Global Poverty and Philosophy: Why the Capabilities Approach Applies
Although our world is becoming increasingly more technologically advanced and developed, one billion people are still expected to live in extreme poverty by 2015 (Country Comparisons). As long as humanity has existed, there have been impoverished people left behind in the wake of advancement. Many philosophical theories have been published attempting to solve global poverty, and while some are better than others, they all draw attention to various facets of the issue. Famous theories have built upon one another, giving the next generation new ideas to sift through and ultimately attempt to uncover a viable option to help those in need. The recently introduced Capabilities Approach published by economist Amartya Sen and philosopher supported by Martha Nussbaum gives the most applicable solution to a continuingly complicated problem. While revolutionary, the Capabilities Approach was only conceivable due to centuries of meticulous contemplation of a global issue spanning millennia.
Utilitarianism, a famous theory often applied to global poverty issues, first appeared in 19th century England and primarily revolved around the greatest happiness principle. Classical Utilitarianism argues that all people are of equal value, and that it should be everyone’s goal to maximize happiness because happiness is inherently good and valuable. Since Utilitarianism holds all people equal, this means that proximity to poverty does not matter because distance does not decrease the value of human life. It also means that if an action increases overall happiness, you have a duty to help those in need. (Goldworth 315)
Peter Singer, a Utilitarian famous for his belief in Effective Altruism, states that if you can spare any luxury that does not decrease your quality of life to a comparable standard of those in poverty, then you ought to use it to benefit those in need (Singer). He challenges us to not only help those in need, but to maximize our giving by choosing to give in a way that it impacts those in need in the greatest manner possible. He also argues that failure to help those in need makes you just as responsible for their plight as those who caused it in the first place (Global Ethics 4). Utilitarianism sounds applicable because happiness is highly valued, however the conditions that regulate it can cause issues. For instance, it is impossible to measure happiness. Another criticism of Utilitarianism is that happiness is not our only value; people often sacrifice some happiness for freedom and personal relationships. A third issue with Utilitarianism is its’ practicality: Peter Singer challenges us to get the most out of what we give, but searching for the best “deals“ is too demanding for a person trying to live their own happy life. Although happiness is highly valued, the time consuming nature of effective altruism and the impracticality of utilitarianism due to happiness being...