Prof. Darrel Moellendorf - Chair for International Political Theory and Philosophy


Goethe University Frankfurt
Faculty of Social Sciences
Institute for Political Science

House "Normative Ordnungen"
Max-Horkheimer-Straße 2
3rd floor, room 3.11
Map of Campus Westend

Postal adress:
Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main
Fach EXC 14
60629 Frankfurt am Main

I am a political theorist and an environmental, moral, and political philosopher. The sort of philosophical research I do is driven by problems in our lives and the world in which we live. I have many interests in Political Theory and Philosophy in general. I started professional life as a Hegel scholar, working on his philosophy of mind. I have defended an egalitarian form cosmopolitanism in the global justice debates. I have developed an account of just war theory, Jus ex Bello, that is focused on the morality of ending wars. I am currently working on the following three research projects: 1) A philosophical memoir of my experience of a rare form of blood cancer called The Examined Illness: The Good Life at the Edge of Life, which will be completed in 2024 and published in 2025 by Intellect Books. 2) An interdisciplinary research project, Making Hope, with two empirically minded colleagues, testing the extent to which central conceptual questions in the moral psychology of hope can be adequately answered by means of an empirical study. 3) A book manuscript in political theory and environmental philosophy tentatively entitled Another Anthropocene is Possible: Prosperity within Planetary Boundaries.  I aspire in my writing to clarity and analytical rigor, with attention to argumentative structure and the needs of evidence, and I encourage the students that I supervise to do so as well.

I have learned from and been inspired by many and varied writers, among them the following: 

“I tried to ask myself, when writing: precisely what does this sentence contribute to the developing exposition or argument, and is it true? You become analytical when you practice that sort of (frequently painful) self-criticism."

─G.A. Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory of History, A defence, preface to the 2000 edition

“Historically one of the main defects of constitutional government has been the failure to insure the fair value of political liberty. The necessary corrective steps have not been taken, indeed, they never seem to have been seriously entertained."

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 1971

“[T]here are some things in our social system to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I suggest that you too ought to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic inequalities of an economic system which takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence. I call upon you to be maladjusted. Well you see, it may be that the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the maladjusted."

─Martin Luther King, Jr. A Look to the Future, 1957

“Pessimism is cowardice. The man who cannot frankly acknowledge the 'Jim-Crow' car as a fact and yet live and hope is simply afraid either of himself or of the world. There is not in the world a more disgraceful denial of human brotherhood than the 'Jim-Crow' car of the southern United States; but, too, just as true, there is nothing more beautiful in the universe than sunset and moonlight on Montego Bay in far Jamaica. And both things are true and both belong to this our world, and neither can be denied."

W.E.B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from within the vale, 1920 

The work against anxiety about life and the machinations of fear is that against creators, who are for the most easy to identify, and it looks in the world itself for what can help the world; this can be found."

– Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, 1954, 1986 English Translation

I may also confess that common as is the jackrabbit he never burst away in speed before me without being followed by wonder at his graceful mystery of motion; that the crawl of a wild-cat upon game is something that arrests and fascinates by its masterful skill; and that even the desert tramp, the coyote, is entitled to admiration for the graceful way he can slip through patches of cactus. The fault is not in the subject. It is not vulgar or ugly. The trouble is that we perhaps have not the proper angle of vision. If we understood all, we should admire all."

John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

Contact Information


Questions about teaching exclusively to:

Office hours: 10 am to 12 noon with an appointment via my Team Assistant Ellen Nieß

Student supervision

I supervise student theses in normative political theory and in philosophy. I am unable to supervise theses whose arguments primarily depend on empirical studies and methods, whether qualitative or quantitative. Students wishing to write such theses should seek other supervisors. I receive many requests to supervise bachelor's thesis and therefore prioritize as follows:

1) Students who have taken classes with me and who are working in areas in which I have enough expertise to supervise.
2) Students working in environmental political theory or environmental philosophy.
3) As my capacity allows, other students working in areas in which I have sufficient expertise.

I do not offer BA and MA supervision appointments or conduct oral examinations during the semester breaks.

Anyone wishing to have their bachelor thesis supervised by me should schedule an appointment with me through my team asisstant, Frau Nieß.

The story of how I got here.

The day I shook Nelson Mandela's hand


Team Assistant: Ellen Nieß
Raum: 3.12
Tel.: +49 (0)69 / 798 - 31521
Fax:  +49 (0)69 / 798 - 31462

Office Hours for Students:
By appointment.

Book Publications

The Parties to the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement agreed to act on the basis of equity to protect the climate system. Equitable effort sharing is an irreducibly normative matter, yet some influential studies have sought to create quantitative indicators of equitable effort that claim to be value-neutral (despite evident biases). Many of these studies fail to clarify the ethical principles underlying their indicators, some mislabel approaches that favour wealthy nations as ‘equity approaches’ and some combine contradictory indicators into composites we call derivative benchmarks. This Perspective reviews influential climate effort-sharing assessments and presents guidelines for developing and adjudicating policy-relevant (but not ethically neutral) equity research. 
With the significant disconnect between the collective aim of limiting warming to well below 2°C and the current means proposed to achieve such an aim, the goal of this paper is to offer a moral assessment of prominent alternatives to current international climate policy. To do so, we'll outline five different policy routes that could potentially bring the means and goal in line. Those five policy routes are: (1) exceed 2°C; (2) limit warming to less than 2°C by economic de-growth; (3) limit warming to less than 2°C by traditional mitigation only; (4) limit warming to less than 2°C by traditional mitigation and widespread deployment of Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs); and (5) limit warming to less than 2°C by traditional mitigation, NETs, and Solar Radiation Management as a fallback. In assessing these five policy routes, we rely primarily upon two moral considerations: the avoidance of catastrophic climate change and the right to sustainable development. We'll conclude that we should continue to aim at the two-degree target, and that to get there we should use aggressive mitigation, pursue the deployment of NETs, and continue to research SRM.  
Climate change and climate change policy raise important issues of intergenerational and international justice. Intergenerational justice requires that CO2 emissions be halted by the middle of this century or shortly thereafter. But since human development requires energy, the elimination of emissions raises important questions of international justice. Responding adequately to climate change requires international cooperation in order to affect a rapid transition to renewable energy production and consumption and to safeguard conditions in which continued progress in human development can be made.
The world built by financial integration allows crises that move quickly from one country to another, destroying the lives of people who are vulnerable to poverty. Witness the remarkable speed of the crisis that began as a home mortgage crisis in the United States in 2007 but quickly generalized into an economic crisis around the world. When such contagion breaks out, the poor typically suffer disproportionately. Even after a recovery, the lasting effects, the hysteresis, can trap an entire generation in poverty, which they might otherwise have avoided. 
After a short introduction into the recent discourse on the Anthropocene, I will discuss three different interpretations of the Anthropocene: the Anthropocene as promethean, as destruction andas inegalitarian. These interpretations cannot simply be settled by the facts since they concern the direction in which things might develop. Therefore, I will argue, they are not mere predictions based on theoretical reason. Because of the very fact thatthey are bound up with fundamental human interests and human moral concerns, they involve prospection based on practical reason and prospection is itself deeply associated with hope. The final part of my paper  aims  to  show  that  we  are  justified  to  hold  hope  in  the  epoch  of  the Anthropocene. 
The international community is currently in the midst of a facilitative dialogue about how to increase mitigation ambition under the terms of Paris Agreement. This dialogue concerns centrally considerations of equity, which includes matters of both justice and responsibility. I defend the importance of the right to sustainable development in this regard. I argue that if the right of states to pursue poverty eradicating human development is to be respected, then there is plausible interpretation of responsibility for mitigation in which a state’s ability to pay is the central consideration, where that ability is measured by its human development level. That conception of responsibility should be applied to considerations of how increase mitigation ambition. 
The language of hope is a ubiquitous part of political life, but its value is increasingly contested. While there is an emerging debate about hope in political philosophy, an assessment of the prevalent scepticism about its role in political practice is still outstanding. The aim of this article is to provide an overview of historical and recent treatments of hope in political philosophy and to indicate lines of further research. We argue that even though political philosophy can draw on recent analyses of hope in analytic philosophy, there are distinct challenges for an account of hope in political contexts. Examples such as racial injustice or climate change show the need for a systematic normative account that is sensitive to the unavoidability of hope in politics as much as its characteristic dangers. 
Darrel Moellendorf investigates the question of the justification of hope under current conditions in his “Hope for Material Progress in the Age of the Anthropocene." He argues that hope is subject to rationality constraints and can only be justified if there are “hope-makers" that are constituted by evidence and explanation that allow reasons for hope to be shared. Concerning political progress, Moellendorf takes up a claim from the Marxist tradition that assumes that social justice can only be achieved under conditions of massively increased productive capacity. He discusses G. A. Cohen's version of this claim, in particular concerning the question whether there is evidence for a generalized tendency in human history for productivity to grow, but adds to Cohen's discussion an important new element: we can only hope for such increases if environmental circumstances are sufficiently favorable that when humans labor, improvements can be passed on to at least some successor generations—“the fact of climatic favorability." This fact is now in doubt since human progress seems to be self-undermining by threatening those very climatic conditions. This entails that our hopes must not only be founded in economic tendencies but also in evidence about humanity's abilities to solve social problems. 

Unter Klimaforschern herrscht weitgehend Konsens, dass der Mensch durch die anhaltende Produktion von Treibhausgasen globale und ‚unumkehrbare‘ Klimaveränderungen in Gang gesetzt hat und das Ausma0 der Schäden nur durch ernsthafte Emissionsvermeidungsstrategien beschränkt werden kann (IPCC 2019). Stritt ist gleichwohl die konkrete Ausgestaltung einer solchen Strategie. Ökonomische Modelle berechnen in diesem Kontext wohlfahrtsmaximierende Vermeidungsstrategien. Das Optimumskalkül folgt dabei dem Kriterium der Pareto-Effizienz, vernachlässigt aber in den meisten Fällen den Gedanken der Verteilungsgerechtigkeit. Eine faire Verteilung der Kosten, sowohl zwischen als auch innerhalb der Generationen, stellt jedoch eine wichtige Voraussetzung für ein starkes Commitment der beteiligten Akteure dar. Die vorliegende Arbeit untersucht daher, wie sich modellierte Vermeidungsstrategien ändern, falls neben dem Effizienzgedanken auch Kriterien einer gerechten Verteilung in das Optimumskalkül einfließen. Konkret werden ein ability-to-pay sowie ein emission-intensity-reduction-Ansatz näher untersucht. Im Ergebnis zeigt sich, dass der ability-to-pay-Ansatz keine wesentlichen Fairnessvorteile gegenüber dem rein effizienzgetriebenen Ansatz verspricht. Dagegen scheint die kontinuierliche Reduktion der Emissionsintensität eine gerechtere Verteilung der Kosten mit einer erfolgreichen Beschränkung der Erderwärmung vereinen zu können. 

Illustration of Prof. Moellendorf's Approach to Climate Justice (Sophia Halamoda)

Upcoming Event

Podcast on "Mobilizing Hope"


Jun 16
01:00 PM

Conference: Hope in Times of Crisis

Jan 10
08:00 AM

"Ukraine has no Jus ex Bello obligation to enter into concessionary negotiations" - Moellendorf in the FAZ

Original version and English translation of Moellendorf's recent article in Frankfurter Allegmeine Zeitung: “Ukraine has no Jus ex Bello obligation to enter into concessionary negotiations"

Jan 8
08:00 AM

Workshop: Conservation and Global Justice

Workshop with Chris Armstrong on his new book manuscript "Conservation and Global Justice: Responding fairly to the Biodiversity Crisis". More information here.

Dec 7
09:00 AM

CfA: Two Postdoctoral Fellowship in the program Global Health Justice

The Global Health Justice Postdoctoral Programm
is seeking to appoint up to two post-doctoral fellows for the academic year 2023/2024. More information here.
Apr 21
12:00 AM

Moellendorf mentioned in recent UN-report

Professor Moellendorf's 2020 paper “Responsibility for Increasing Mitigation Ambition" was mentioned and cited in the recent UN-report on climate change mitigation. See chapter 4, page 99.

Dec 12
12:00 AM

Moellendorf in the Daily Maverick

Darrel Moellendorf's reflections on eco-sabotage in the Daily Maverick can be found here.

Dec 8
12:00 AM

Moellendorf guest on "Hessen schafft Wissen" podcast

Darrel Moellendorf was interviewed for the podcast "Hessen schafft Wissen". You can listen to the interview under the heading "Mobilizing Hope in the Face of Climate Change" here.

Jul 1
12:00 AM

Panel discussion on the topic "Der urbane Planet"

Darrel Moellendorf participated in a discussion on the topic "Der urbane Planet - soziale, ökonomische und ökologische Herausforderungen für das globale Zusammenleben der Gegenwart" as part of the tinyMONDAY on the 5th of July. You can find further information here.  

Dec 11
12:00 AM

Conference on the topic "Normative Economic Policy"

Moellendorf gave a talk at the conference "Normative Economic Policy". You can find further information here

Conferences of the Chair

Book Symposium CJ_FV
Anthropocene Poster FV
KMTH40 Poster FV