Do We Have a Negative Duty Towards the Global Poor? Thomas Pogge on Global Justice

Chapter

Abstract

Who has the duty to guarantee that basic human rights are fulfilled globally? This is one of the central questions in the current global justice debate. The answer to this question must be based on some principle of justice that distributes rights and duties in the global sphere. This paper analyses Thomas Pogge’s answer to this question, which does not rest on notions of charity, benevolence, or supererogatory duties, but on the negative duty not to harm the global poor. His central claim is that “we, the citizens and governments of the affluent societies, in collusion with the ruling elites of many poor countries, are harming the global poor by imposing an unjust institutional order upon them” (Pogge. 2005a. Journal of Ethics 9: 33).

Although I am very sympathetic to Pogge’s project, my discussion of it is mainly critical of his negative duty argument. Section 48.2 discusses Pogge’s explanatory globalism arguing that global poverty is caused by a global institutional order, and that affluent societies, by setting up this global institutional order in an unjust way, are responsible for global poverty. Section 48.3 describes and discusses Pogge’s argument that we, the citizens and governments of affluent societies, have a negative duty not to cause global poverty. Although Pogge’s explanatory globalism is convincing, his negative-duty argument cannot be sustained. The main problem in his argument is the unspecified “we” that have a duty: does it refer to governments of affluent societies, their citizens, or both?

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Paul Scholten CenterAmsterdam University Law SchoolAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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