In this book I aim to contribute to the struggle to eradicate poverty everywhere. I use results from numerous studies by human scientists over many decades to present a profile of poverty and its effects on human lives. In contrast to the more abstract philosophical ways of dealing with some select, narrowly defined issue that excludes a view on the full impact of poverty on human lives, I choose a holistic approach that portrays the wide range of dimensions complexly assembled in every case of poverty. Only a profile expressing a comprehensive grip of the multidimensional nature of poverty, that highlights the diverse range of harmful impacts poverty might have, can provide the proper background for a deep understanding of a seriously troubling condition. Only such an understanding can be an appropriate illumination of the salient issues for moral evaluation as a prelude for aid and action.

The core argument of the book runs as follows. Poverty is a complex multidimensional phenomenon amongst humans that violates a host of ethical values and can only be eradicated through a similarly complex suite of responses based on a comprehensive evaluation by means of a generally accepted set of moral values.

In Part 1 of the book I show the full complexity of poverty as a moral issue. I first set up an argument to demonstrate that poverty anywhere is a concern of human beings everywhere. I then proceed to provide a definition that depicts poverty as a serious moral wrong that undermines the human dignity of its sufferers and threatens their health. I define poverty as a distinctively human condition. I next show the link between poverty and inequality and argue for the moral urgency of the inequality between rich and poor.

I claim that poverty is a complex phenomenon playing out in different ways in different instances that has a wide ranging series of negative impacts on individuals and societies. I show how the condition of poverty impacts negatively on the lives of individuals and why the condition of poverty violates several universally accepted moral values we apply to all human societies. The main point about the conditions and consequences of poverty is that poverty undermines the human dignity of its sufferers. Poverty must thus, first and foremost, be eradicated for its inhuman consequences, because these consequences make it so much more difficult to build flourishing lives and use available opportunities to realize one’s potential.


I furthermore explain poverty from a different angle by noting its harmful impact on different kinds of environment that directly affect people in their everyday lives. I also point out to what extent poverty is in conflict with the fundamental political values accepted as foundational for democratic societies. After having shown the ethically unacceptable consequences of poverty, I explain the phenomenon of poverty by offering a theory that intends to illuminate the complexity of poverty and clarify why it is such an intractable problem that evades simple solutions.

Through the above chapters I present an argument that goes as follows. The main effect of poverty is its being a threat to the human dignity and self-respect of its sufferers. Poverty can thus best be understood from a variety of ethical perspectives through using a diverse group of metaphors and descriptions that unpack every dimension of its possible harm to human life. The ways in which poverty violates the human dignity of its sufferers and the serious nature of the harmful consequences for their lives establish a moral duty for non-poor people to assist poor people in their attempts to escape the ravages of poverty.

In the second major section of the book I present arguments to support and guide the eradication of poverty. It is not good enough to merely depict in detail why it is so deeply objectionable for humans to live in poverty. The important question is what guidance our ethical values provide for appropriately, humanely and effectively helping people trapped and engulfed by poverty.

Lötter, H. P. P., 2011. Poverty, Ethics, and Justice. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
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