SEATTLE — Definitionally, poverty is straightforward. According to Neal Riemer, Douglas W. Simon and Joseph Romance in “The Challenge of Politics,” living on an income less than $1.25 a day is a common metric used for measuring extreme poverty. Living condition is factored into poverty’s definition as well. Access to food, clothing, shelter and medical supplies is as important as income. There is merit in regarding poverty quantitatively, but doing so ignores qualitative interpretations of poverty.
Philosophical poverty is not a common phrase. This article will use it to refer to poverty’s deep seeded psychological roots and the theories surrounding poverty. Or, what Powerful Information, a grassroots international development organization, calls the ‘”poverty of spirit.”’ Understanding the roots of poverty allows organizations to target poverty effectively.
Consider the following possible causes of philosophical poverty:
- Lawrence M. Mead, a professor in the Department of Politics at New York University, says that “poverty as a political issue centers on behavior more than economics.” According to Mead, poverty includes those that have low income and fail to function by socially expected norms.
- A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent organization working to inspire social change, says that current political philosophy sentiment agrees that what people can do and be is more important than what they own. There are more examples that can be shared which analyze the nature of philosophical poverty. Still, Lawrence M. Mead holds that political theorists have largely neglected discussing poverty’s root issues. This begs the question, what are the merits and dangers of philosophical poverty?
Philosophical poverty may suppose the following merits:
- Identifying the innermost causes of poverty allows governments and organizations to provide the most effective form of aid. Steve Corbett, a Community Development Specialist, says that different types of poverty call for different forms of aid. There is, what Stephen M. Walt—a political scientist—calls an inescapable link between “the abstract world of theory and the real world of policy.” And, considering poverty through a lens that includes philosophical approaches reconciles the two.
- Understanding philosophical poverty has the potential to demonstrate preventable trends in human behavior which can result in poverty.
Philosophical poverty may suppose the following dangers:
- Shifting poverty from a quantitative problem to a conceptual problem would over relativize the solutions to poverty. In other words, there may appear to be no real solution to poverty. This realm of thinking is dangerous in the fight against poverty because it encourages complacency.
- If poverty becomes a philosophy then it becomes difficult to define. Theoretically, this would allow practically anyone to claim the term “impoverished.” This may diminish the urgency of material poverty.
Conversations on philosophical poverty are important. They can provide a framework for discovering new roots and patterns of poverty. However, focusing on theoretical approaches will never replace the vitality of providing real solutions to material poverty. Global development and direct aid remain cornerstones in the fight against poverty.
– Rebeca Ilisoi