Abstract: Poverty has traditionally been conceived as a state of deprivation. To be poor is to lack something that is essential to human flourishing. How that something is conceived—in terms of welfare, resources, or capabilities—and how it is to be measured—in absolute terms or as relative to a social standard—has been the subject of much debate within development circles. Though many philosophers have written about our obligations to the poor, relatively little philosophical attention has been devoted to thinking of poverty as a phenomenon ripe for philosophical analysis. In this paper, I put forward a theory of poverty rooted in the philosophy of action. I argue that to be poor is to be in a context in which an agent’s capacity for long-term deliberation and planning is systemically undermined by rational pressure to engage in efficient short-term deliberation. In other words, to be poor is to have to constantly turn one’s mind to the immediate satisfaction of current needs and desires at the expense of deliberating about the pursuit of long-term projects and ends that one deeply values.
Jennifer Morton is Presidential Penn Compact Associate Professor of Philosophy with a secondary appointment at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has taught at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the City College of New York, the Graduate Center-CUNY, and at Swarthmore College. Her areas of research are philosophy of action, moral philosophy, philosophy of education, and political philosophy. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University and her A.B. from Princeton University.