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CPP Colloquium with Beth Kahn; Global Poverty, Injustice and Collectivization

Thursday 12 September 2019
CPP Colloquia 2019-2020
P.J. Veth
Nonnensteeg 1-3
2311 VJ Leiden

'Global Poverty, Injustice and Collectivization: a political approach to the duties of individuals’


The Center for Political Philosophy in Leiden is pleased to announce a talk by

Beth Kahn (Durham University)



The stark contrast between the conditions and prospects of the comfortably off citizens in affluent societies and the extreme poverty faced by much of the global population has led moral philosophers to consider what obligations individuals have in light of this situation (Singer, 1972, 2015, 2016; Sen, 1981; O’Neill, 1986; Murphy, 1993; Kuper, 2002, 2005; Risse, 2005; Wenar, 2006; Ashford, 2007; Pogge, 2008, 2010; D. Miller, 2007; R. Miller, 2010; Hasson, 2011; Gilabert, 2012; Lichetenberg, 2014; MacAskill, 2015; Deaton, 2015; Acemoglu, 2015; Gabriel, 2015; Rubenstein, 2015; Barry and Overland, 2016; Goodin, 2017). 

In contrast to approaches that focus on individual duties to donate income to charities that can demonstrate they will use the funds to efficiently advance welfare  (Singer, 1972, 2015, 2016; MacAskill, 2015), I develop an account that is explicitly politicalunderstanding poverty to be a form of structural injustice (Young, 2011) and proposing the use of institutional change to resolve it.  I propose that potential future contributors to ongoing structural injustice have precautionaryobligations which require that they take steps towards establishing and maintaining forms of collective agencyfocussed on achieving structural change.

Morality is often regarded as demanding that agents treat each other decently in their direct relations. In this book it is argued that moral decency also requires that agents be concerned with the justice of the social arrangementsthat they help to reproduceand sustain through their actions and behaviours. The book argues that extreme poverty indicates significant injustice in social arrangements and argues that obligations with regards to social justice are not limited to positive obligationsto support just governance institutions or promote just distributions of benefits and burdens.
[1]The account offered treats persistent social conditions as the cumulative result of human actions, social practices, and institutions. It suggests that when these social conditions are radically unjust those agents who make on-going contributions to the reproductionof these conditions have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to lessen future injustice. It argues that these efforts are required as a necessary precautionin order to avoid contributing to morally significant essentially aggregative harm.[2]

The book argues that the interconnectedness of global economies and the fact that actions and practices of citizens in one country can have a significant effect on the social conditions faced by others situated in a different territory means that at present agents across the world contribute to the reproduction and development of social conditions in which a large sector of the global population lives in extreme poverty: occupying social positions in which they are vulnerable to serious deprivation and domination. The book argues that the facts about poverty and global interconnectedness in combination with the norm elucidated above should lead us to the conclusion that agents in all countries have an obligation to work towards altering this reality by working together to secure governance arrangements that reliably secure a full set of socio-economic human rights for all people.

[1]Such obligations are discussed in the work of John Rawls, Henry Shue and Simon Caney (Rawls, A Theory of Justice 1999) (Shue 1996) (Caney 2005).

[2]In this work I do not tackle the important question of whether those who contributed to past social injustice are liable to compensate those who suffered as a result. This is an interesting question that has been discussed at length in the literature (D. Miller 2007) (Pasternak 2011) (Jubb 2012).


Having completed a PhD at the University of York entitled “Global Poverty, Structural Injustice and Obligations to take Political Action” Dr Kahn spent a year at the Goethe University in Frankfurt as a postdoctoral fellow in the research group ‘Justitia Amplificata’ exploring issues in global and social justice. Ijn 2014 she joined the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University as a lecturer in Political Theory.

Beth is a member of the Global Policy Institute and Centre for the History of Political Thought and teaches on the undergraduate modules “Foundations of Western Political Thought”, “Ideas and Ideologies” and “Research Project”. Her research interests fall in the field of moral and political philosophy and she is particularly interested in questions of structural injustice and obligations to resist such injustice. This has led her to examine the idea of social structure and explore questions of essentially aggregative harm. She is currently working on a book project concerning duties to oppose global injustice. In the future she wishes to develop and apply a contractualist account of morality to questions of essentially aggregative outcomes. She also wishes to engage with questions of injustice and explore the structural causes of poverty and inequality.

About the Center for Political Philosophy (CPP) Colloquia Series

The CPP is a collaboration between the Institute for Philosophy and the Institute for Political Science at Leiden University. Attendance of the Colloquia is free and there is no need to register. See CPP for more information. For further questions please contact dr. Wouter Kalf at w.f.kalf@hum.leidenuniv.nl


All are welcome!

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