question of what can define social progress and argued that measuring changes in average income is the best and most accurate way to gauge it. Mr Bryant contended that average income holds policymakers accountable and does not involve normative judgments; the numbers don’t lie. He did acknowledge exceptions and what is missed when only measuring average income but still maintained that it’s the best metric.

The next speaker, Dr Calder, incorporated a philosophical perspective into the argument and debate. He focused more on social progress and challenged the notion of what is meant by ‘the best measure’ since it’s a very normative statement. He argued that social progress is moral progress, which cannot always be measured. So, can social progress even be measured? Dr Calder then argued that happiness is desirable, and GDP does not measure this accurately. For instance, a plane crash or successful landing has the same GDP value, but they result in very different levels of happiness. Alternative measures like the Human Development Index (HDI) were touched upon, but he concluded that the main question is how to make citizens more virtuous people.

This led us to our last speaker of the evening, Mr Scrivener, who took the perspective of the developing world. He argued that GDP doesn’t paint the whole picture but is the best measure because it includes the most data points – the most economic information – while still providing a clear answer. This contrasted with Dr Calder’s viewpoint that more diverse measures are better.

We then had a half-hour Q&A session because many people had more to say. This included questions on whether environmental effects should be considered and the question of human rights records and exploitation of workers. We also received final advice on voting and what we should think about when voting. Overall, this was a wonderful discussion and a great way to start off the year.

By Emily (GR/Year 13)