Ethics & International Affairs Volume 19.1 (Spring 2005): Symposium: World Poverty and Human Rights: Human Rights and Positive Duties [Excerpt]

Mar 28, 2005

In World Poverty and Human Rights, Thomas Pogge presents a range of attractive policy proposals—limiting the international resource and borrowing privileges, decentralizing sovereignty, and introducing a "global resources dividend"—aimed at remedying the poverty and suffering generated by the global economic order. These proposals could be motivated as a response to positive duties to assist the global poor, or they could be justified on consequentialist grounds as likely to promote collective welfare. Perhaps they could even be justified on virtue-theoretic grounds as proposals that a just or benevolent person would endorse. But Pogge presents them as a response to the violation of negative duties; this makes the need for such remedial policies especially morally urgent—on a par with the obligations of killers to take measures to stop killing. In this essay, I focus on the claim that responsibility for world poverty should be conceived in terms of a violation of negative duties. I follow Pogge in distinguishing two questions (p. 134): What kind of duties (positive or purely negative?) would we be subject to in a just global society where everyone fulfilled their duty and there was no significant risk of injustice? And what kind of duties (positive or purely negative?) do we face given that our global society falls short of the just society? I tackle these questions in reverse order below. I argue, in contrast to Pogge, that positive duties are relevant to our answers to both questions. . .

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