World poverty and moral obligations

by Mitchell, Len, Ph.D., CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, 2007, 247 pages; 3283592


Extreme poverty is a persistent social problem in the world. Millions of people live in abject poverty and thousands die each day of preventable causes. Ordinary moral intuitions suggest that we should not ignore this issue, but intuitions vary as to what we should do, if anything.

Some philosophers who have addressed this issue claim that the affluent have moral obligations to assist the poor until they become poor themselves. Other philosophers claim that poverty aid is misguided and does more harm than good. Others insist that the affluent are justified in claiming their own economic entitlements before considering the needs of others, including the desperate poor.

The author of this dissertation considers in detail the views of four prominent philosophers who have considered the issue of poverty and moral obligations, and draws independent conclusions based on ordinary moral thinking, as influenced by the philosophers discussed and by his own moral intuitions. The author concludes that each affluent person has a moral duty, based on beneficence, to consider all ones moral obligations, beginning with obligations to dependents, to oneself, and to other loved ones (the "philophilic family"), but also extending to the poor, near and far. The obligations owed to those in the philophilic family are "thicker" or more substantial than to others. While a priority should be given to these thicker obligations, spending on oneself and other loved ones should not be excessive because the needs of the desperately poor should be considered ahead of such excess. Partiality to oneself and those one loves and cares for is morally justified, but excessive and indulgent spending is not morally justified. To insure that ones various moral obligations are properly considered, one should form a plan for moral obligations, execute the plan, and then review it after the fact on a periodic basis.

AdviserSteven M. Cahn
Source TypeDissertation
Publication Number3283592

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