Conceptions of Human Flourishing — Reformulating the SDGs

How does a non-materialist conception of human flourishing inform the reformulation of the SDGs in 2030?

Conceptions of Human Flourishing — Reformulating the SDGs

How does a non-materialist conception of human flourishing inform the reformulation of the SDGs in 2030?


Starting in 2025, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will undergo a 5-year renewal and renegotiation process. Towards that end, the question of the nature of what constitutes the “human” in human development and, by extension, what “human flourishing” is requires a renewed inquiry inclusive of non-materialist philosophies and non-western cultures.

In contemporary politics, modern scientism has emerged as the dominant scientific doctrine informing policy frameworks of human flourishing. This perspective focuses on the material conditions of survival and its ontology and methodology has informed the design and formulation of the SDGs. This perspective on the human condition and its role and place in nature, however, hardly captures the complexity of human experience across the world and in different cultures.

Alternative conceptions, such as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, the modern idealist turn in the sciences, or conceptions of a New Enlightenment, signal a change in the contemporary scientific world view.

This shift posits a transition towards an ontology that is more inclusive of different cultures and philosophical world views as well as one that is more attuned to a holistic view of human nature as a subset of nature itself.

The program on the “Conceptions of Human Flourishing — Reformulating the SDGs” brings together a diverse team to develop a non-materialist and inter-cultural conception of human flourishing that can inform the policy agenda of the reformulation of the SDGs starting in 2025. The team will work on sub-questions such as (but not exclusive to):

  • What are enduring and cross-culturally shared non-materialist conceptions of human flourishing across cultures?
  • How do the reductively materialist conceptions that have so far informed the SDGs limit human flourishing?
  • How to reformulate the overarching concept of human flourishing as well as the individual SDGs considering an inter-cultural, non-materialist conception of human flourishing?

Andrej Zwitter
University of Groningen

Andrej is Chair of Governance and Innovation and co-founder of the inter- and transdisciplinary branch Faculty Campus Fryslân at the University of Groningen. This newly founded faculty dedicated to “Global Challenges and Local Solutions” combines education and research in the domains of sustainability, development, and digitalization. Andrej earned his PhD in Law, Legal Philosophy and International Law. His research foci include Big Data ethics, cyber governance, humanitarian action and state of emergency politics. Andrej has also extensively published on subjects such as humanitarian action or just war and universal peace theory.



  • Nipun Mehta

    stayed: 16-18.10.2023

    Nipun is the founder of ServiceSpace ( a grassroots gift economy volunteer network that draws inspiration from the life and principles of Mahatma Gandhi. In addition to his role as an Obama White House advisor, Nipun has been honored with a "Compassion" award bestowed by the Dalai Lama.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Nipun gave a talk on the topic of “Future of Relationships: Creatively Holding the Tension Between Artificial Intelligence and Heart Intelligence”.

  • Ian Hughes

    stayed: 5-8.11.2023

    Ian is a Senior Research Fellow in sustainability and human development at University College Cork, Ireland. He is also Senior Policy Advisor on Innovation Policy in the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Ian contributed to the workshop Beyond Gender Equality in Human Flourishing.

  • Janice Haaken

    stayed: 5-8.11.2023

    Janice is a professor emeritus of Psychology at Portland State University. She is a trained clinical psychologist, an author, and a documentary filmmaker. Janice has published extensively in the areas of psychoanalysis and feminism, the history of psychiatric diagnosis, the psychology of storytelling, group responses to violence, and the dynamics of social change.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Janice contributed to the workshop Beyond Gender Equality in Human Flourishing.

  • Maggie O’Neill

    stayed: 5-8.11.2023

    Maggie is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at University College Cork and a newly elected member of the Royal Irish Academy. Maggie has a long history of innovative culture work at the intersections of sociology, criminology and women’s and gender studies.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Maggie contributed to the workshop Beyond Gender Equality in Human Flourishing.

  • Kieran Keohane

    stayed: 5-8.11.2023

    Kieran is a Professor of Sociology and Criminology at University College Cork. He is co-founder of the Moral Foundations of Economy & Society Research Center, an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional and international collaboration that contributes to the development of transdisciplinary theories and methodologies for addressing the political and cultural problems of late modern economies and societies and the ‘wicked issues’ associated with climate breakdown.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Kieran contributed to the workshop Beyond Gender Equality in Human Flourishing.

  • Carmen Kuhling

    stayed: 5-8.11.2023

    Carmen is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Limerick. Her research interests include cultural identity, cultural diversity, globalization, consumer behavior and political economy.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Carmen contributed to the workshop Beyond Gender Equality in Human Flourishing.

  • Ina Friesen

    stayed: 5-8.11.2023

    Ina is a political scientist and senior researcher in International Conflict Analysis in the research programme "Inter- and transnational cooperation" at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Ina contributed to the workshop Beyond Gender Equality in Human Flourishing.

  • Jean Timsit

    stayed: 30.11.–01.12.2023

    Jean is a French lawyer, a happiness researcher and a painter. In 1997- 2007 he served as President at Conflict Resolution Center, advising corporations as to the adequate treatment of litigious relationships and prevention of conflicts. In 2007, he founded a multi-disciplinary research program on the ways towards human flourishing and their practical implications. He teaches happiness to business students in Paris.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Jean contributed to the work of the Human Flourishing team with his view of the role of happiness in management.

  • Lukas Meyer

    stayed: 12–13.12.2023

    Lukas is a Professor of Philosophy from the University of Graz, who works in ethics, political, legal and social philosophy, focusing on justice in space and time. His ongoing research projects are those on intergenerational justice, basic needs sufficientarianism, the ethics of climate change and historical justice.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Lukas provided the Human Flourishing group with his perspective on the connection between flourishing and intergenerational justice.

  • Sabina Alkire

    stayed: 23–24.01.2024

    Sabina is a Professor of Poverty and Human Development and Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) at the University of Oxford. Together with Professor James Foster, Sabina developed the Alkire-Foster (AF) method for measuring multidimensional poverty, a flexible technique that can incorporate different dimensions, or aspects of poverty, to create measures tailored to each context.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Sabina provided the Human Flourishing group with her perspective on how to measure the non-material conditions of flourishing.

  • Jacques Buith

    stayed: 23.01.2024

    Jacques is a Senior Partner at Deloitte with more than 30 years' experience in advising global clients. He is currently the Global LCSP (Lead Partner) for the United Nations system and selected (international) clients. In his current role Jacques is a Senior Advisor and helps organizations transform to become more responsible businesses. Jacques’ focus areas are governance, strategy and risk management for clients with a specific focus on International Development, EU Green Deal, Climate & Sustainability.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Jacques joined the Human Flourishing group in their discussion on measuring the non-material conditions of flourishing.

  • Hans-Joachim Heintze

    stayed: 7–10.11.2023 and 30.01.–02.02.2024

    Hans-Joachim is a Professor of International Law at the Ruhr University Bochum. His research focuses on minority rights, autonomy regulations (self-determination of peoples), post-conflict law, and law of humanitarian assistance.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Hans-Joachim provided the Human Flourishing group with his perspective on the international legal foundations of sustainability.

  • Harald Atmanspacher

    stayed: 9–14.10.2023 and 5–15.02.2024

    Harald is an emeritus member of the Turing Center at ETH Zurich, and a former Fellow of the program "The Human Condition in the 21st Century" at THE NEW INSTITUTE. As a theoretical physicist with more than three decades of experience in interdisciplinary research, he is known for his work on complex dynamical systems, non-reductive approaches in the philosophy of science, fundamental questions of quantum theory, and non-commutative structures in physics and cognition.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Harald provided the Human Flourishing group with his perspective on the relationship between mind and matter in terms of objectifying flourishing.

  • Charmaine Misalucha-Willoughby

    stayed: 11–16.02.2024

    Charmaine is a a nonresident scholar at Carnegie China, Carnegie’s East Asia-based research center on contemporary China, where she examines China-Philippine relations and maritime security issues in Southeast Asia. She is an associate professor of international studies at De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines. Her current research focuses on the narratives that emerge from information campaigns on the South China Sea. She is also works on civil, maritime, and blue security and how they shape the Philippines’ foreign policy.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Charmaine will give a Monastery Talk on human flourishing and sustainability in maritime governance.

  • Michael Eldred

    stayed: 14–17.02.2024

    Michael is an Australian philosopher, mathematician and translator currently based in Cologne, Germany. He was born in Katoomba NSW Australia and received his Ph.D. in Philosophy and M.Sc. & B.Sc. (Hons.) in Mathematics from the University of Sydney. In the early 1980s he moved from Sydney to settle in Konstanz, Germany, where he continued his philosophical work, which ranges from political and social philosophy, phenomenology of whoness, social ontology, digital ontology, philosophy of music to fundamental questions in mathematics and physics, especially the question of time. In Germany he established himself as a freelance translator specializing in contemporary art.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Michael will give a talk ‘Temporal Recasting of Who We Are‘ which explores the role of hermeneutic phenomenology in defining what it means to be human.

  • Astrid Nettling

    stayed: 14–17.02.2024

    Astrid studied philosophy and literature at the University of Düsseldorf, where she received her doctorate in philosophy in 1991. Since then she has done research on feminism and philosophy, partly in collaboration with the International Association of Women Philosophers (IAPh). In 1993, Astrid began writing freelance for radio and the press. She taught philosophy at the University of Siegen and had a research project on Martin Heidegger. Her main philosophical interests are phenomenology, existentialism and feminist philosophy.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Astrid will join the Human Flourishing team to discuss the role of hermeneutic phenomenology in defining what it means to be human.

Curatorial Note
Curatorial Note

Naraphat Sakarthornsap, Iris dans un vase Benjarong, 2022

Naraphat Sakarthornsap, who lives and works in Bangkok, explores social inequalities and gender dynamics through photography and installations using flowers as symbolic conduits. Sakarthornsap's early works presented a challenge to nature in an attempt to prolong the freshness of the flower. Later, he developed ideas to challenge power and influence in society through the images of these flowers. The theme always remains true to the meaning of "Do not believe in what the flowers in front of you appear to be. Instead, look for the messages these flowers hide." Perhaps what Sakarthornsap is facing and trying to present is the same as what many others are inevitably struggling with, about the standards in society where inequalities are all around them.


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