Bookmark and Share

World Philosophy Day at Kutztown

Celebrating World Philosophy Day:

Every year UNESCO celebrates World Philosophy Day to honor philosophical reflection around the world. Celebrations normally take place on or around the third Thursday of November. It is a day for sharing thoughts and reflecting upon new ideas for addressing challenges faced by humanity. The purpose is to reinforce our shared humanity through philosophical reflection.

Second World Philosophy Day Lecture
Kutztown University

On November 13, 2012
"World Poverty:
  Explanations and Responsibilities?"
By celebrated philosopher
Thomas Pogge

7:00 p.m.
Boehm 145

Thomas Winfried Menko Pogge (born 1953) is a German philosopher, currently the Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University. In addition, he is the Research Director of the Centre for the Study of the Mind in Nature at the University of Oslo, a Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University, and Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Central Lancashire's Centre for Professional Ethics. Pogge is also an editor for social and political philosophy for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Pogge received his Ph.D. from Harvard University with a dissertation supervised byJohn Rawls. Since then he has published widely on Kant and in moral and political philosophy, including various books on John Rawls and global justice.

World Poverty and Human Rights 

Pogge's World Poverty and Human Rights is one of the most prominent and controversial books in contemporary political philosophy. It includes a number of original and substantial theses, the most notable being that people in wealthy Western liberal democracies (such as Western Europeans) are currently harming the world's poor (like those in sub-Saharan Africa). In particular, without denying that much blame should be directed at domestic kleptocrats, Pogge urges us to recognize the ways in which international institutions facilitate and exacerbate the corruption perpetuated by national institutions. Pogge is especially critical of the "resource" and "borrowing" privileges which allow illegitimate political leaders to sell natural resources and to borrow money in the name of the country and its people. In Pogge's analysis, these resource and borrowing privileges that international society extends to oppressive rulers of impoverished states play a crucial causal role in perpetuating absolute poverty. What is more, Pogge maintains that these privileges are no accident; they persist because they are in the interest of the wealthy states. The resource privilege helps guarantee a reliable supply of raw materials for the goods enjoyed by the members of wealthy states, and the borrowing privilege allows the financial institutions of wealthy states to issue lucrative loans. It may seem that such loans are good for developing states too, but Pogge argues that, in practice, they typically work quite to the contrary 

Local elites can afford to be oppressive and corrupt, because, with foreign loans and military aid, they can stay in power even without popular support. And they are often so oppressive and corrupt, because it is, in light of the prevailing extreme international inequalities, far more lucrative for them to cater to the interests of foreign governments and firms than to those of their impoverished compatriots

Thus, without denying that local leaders are often guilty of the most egregious crimes, Pogge's analysis of the international institutions shows how the world's poor are not merely suffering because we are doing too little to help; they are being actively and wrongly harmed by a system of global political and economic arrangements that is disproportionately shaped by and for wealthy Western societies.

If Pogge is correct, then the typical contemporary American is morally tantamount to an average law-abiding white person in the antebellum South who, while she may not have personally owned slaves, indirectly contributed to the upholding of slavery and profited from the cheap goods made available by this horribly unjust institution. What is more, if Pogge is right about the need to focus on pernicious institutions rather than (solely) our individual interactions, it is hard not to feel impotent. After all, even if you and I worked around the clock, what chance is there that either of us could discernibly improve the existing geo-political landscape? It is important to appreciate, though, that Pogge's institutional approach is not nearly as demanding as one might initially think. It does not require us to disassociate from all institutions that harm others, nor does it even require us to fix the harmful institutions to which we contribute. More minimally, it requires only that so long as we contribute to the design or imposition of unjust institutions, we compensate for our fair share of the avoidable deprivations they produce and make reasonable efforts toward institutional reform. Meeting the first of these requirements allows an average citizen in Nazi Germany, who chose to remain there and contribute to the state's economy, to escape wrongdoing by doing enough toward protecting the victims of the Nazi state (Oscar Schindler). In contrast to the Nazi case, where few even among the privileged elite had any plausible opportunities to support institutional reform, such opportunities abound for the affluent participants in today's world economy, or so Pogge believes.

The Health Impact Fund: Making New Medicines Accessible for All 

In this book, Thomas Pogge and Aidan Hollis argue in favor of establishing the Health Impact Fund (HIF). The HIF is a new proposal for stimulating research and development of life-saving pharmaceuticals that make substantial reductions in the global burden of disease.

The HIF will provide pharmaceutical companies with a new choice. Pharmaceutical companies can sell a new medicine in the usual manner at patent-protected high prices, or they can choose to register their new medicine with the HIF and sell it globally at the cost of production. If they choose to register their medicine with the HIF, the pharmaceutical company will receive additional payments from the fund that are proportionate to health improvements that are brought about by the registered medicines. The more effective the medicine is in improving global health, the bigger the payout. Because malaria kills millions, the firm that finds and develops a cure can expect a significant return.

A Comment on World Poverty and Human Rights 

Thomas W. Pogge

Some 2.5 billion human beings live in severe poverty, deprived of such essentials as adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, basic sanitation, adequate shelter, literacy, and basic health care. One third of all human deaths are from poverty-related causes: 18 million annually, including over 10 million children under five.

However huge in human terms, the world poverty problem is tiny economically. Just 1 percent of the national incomes of the high-income countries would suffice to end severe poverty worldwide. Yet, these countries, unwilling to bear an opportunity cost of this magnitude, continue to impose a grievously unjust global institutional order that foreseeably and avoidably perpetuates the catastrophe. Most citizens of affluent countries believe that we are doing nothing wrong. 

Thomas Pogge seeks to explain how this belief is sustained. He analyses how our moral and economic theorizing and our global economic order have adapted to make us appear disconnected from massive poverty abroad. Dispelling the illusion, he also offers a modest, widely sharable standard of global economic justice and makes detailed, realistic proposals toward fulfilling it. 

Thoroughly updated, the second edition of this classic book incorporates responses to critics and a new chapter introducing Pogge's current work on pharmaceutical patent reform.

 For further information please contact

Laurel Delaney, Secretary, Department of Philosophy, 610-683-4230 or ldelaney@kutztown.edu