The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 1, 2007


Rodney G. Peffer
Pages 193-204

World Hunger and Moral Theory

I canvass the major contending normative theories /approaches concerning the world hungerabsolute poverty problem by going through a set of questions— some normative, some empirical, and some a mixture of both—in order to elucidate what the germane issues are in this ongoing debate and in order to provide a decision procedure for progressively weeding out the less plausible theories from the more plausible ones until we arrive at what I believe to be the most plausible and well-supported theory and solution to this momentous problem. Theories are eliminated if they are empirically unsupportable in terms of their analysis of the problem (or their recommendations aimed at solving the problems) and/or they are morally unsupportable in terms of not showing sufficient concern and respect for people in the design of the principles, rights, duties, and/or obligations they propose or, alternatively, not respecting the root values of autonomy and fairness. My main conclusion is that although Amartya Sen's capability ethic has made important contributions to moral theory, a Rawlsian theory (such as mine) that specifically accepts a Basic Rights principle is preferable to it since, for one reason, it is less vague in what policies are to be recommended on such issues as world hunger (given the same set of empirical assumptions). I also conclude that although Sen's empirical (economic and socialtheoretical) work on famines, hunger, and absolute poverty in general is to be much commended, it contains claims that are highly suspect.