Why Should We Help the Poor? Philosophy and Poverty

  • Christian Illies
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 42)


One might question whether we need ethics at all in the debate on global poverty, or whether the demand to help seems self-evident and the choice of particular actions should be left to specialists on developmental aid. In this chapter, it is argued that the answers are yes and no: No, because we can leave particular recommendations to experts once we know precisely what we should promote—but also yes, since we must know the exact end of our (demanded) action. Empirical poverty-research without specified ends is blind; it requires the prior identification and rational justification of particular ends. This, however, is the task of ethics because no empirical science can lead to normative insights. Since it is highly controversial whether philosophical reflection can provide such a justification, a transcendental argument is outlined: if there is something good, then it is good that the good is actively supported, and if a capability to do so is a necessary requirement for this support, then it is also good that human beings have this capability. Human freedom is the paramount capability to self-determine one’s life and actions. It is an essential condition for supporting the good. It follows that a certain kind of freedom (namely the one necessary for supporting the good; here called “moral freedom”) must be regarded as a necessary end for any morality. We are obliged to help others so that they can help.

The chapter ends with showing in which way the end “moral freedom” tells us why we should help the poor and can provide practical orientation for doing so.


Poverty ethics justification of ends transcendental arguments freedom capabilities Sen 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Illies
    • 1
  1. 1.Technical University DelftThe Netherlands

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