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Remedial Responsibility for Severe Poverty: Justice or Humanity?

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


Remedial responsibility is the prospective responsibility to assist those in great need. With tens of millions of people worldwide suffering from severe poverty, questions about the attribution of remedial responsibility and the nature of the relevant duties of assistance are among the most pressing of our time. This article concerns the question of whether remedial responsibility for severe poverty is a matter of justice or of humanity. I discuss three kinds of situation in which an agent owes remedial responsibility to another suffering from severe poverty. In the first, the remedially responsible agent foreseeably and avoidably caused the poverty. In the second, the poverty was caused by forces outside the control of any agent, such as natural disaster. And in the third situation, the agent who was originally attributed remedial responsibility fails to fulfil it, and so remedial responsibility for the poverty in question is acquired by a secondary bearer. According to David Miller, remedial responsibility is a matter of justice in the first two situations, but not in the third. I argue that his grounds for thinking that remedial responsibility in the second situation are in tension with his view that remedial responsibility is not a matter of justice in the third situation. This has important implications in our world in which remedial responsibilities too often go unfulfilled.