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Krushil Watene

2018: Dr Krushil Watene, Massey University Department of Philosophy, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research entitled: ‘Intergenerational Justice: Obligations and Decision-Making’.


Dr Krushil Watene (Ngāti Manu, Te Hikutu, Ngāti Whātua o Orākei, Tonga) is a Senior Lecturer in Massey University Department of Philosophy, specialising in moral and political philosophies of well-being, development, and justice with a particular focus on indigenous philosophies. She completed her Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Auckland, before completing her PhD at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, in 2011. Dr Watene has held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Auckland, and visiting fellowships at the University of Vienna in Austria, and Durham University in the UK. Her research has been supported by the Marsden Fund, Ngā Pae ō te Māramatanga, and the Land and Water National Science Challenge, and she works closely with Māori communities to support the revitalisation and sustaining of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge).


Western civilisation was built on the primacy of property ownership, individual rights, and on the notion of the environment as a resource without limit. These pillars are failing under the weight of contemporary realities, and people the world over are searching for ways to strengthen these existing foundations, or searching for new and stronger foundations to take us into the future. Aotearoa New Zealand provides an unprecedented philosophical landscape in which to encounter some of the solutions. Theorising our obligations to future generations in a way that includes obligations to ancestors is unprecedented in contemporary western philosophy. In times of global climate change and rapid technological advancement, Dr Watene argues we need to do more than just look to our responsibilities to future generations. We need to understand how to honestly talk about and debate responsibilities to future generations. Māori philosophy provides one way forward.

Some of the contributions of Māori philosophy include notions such as ‘kaitiakitanga’, and in the recent granting of legal personality to rivers. For the most part, however, these are mere glimpses of philosophical landscapes unimagined. Exploring them requires a fundamental change in perspective. In this programme of research, Dr Watene will analyse the concepts and ideas embedded in Māori ancestral narratives. The result will be two pioneering contributions to contemporary philosophy: a philosophical account of our obligations to future generations grounded in Māori concepts; and a decision-making procedure that models decision-making under conditions inclusive of our obligations to past, present, and future generations. The result will be a philosophical system for discussing and debating what is required in times where people have to engage more robustly in intergenerational justice. This will provide a means to make sense of new conceptual landscapes, and novel conceptual tools for navigating further uncharted terrain.