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Public Policy: Why ethics matters

2. Justice, humanity, and prudence

Tom Campbell


This chapter examines the concepts of justice, humanity, and prudence in the context of justifying policies, especially policies aimed at reducing global poverty, by which I mean extreme poverty approached as a global issue and requiring the urgent attention of national governments and international organisations. My thesis is that there are good reasons not to classify this matter morally as primarily a matter of global justice; nor, however, should it be considered as based primarily on what is called ‘humanitarianism’, a term that is closely associated with emergency aid in kind. Rather, I suggest, we need to develop and include a contemporary moral notion of what I call ‘humanity’, that is the duty (and the motivation) to relieve extreme suffering for its own sake. Something like a moral principle of humanity, combined with elements of justice and what may be called ‘virtuous prudence’, is required if we are to articulate a satisfactory approach to selecting the objectives, justifications, motivations, and techniques for developing policies aiming at eradicating global poverty.

There are many divergent good reasons for pursuing a policy and justifying its political objectives and methods. In some cases, such as the elimination of extreme poverty, it is likely to be ‘the more the merrier’ as far as rationales for reducing poverty are concerned. It is in this spirit that I approach the task of gathering together considerations of humanity, justice, and prudence in the cause of reducing global deprivation. The hope is that, by bringing together these distinctive moral rationales, we may strengthen the case and perhaps also the motivations for achieving an evidently good end. If one approach does not convince the critics or stir the apathetic, perhaps another will. And if one approach is accepted as a relevant moral reason, perhaps the other approaches will join in to add greater moral force to back it up. This line of thought suggests that it is unwise to rely on any one moral basis when advocating such a good and urgent cause.

In general, I take this view, and my principal objective in this chapter is to warn against relying on justice as the sole ethical justification for poverty eradication, commending the significance of what I call humanity, and adding some thoughts about the moral relevance of prudence. However, we need to consider also whether the substance of one moral foundation can erode the force of others. Thus, overplaying humanity may distract us from the task of laying blame and enforcing fair competition, while the covert appeal to self-interest associated with the concept of prudence may undermine the unselfish and guilt-based motivations that go with humanity and justice, respectively.

Articulating the moral grounds for taking action to reduce global poverty raises questions both of moral rightness and of moral motivation. Indeed the question of how best to frame the moral basis for poverty reduction is bound to raise questions as to which moral basis is likely to stimulate the most effective responses. That is as much a matter of psychological and economic analysis as it is as about normative ethics. The pursuit of policy goals has to take into account the motivations that are required to garner support for the adoption and implementation of policies. Nevertheless, my primary philosophical interest here is in identifying the morally best goals and the morally preferred means to reach the desired objective and to do this by means of moral reflection rather than the associated matter of how to maximise moral suasion.

Within normative ethics itself, important implications arise when we introduce a variety of moral foundations to support a policy objective. A plurality of values may affect the specific content of the policies that we should adopt by altering our priorities and affecting the mechanisms that are appropriate for the achievement of our ultimate objectives. In the context of global poverty, for instance, different but overlapping moral approaches may affect who should have priority in poverty relief, how this relief should be managed, and who should bear the burdens that are associated with the process.

Moreover, specific objectives may change in the light of the alternative moral foundations introduced into the moral and practical debate with which we are concerned. Thus, considerations of humanity, that is the relief of suffering for its own sake, can lead to a different vision of what it is that constitutes poverty, while considerations of prudence may point us away from drawn out investigations into culpability, compensation, and responsibility for the suffering of others and towards the promotion of mutual benefit. Further, the choice of moral principles for use in developing policies relating to global poverty has considerable relevance for the choice of appropriate mechanisms for attaining our chosen objectives.


The eradication of world-wide extreme poverty is standardly regarded as being a matter of ‘global justice’ (Caney 2005; Brock 2009). This may lead us to assume that justice is the sole moral basis for the obligations to remedy poverty, rather than one amongst several moral considerations, all of which have relevance to poverty eradication. Here, I take Thomas Pogge as the exemplar since he is an influential theorist who places great emphasis on global poverty as a violation of justice. Pogge does not confine his attention to ideas of justice in relation to global poverty, but he does make it the centre piece of his moral approach. In brief, the Pogge picture is that Rawls’s theory of justice (Rawls 1971) is basically sound but needs to be extended beyond its national applications within independent states to an international or cosmopolitan context in a world that, from the moral point of view, has no borders (Pogge 2008).

Pogge’s core position is that extreme poverty is primarily a consequence of a biased trading system and abuses of power, economic and military, that skew the global economic system to the advantage of the better-off and to the grave disadvantage of the very poor. The institutions of international and domestic trade are controlled by the rich for their own benefit. Or, more generally and less starkly, some countries benefit from the institutions of the global economy in a way that is disproportional and therefore unfair.

Further, Pogge holds to a sharp moral distinction between harming and not preventing harm, between killing and letting die (Pogge 2005). For him, the violations that give rise to our obligations with respect to poverty must be positive acts of harming others in such a way as to have caused their poverty in a culpable manner. He holds that, once we have come to grips with the horrendous phenomenon of global poverty, the crucial factor to be determined is the degree to which government, citizens, and corporations, are complicit in systems that cause such poverty. The evil is not so much the poverty itself as the fact it is the result of human institutions and collective choices: ‘We should not, then, think of our individual donations and of possible institutional poverty eradication initiatives … as helping the poor, but as protecting them from the effects of global rules whose injustice benefits us and is our responsibility’ (Pogge 2008, p. 23). He, therefore, argues that ‘the relevant analogue for torture is, then, not poverty, but rather a certain kind of impoverishment that other agents are causally and morally responsible for’ (Pogge 2007, p. 15).

It follows that these institutions should be reformed and those who have benefited and are benefiting from their unreformed operations are at fault and have thereby unjustly enriched themselves, so ought to rectify the harm they have caused. It is, thus, a matter of justice that there should be a redistribution of resources to something like the situation that would have been the outcome of fair trade, fair politics, and fair educational opportunities. Those responsible for actively bringing about this situation should be held accountable with respect to taking the positive actions necessary to rectify the appalling situation they have brought about or from which they have unfairly benefited.

The attractions of this approach to global poverty are evident. Rectification can be demanded as of right. There is a (rough) basis for calculating the extent of the goods to be redistributed. There is a way to identify those who have the responsibility of putting right the wrongs they have done. Further, there is hope for the future in the prospect of correcting the distortions of the past. For recipients of aid there is dignity in being compensated for the deprivation of what is rightly theirs.

Moreover, there is a powerful rhetorical force to the language of injustice as something that is morally intolerable. It also accords with the common view that, by and large, unless we have special responsibilities, we are culpable for the harm we do rather than the harm we fail to prevent. This makes for a more secure basis for moral claims and makes it more likely that people will respond well to the imposition of obligations to help those whom we are believed to have harmed.

Yet there are also disadvantages to having such a close association between poverty relief and remedial justice. Not all extreme poverty can be laid at the door of exploitation or unfairness. Many natural disasters are difficult to lay to the account of human beings, although, of course, the capacity to deal with natural disasters may be affected by the past immoralities of other people. Not all disasters arising from environmental change are ‘natural’ in the sense of produced by non-human facts, as we are becoming all too well aware in relation to global warming. Then, there is the unequal distribution of natural resources, which would appear to be as much a matter of luck as of bad behaviour, although of course we can see much of human history as a struggle between peoples for access to what were seen at the time as valuable natural resources. Further, there are the variable capacities of different cultures to generate materially beneficial activities, for which individuals and groups cannot reasonably be held to account. While all ways of life may (but of course need not) be regarded as equally valuable in terms of worthwhile forms of life, they are certainly not equal with respect to their capacity to create material prosperity. Moreover, it is very difficult if not impossible to calculate the harms caused on the basis of counterfactuals relating to what would have happened under different trading regimes and political systems. Most individuals who have benefited from maladjustments in global economies have little actual culpability for situations they were powerless to affect.

Such fault as there is, and there is a great deal of wrongdoing at work in the generation of global poverty, often lies with people who do not have the resources to provide effective poverty eradication. Offenders are not always winners. Then there is very significant disagreement as to the best means of reducing extreme poverty and, in this context, the best means may not be to demand the return of allegedly ill-gotten gains on unfair distribution. If it is achieving outcomes with which we are concerned, rather than rectifying past wrongs, then the pursuit of compensation may not be the most effective way to proceed.

In relation to the objection that few individuals have any clear responsibility for unfair trading and abuse of economic and political power, we may fall back on the weaker version of the justice approach to global poverty. This version is that there is a degree of moral culpability in being complicit in injustice, by going along with or acquiescing in the systems in place. It is argued, for instance, that in such situations there is ‘unjust enrichment’ in the sense that people have received rewards that they do not deserve at the expense of those who have been deprived of their moral entitlements, even though this was not the result of their actions or part of their conscious intentions.

Finally, there is a straightforward moral objection to prioritising rectificatory justice over the distinct and independent moral aim of relieving suffering for its own sake, whatever its causes and whoever, if anyone, is responsible for its occurrence. It is to the articulation and commendation of the latter principle that I now turn.


An alternative view of global poverty sees it as an intolerable situation experienced by those who are poor rather than as an injustice arising out of the actions of the better-off. Poverty, it is argued, is morally unacceptable directly because of the suffering that it involves. It is the experiences of those in extreme poverty that founds the moral obligations to improve their situation. The misery of hunger, malnutrition, ill health, and premature death that goes with the lives of those who lack the basic means of subsistence is the prime issue at stake.

Straightforward utilitarian reasoning is sufficient to give rise to this morally uncomplicated analysis of human duties with respect to global poverty. Such reasoning is founded on a simple endorsement of a basic human concern for others that prompts us to relieve pain and suffering for its own sake, irrespective of its cause. Thus, Adam Smith contends that, as a matter of fact, which he endorses as also a fundamental moral norm, ‘We cannot form the idea of an innocent and sensible being, whose happiness we should not desire, or to whose misery, when distinctly brought home to the imagination, we should not have some degree of aversion’ (Smith 1790, VI.ii.3.1).

While moral theorists dispute the adequacy of utilitarian calculations as a total account of the content of morality, few would reject the contentions that human pleasures and pains have great moral significance and that the relief of suffering should be given priority over the promotion of pleasure. In relation to extreme poverty, it is relatively uncontroversial to affirm ‘negative utilitarianism’, which focuses on diminishing suffering rather than promoting pleasure, along the lines developed by moral ‘prioritarians’ (Parfit 2000). A contemporary version of this position is to be found in the work of Peter Singer, with respect to what he calls ‘principles of assistance’, according to which the moral duty to assist arises from the combination of severe need on the one hand and the ability to assist on the other (Singer 2009).

While the relief of suffering for its own sake is a very ancient moral imperative, it is not easy to fasten on a contemporary term to label the basic moral truth that we have compelling reason to relieve grave suffering as an end or objective in itself. ‘Benevolence’ seems too weak, and it highlights feelings, feelings of goodwill, pity, and empathy, rather than moral affirmation of right over wrong. Feelings are crucially important in motivating people to do the right thing in relation to poverty, but they do not feature directly in determining what it is that is morally right, or morally required, with respect to the duty of relieving the suffering of others. Identifying what it is right to do does not require having any particular motive for doing it. Therefore, we may not want to replace ‘justice’ with ‘benevolence’. The term ‘beneficence’ is scarcely any better in this regard since it smacks of the gracious transfer of what is excess to requirements, or superfluity. ‘Charity’ carries its own baggage as being concerned with actions that are morally good but not morally required. It is not, at this time, part of the discourse of duty, and it is with duties rather than acts of supererogation that we are concerned here. ‘Humanitarian’ is closer to what the conceptual terminology is better suited to cover providing effective assistance to those in dire need, but it is too closely associated with a particular form of relief in kind in situations of extreme and abnormal (often natural) catastrophes, such as earthquakes and floods. For such reasons, I use the term ‘humanity’ as the label for actions done to relieve extreme suffering (Campbell 1974). This is not ideal, because ‘humanity’ is rather amorphous by itself and, like benevolence, is historically associated with the importance of having feelings of concern for others rather than being a moral principle requiring action. But it is a term with some potential to be filled with the imperatives of a progressive and developing contemporary global morality.

This apparent quibbling with words is important because the conceptual difficulties in articulating a contemporary global ethics are not localised and contingent. Rather, they flow from our working moral framework in which only the terminology of justice, with all its associations with desert, guilt, and fault, is taken to generate powerful and unconditional moral imperatives. We need, but do not yet have, a discourse that adequately expresses the moral imperatives deriving from remediable global poverty. Progressive moral development requires a distinctive language that readily fits the idea that relieving distress has at least equal, perhaps greater, moral weight to rectifying any injustices involved. In the interim, I suggest we speak of the principle of humanity when identifying the morally overriding principle of relieving suffering for its own sake.

There are, however, also instrumental reasons for the relief of distress. Living in extreme poverty makes it difficult to engage in a whole range of morally valuable activities. Survival and basic subsistence are necessary conditions of all other human goods (Shue 1996). In moral terms one such human good is the capacity and opportunity to act as a moral agent, making choices and carrying out projects on the basis of moral considerations rather than the immediate imperatives of survival. On this view, agents need to be alive and in a position to think rationally and choose effectively if they are to fulfil their nature as agents.

This neo-Kantian approach is exemplified in the work of Alan Gewirth who contends that (Gewirth 1982, pp. 201–3):

by virtue of being actual or prospective agents who have certain needs of agency, persons have moral rights to freedom and well-being. Since all humans are such agents, the generic rights to freedom and well-being are human rights … It is obvious that starvation is a basic harm, a deprivation of basic well-being.

So much would seem to be implied by article 22 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, according to which:

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

There is considerable moral insight in this analysis but it supplements rather than replaces the principle of humanity in the understanding of the moral evil of extreme poverty. Moral choice and human moral development are distinctive and vitally important moral considerations, but they do not displace the moral centrality of relieving suffering for its own sake. In making suffering morally secondary to the development of distinctively human capacities Gewirth’s analysis distracts attention from a prior and more compelling vision of what is at stake with respect to extreme poverty. Focusing on the implications of moral agency for human moral development has the effect of diminishing the more immediate and demanding moral objective of removing the causes of human misery. Moral agency is of considerable significance, especially for philosophers looking for what is distinctive about human worth, but it is a serious practical mistake to make the relief of extreme poverty dependent solely on its connections with the realisation of this higher but morally less demanding value.

We are dealing here with a bundle of moral rationales that can be brought into relationship with each other through a process of moral reflection and conceptual adjustment. Clearly, moral duties arise from the culpable causation of poverty and there is good reason to bring these duties within a concept of justice in which desert plays an important role (Campbell 2010, pp. 20–36). Equally, there are other, poverty-related duties that are unrelated to the deserts of those involved that are better conceptualised as having to do with humanity. Further, there is no reason why balancing should always prioritise justice over humanity. It may be objected that justice is, by definition, the overriding moral criterion in the public sphere. This conceptual prioritisation of moral concepts in the political arena did not originate with Rawls, but in recent times it can be traced to the dominant influence of his work. Rawls stipulates that ‘justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought’ (Rawls 1971, p. 3). This could be taken simply as a preliminary identification of his focus on the institutionally based distribution of the benefits and burdens of social co-operation, with ‘justice’ being the term he uses to label whatever is taken to be the most important moral considerations for this purpose. However, this conceptual prioritisation plays a more substantive part in his analysis when he comes to consider such matters as the place of natural (as opposed to institutionally created) desert as a relevant factor in such social distributions and argues for the exclusion of desert from the principles of justice. This has the double disadvantage of running up against the close relationship between justice and desert in moral discourse and diminishing the direct appeal to humanity as a core ingredient in determining social policy relating to distributive issues. In this situation, especially when we transfer Rawls’s domestic concerns to the global sphere, it is best to question the automatic priority he gives to justice and, at the same time, to reconnect justice with concepts of responsibility and desert, thereby opening the way to giving greater prominence to humanity as a moral consideration that is at least on a par with justice as far as public policy is concerned.

The implication of this morally motivated conceptual shift is to give more impetus to redirecting policy priorities towards major redistributive goals. There are clearly many different ways in which such objectives might be implemented at the global level. Most of these are likely to be directed to promoting economic development rather than providing immediate ‘humanitarian’ aid in the form of food supplies and shelter. However, the funding of such programmes will always require significant levels of domestic taxation in more economically developed countries, the effectiveness of which will be largely dependent on obtaining working international agreements to co-operate in the raising and expenditure of such revenues.

This might be achieved, for instance, through the co-ordinated initiation of a global humanitarian levy based on the operationalisation of the principle of humanity. This could be a morally better based and politically more palatable enterprise to deal with global policy than one that seeks to extract such revenues from those who are deemed most responsible for the current state of affairs, the emphasis being more on the capacity to assist than the relative fault of the parties involved. The sort of scheme I have in mind is an earmarked tax on all personal incomes over a particular level of income (a ‘supertax’ in an erstwhile idiom), a levy on personal wealth above a prescribed level (a wealth tax), and equivalent corporate levies relating to both profits and wealth. These revenues would initially be imposed by states but could be implemented through an international organisation (Campbell in Pogge 2007, pp. 55–75, at pp. 67–9).

The political co-ordination problems of gaining the adoption of such schemes are dauntingly massive and I make no claim here as to the relative feasibility of alternatives. Drawing attention to the sort of policy arrangements to which the principle of humanity gives rise does, however, emphasise its distinctiveness as against the connotations of justice and ‘humanitarianism’. With humanitarianism, the focus is on immediate aid in kind, while the principle of humanity serves as a basis for poverty relief through a wide range of mechanisms for promoting development and redistributing resources. The motivations may be similar but the practical conceptions are not. The foundational point that needs to be made is that the policy implications of the principle of humanity are no less complex and no less stringent than the principles of justice.

It is also worth adding that there is no necessary association between the principle of humanity and paternalism, either in the sense of the wiser and the more important seeing to the needs of the less able and less important or in the sense of the providers following their ideas of what is good for the beneficiaries, rather than taking account of the beneficiaries’ own judgement as to the manner and methods of the development programmes involved. Outside the perspective of justice there is less basis for the assumption that those who have the resources are entitled to them because they have obtained them due to their merits. Paternalistic attitudes are more likely to be nurtured within the perspective of justice than in the name of humanity, for it carries no presuppositions of relative merit, either good or ill.

A further source of scepticism about humanity as a moral principle is that it is too demanding, in that it seems to imply that the well-off should divest themselves of their relative wealth, even to the point of becoming poor themselves. In practice, this objection can be met by starting with redistributive schemes that involve the relatively well-off contributing only what they would be expected to contribute if everyone contributed their share. However, this seems a rather ad hoc and rationalised response to a profound moral challenge. Perhaps, in part for this reason, we need to broaden our moral range and turn to considering whether an element of prudence in addition to both humanity and justice should be incorporated within the moral foundations of policy formation in dealing with issues such as global poverty.


We have seen that justice and humanity both overlap and diverge with respect to their implications for policy development. In this section I explore the suggestion that an element of prudence should be added to the moral sources on which we draw in relation to global poverty eradication.

Again, the choice of terms is difficult. ‘Prudence’ points in the direction of rationality concerning means and ends and carries with it regard for what we now talk of as sustainability, at least in respect to long-term rationality. Nowadays, this is usually understood as an amoral capacity that can serve good or ill, and indeed, because of a modern association with self-interest, is commonly contrasted with morality. On the other hand, the term has an ancient, medieval, and, for some of our contemporaries, an important, often central, place within morality as one of the fundamental virtues. According to this school, prudence is the exercise of wisdom in relation to human affairs, so is essential to the achievement of the human good. This analysis, which is derived from Aristotle and Aquinas (Westberg 1994; Hibbs 2001), takes prudence to be a virtue alongside justice and beneficence. However, I do not here adopt an analysis of prudence as a translation for ‘phronesis’, a form of Aristotelian practical wisdom that incorporates all the elements that are necessary for being a good moral judge. Rather, I adopt this rather old-fashioned term because of its connotations of virtuous self-interest. Virtuous prudence goes beyond the enlightened self-interest of individuals, and beyond even the rationality that serves the interests of social groups and, in principle, of the world at large, but still carries with it the connotation of intelligent objectivity and far-sightedness (Sidgwick 1907; Nagel 1970; Parfit 1981).

Those who want only to persuade rather than reach the right moral decisions, may manipulatively seek to convince those whom they believe ought to be contributing the solution to extreme poverty, by having recourse to the idea of enlightened self-interest. According to self-interest it is rational for individuals and groups to secure their own well-being through having some regard to the interests of other individuals and groups. Self-interest is often (but not universally) a more effective device for securing the co-operation of those who can contribute to the cause than appeals to either humanity or justice. That may be enough to justify the morality of the appeal to enlightened self-interest in the light of its beneficial consequences, in avoiding wars, social disruption, and economic decline.

Whether the indirect morality of appeals to self-interest would justify putting our false claims about the deleterious consequences of extreme poverty on the well-off, I do not speculate here. It can be cogently argued that, on a longer-term view, most people, or at least their families, will benefit one way or another in a material way from eliminating or reducing extreme poverty, although it is far from clear that it is in everyone’s immediate interest to contribute to this effort. On the other hand, there is something less than promising in appealing to the prudent individual to acknowledge their obligation to contribute to the abolition of poverty. Prudent people, the stereotype has it, care more for their own future than for the present suffering of others. Prudent people are risk averse. That means they save, rather than donate, or vote for higher taxes.

However, I am more interested here in the direct moral case for prudence in the form of a moral virtue, not because I think this is a good motivation tactic, although it may be, but because prudence, may have something morally distinctive to add to considerations of justice and humanity. In particular, the analysis of prudence may help to bring the morality of justice and humanity into the domain of the everyday world in which we are all primarily concerned with our own projects, our own activities, and our own well-being. Normally we see the everyday world as legitimately concerned with our own (not necessarily either selfish or self-interested) projects, with morality coming in as a circle of limitations as to how we carry through our ordinary lives. However, we can also think in terms of practical morality embedded in our everyday rationality, as something within our agent–relative preoccupations: hence, the idea of ‘virtuous prudence’. Again, this is partly a tactical matter, as moral appeals are not going to have much impact if they are perceived as discontinuous with the demands of the everyday world, but it is also a moral enquiry into how we can and should integrate our personal preoccupations and our wider duties.

The first barrier to be overcome in taking this approach is that the idea of virtuous prudence seems to be a contradiction in terms. Prudence is generally regarded as no more than being careful when your interests are at stake and having practical regard to your own future well-being. A skill it may be, requiring means–end rationality, self-control, and reflection on one’s priority goals. Such skills may be ‘virtuous’ in a non-moral sense, but there would seem to be no element of moral good and bad or moral praise and blame involved. This position accords with an analysis of prudence as purely instrumental, a cluster of capacities that are useful in relation to a variety of ends of very different moral quality. There are prudent villains who avoid being caught as well as prudent business persons who make profits and prudent saints who look to the future well-being of those they love and care for.

Yet prudence has been regarded as a moral virtue by many thoughtful people. Why might this be so? One reason is that moral agents have a duty to cultivate prudence as a necessary capacity for the attainment of morally desirable goals. This is applicable to individuals pursuing their own morally legitimate interests, a complex matter requiring considerable experience, insight, and sagacity. However, it is equally a requirement of successfully attaining objectives that include the future well-being of the individual’s immediate social group and indeed the wider communities in which a person lives. Therefore, one reason for seeing prudence as a policy virtue might be that prudence is an essential precondition for being morally useful where consequences, good and bad, are involved. That does take us as far as having a moral duty to develop our rationality as a skill that is necessary to achieve many morally desirable goals. This is particularly so when we are involved in working out the most effective ways to implement the demands either of global justice or global humanity. Prudence does not have to be intrinsically valuable to be morally commendable.

Another reason for regarding prudence as a virtue draws more on its self-interested focus. This line of argument is that by being self-interestedly prudent a person becomes less dependent on others, so does not make claims on scarce resources or depend on the goodwill and hard work of others. Morally, where possible, people ought to look after themselves and so avoid becoming dependent on others. This can certainly be used as an argument against impoverishing ourselves or our communities in an excess of humanity-inspired giving. It can also be seen as prompting us to devise ways of providing economic aid that do not have the deleterious consequence of creating dependency rather than generating self-sufficiency. Both the instrumental analysis of prudence in terms of successfully achieving morally good outcomes and what is in effect a particular instantiation of the same sort of analysis with respect to avoiding dependency may be seen as no more than sophisticated techniques for achieving moral success rather than independent moral grounds for engaging in poverty relief. Yet they may be developed into something like a counter-morality in which the pursuit of legitimate forms of self-interest by individuals and groups is seen, not as a way of life that is limited by external moral constraints, such as justice and humanity, but as an expression and manifestation of a different aspect of morality.

Here we are dealing with a sense of prudence in which it involves considered and committed effortful participation in the economic and social way of life of which individuals are a part and hence a social commitment of benefit to others, which can be undertaken at least in part for that reason. Arguably such involvement is prudent, in the narrow sense of enlightened self-interest, perhaps for the individual but certainly for the group. Mutually beneficial conduct is in that sense, prudent for any economic and social community. And, perhaps, on the larger scale, it is part of a global prudence that such commitments are valued and encouraged. Individuals flourish by participating in workforces and in family and other social groupings and networks. It is, therefore, imprudent for individuals not to be as actively involved as they can and imprudent for human groups not to encourage such participation. There is, therefore, a moral basis for encouraging involvement in and support for sustainable social groupings and organisations. Further, in so far as this is part of any model for successful human flourishing, it ought not to be discouraged or disparaged even in responding to other moral imperatives, such as the principle of humanity. A coherent model, which does not deal in an awkward clash of incommensurable moral values, might require us to bring an element of global prudence into co-operation with considerations of humanity and justice. This analysis has special application in market economies where generally self-interested economic conduct is a necessary ingredient of a successful market, that is, a market that maximises the availability of desired goods and services at the lowest prices compatible with sustaining a healthy and able workforce. This simplistic model is subject to many moral qualifications, but to the degree that it is accepted, the morality of market-based prudence can be seen as a constituent virtue within a successful economy.

Part of my earlier analysis, in distancing my position from Pogge’s emphasis on justice, involved doubting that we can really blame participants in unequal markets who benefit as a result of that participation on the grounds that such participation cannot be regarded as informed and voluntary. Now the argument is rather that people do have an obligation to participate in unequal markets despite their moral deficiencies. Blame may attach where those involved have the capacity to improve the system in question but fail to do so, but that is a separate consideration. Making an overall assessment in an all-things-considered framework that takes into account all the origins and consequences of the system, citizens have obligations to participate in such critiques and in the politics that arises from them. Meanwhile, however, citizens ought to act prudently within markets, both as individuals and as collectives. Indeed, if developing markets is a necessary part of the solution to poverty, then acknowledgement should be given to this fact both with respect to virtuous prudence in economically developed societies and in relation to the methods and mechanisms adopted in seeking to promote development. Thus, markets can be seen as a partial expression of a humanity-based programme. In this case, a counter-morality is at work that, while it may be ultimately based on considerations of both humanity and justice, has at the level of policy analysis, an independent force that ought to be taken into account. According to this counter-morality, the moral status of markets and other less individualistic social institutions must be high (Sen 1985, p. 1; Machan 2009).

Such thoughts may be seen as undermining the moral bases of both the justice and the humanity approaches to global poverty. They certainly do diminish the force of some but not all of the justice analysis by undermining the extent of complicity. They also count against seeking to base global poverty policies on a simplistic idea of humanitarianism that bypasses the necessity to promote sustainable market economies. Whether or not we regard prudence as part of or as a supplement to the moral foundations of policy analysis, by bringing together the ideal of individual and collective rationality in a holistic framework that is ultimately justified by a model of the human good that prioritises humanity, the idea of virtuous prudence could be a useful addition to both justice and humanity. It may be worthwhile to take into account that every one has a duty to be a prudent participant in the economic and social life of their societies, not dependent on others, and, where possible, to generate the wealth that can be used to assist others either as part of the economic system or by way of other mechanisms. This could affect our thinking about how to incorporate the principle of humanity into our everyday concerns and have a salutary impact on devising the mechanisms of sustainable poverty relief by focusing our attention more on developing capacity than on donating goods. It is at least salutary to think through how these more grandiose moral norms could be melded in with the more pedestrian, but perhaps equally important, moral considerations that are associated with the everyday ideal of prudent participation in productive economies and stable societies.


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