Evaluating Poverty from the Philosophical Perspective


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Philosophy Paper

18 November 2014.

Evaluating Poverty from the Philosophical Perspective

           For centuries, philosophers have pondered over the question of poverty and its causes. Following this philosophical inquiry, different reasons for the persistence of poverty in the world have been given. One of them is that people become poor simply because they do not possess certain things. Another reason is that people are poor because they are unable to do certain things. Poverty is also associated with an individual’s lack of attributes that are widely associated with riches and affluence. In some cases, people are poor simply because they have been socially secluded. One of the approaches philosophers use to explain the reason for being poor is the recognition approach, which emphasizes the need for rights, esteem, and love in the conceptualization of poverty among humankind. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the problem of poverty from the perspective of the recognition approach.


            The concepts of rights, esteem, and love have a great impact on what people around the world regard as conditions of poverty (Am Busch and Zurn 84). In the absence of rights, esteem, and love, an individual is likely to be regarded as poor. To put this idea in another way, the deprivation of rights, esteem, and love is a major cause of poverty. People who pursue the objective of love through personal relationships tend to have many opportunities for addressing the challenges of daily living. They are able to mobilize support whenever they basic needs such as shelter, clothing, and food. Similarly, people whose fundamental human rights such as the right to education and the freedom of expression have not been violated are in a better position to pursue many goals in life. This enables them to break the vicious cycle of poverty. Similarly, social esteem is a major factor in the manifestation of poverty. People with self-respect and self-esteem are able to develop self-confidence, which is a major requirement in the endless search for economic opportunities in a highly competitive world.

            When an individual is not recognized by society, his rights are likely to be violated. Moreover, such an individual is likely to have a difficult time trying to forge personal relationships. Because of these challenges, the individual is likely to develop low self-esteem. Lack of recognition makes the goal of self-realization very difficult to achieve. Everyone aspires to lead a better life, which is at the heart of self-realization. When mutual recognition is lacking in society, the motivation for self-realization, both at the individual and social level, begins to wane. This explains why certain sections of society are considered poor and others rich.

            In the absence of social recognition, individuals tend to be disrespected. Moreover, they are subjected to various problems, including physical abuse, social exclusion, disenfranchisement, and discrimination. In many cases, these challenges fall within the realm of human rights violations. Over time, people who have been battered by these challenges lose their dignity, lack the will to strive for self-realization, and have a negative view of life. This shows that the concepts of right, love, and self-esteem are interrelated as far as the philosophical evaluation of causes of poverty is concerned.

            A major philosophical problem in the recognition approach is embodied in the concept of suffering (Am Busch and Zurn 63). The problem manifests itself in the idea that suffering is a subjective idea and should not be relied upon as a basis for determining who is poor and why. Although people who are poor suffer in one way or the other, it is imperative to look for objective criteria which, in addition to suffering, explains what it really means for a person to be poor. Philosophers solve this problem by relying on the normative framework. The normative framework is based on statements regarding how things are supposed to be. For example, the recognition approach views poverty as an ethically significant concept. This means that ethical issues always tend to arise within the debate on poverty. For example, when a government fails to promote social recognition of a marginalized community, thus violating its rights and discriminating against its members, that government is said to have acted unethically. The same thing may be said regarding individuals, private companies, and cartels that take advantage of poor people by economically exploiting them.


            The ideas of rights, love, and self-esteem are closely related to the normative framework particularly when they are used to explain the problem of poverty. For example, it is morally wrong to violate the rights of an individual. Many people are poor because their rights have been violated. In fact, the whole idea of recognition is based on an underlying normative promise of social inclusion. The assumption, in this case, is that everyone should always endeavor to fulfill the implicit normative promise of actualizing the emergence of a society where there is mutual recognition of people’s challenges and the opportunities available for dealing with those challenges.

            Thus, from the recognition perspective, poverty is morally wrong. It manifests itself in society because of failure by some people to do what is morally right. It is morally wrong for someone to denigrate and humiliate people simply because he considers the poor. Such denigration only makes the conditions of poverty worse. It takes the remaining sense of dignity, self-worth, and self-esteem out of the targeted individuals, thereby potentially exposing them to harsher conditions of poverty. Conversely, it is morally right to give recognition to the people we consider poor, to encourage them to rise up to the challenge, and to bring economic opportunities closer to them.

            It is worthwhile to point out that while personal esteem, social esteem, and cognitive respect are universal elements of recognition, they also contain a relative dimension in terms of the way they are manifested in society. Some people define recognition in terms of material things while others view it in terms of identity politics. Regardless of the dimension, one may choose to adopt, the normative framework retains its crucial role in explaining why people are poor.

            In conclusion, poverty is a serious problem in the world today. In terms of the everyday worldview, it is associated with the inability to satisfy even the basic needs of life such as food and shelter. However, philosophers view it as a deeper problem that goes beyond the satisfaction of basic needs. One way to explain this complexity is to use the recognition approach. In this approach, philosophers use a normative framework to explain how concepts of rights, esteem, and love are connected to poverty. An analysis of these concepts can enable humankind to understand that certain actions, such as social exclusion and violation of the right to education, are morally wrong because they contribute to the existence of poverty.

Works Cited

Am Busch, Hans-Christoph and Zurn, Christopher.The Philosophy of Recognition: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2009. Print.

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