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date: 05 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Severe poverty is a key challenge for theorists of global justice. Most theorists have approached this issue primarily by developing accounts for understanding which kinds of duties have relevance and how responsibilities for tackling severe poverty might be assigned to agents, whether individuals, nations, or states. All such views share a commitment to ending severe poverty as a wrongful deprivation with a profoundly negative impact on affected individuals. While much attention has prioritized identifying reasons for others to provide relief, this chapter examines the nature of the wrongful deprivation that characterizes severe poverty. One influential view is championed by Martha Nussbaum in her distinctive capabilities approach. An individual might be considered to experience severe poverty where she is unable to enjoy the use of the capabilities which should be available to her. But this position raises several questions. Take the fact that about 1 billion people are unable to meet their basic needs today. Would the capabilities approach claim the number is much higher given its wider grasp of human flourishing beyond mere material subsistence—and what implications would flow from this? Or would the capabilities approach claim only a portion of those unable to meet their basic needs are in a wrongful state because their circumstances are a result of free choice—and what would this mean? These questions indicate a potential concern about whether the approach is over- or underinclusive and why.

Keywords: capability, capabilities approach, severe poverty, Nussbaum, free choice

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