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Poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing

and shelter. However, poverty is more, much more than just not having enough money.

The World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way:

“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to

see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty

is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.

Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been

described in many ways. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So

poverty is a call to action -- for the poor and the wealthy alike -- a call to change the

world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education

and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.”

Despite the many definitions, one thing is certain; poverty is a complex societal issue. No

matter how poverty is defined, it can be agreed that it is an issue that requires everyone’s


The present condition of poverty worldwide is getting worse. According to the recent data

of UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the

poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world”(Shah,

2013). In the Philippines, the percentage of Filipinos living below the poverty line has remained

almost unchanged in the past six years, according to the latest poverty data released by the

National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).

Knowing all those facts about the state of poverty in the world and even in Philippines,

an ethical question is raised. “Is helping out the poor in view of their condition, good or bad?

Will it elevate their plight? Or we will just make them dependent and more miserable? What is

the best way to help the poor? Of course, if we have a duty to help the poor, it makes sense to

help in the most effective way and over a long term of period. But again, how?

The basic idea of utilitarianism according to John Stuart Mill is The Greatest Happiness

Principle which states that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness,

wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. Where in happiness is defined as the
pleasure or the absence of pain and unhappiness is pain or the absence of pleasure. In

utilitarianism, happiness is the only thing that has intrinsic value (Maboloc, 2008).

It connection with poverty, act utilitarianism claims that if we do not do what maximizes

happiness, then we act wrongly. So if we can prevent something bad, such as the suffering

caused by poverty, then we should prevent it (unless preventing it will cause more unhappiness).

In this point, we can say that helping the poor is morally right, since it will reduce the pain and

give pleasure instead. Then if whenever we can help someone, without a greater cost to

ourselves, then we should.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other charitable institutions are few of the

moving bodies that help the poor all over the country. Gawad Kalinga (GK) is one, which means

“give care” in Filipino is a Philippine-based poverty alleviation and nation-building movement.

This foundation seeks to relieve poverty by providing an environment in which Filipinos may

work and be productive. They have various programs to help the poor uplift not just their

economic state but also their physical, mental and social state. GK is supported by Filipino

businessmen and young volunteers. They initiate projects that help the poor in a long term sense.

They help them have their own houses, give them source of income and facilitate them to build

their core values. Through agribusiness and livelihood programs, GK has changed thousands of

lives in the country and hopes to help more with the target of ending poverty in 5 million

families by 2024. It is important that all members of our society work together to provide the

opportunities for all our members to reach their full potential. It helps all of us to help one


Rule utilitarianism agrees with this, we have the duty to help the poor. Considering that

we have more in life compared to other people suffering in the poverty line. Rule utilitarianism is

an option for those who believe that there are absolute prohibitions on certain types of actions

but do not want to give up on utilitarianism completely. According to rule utilitarianism, the

principle of utility is a guide for choosing rules, not individual acts. However, our duty is only to

help as much as would be needed if everyone helped, because what is morally required is

following rules that would maximize happiness if everyone followed them(Feiser, 2009) . Act
utilitarianism object that this rule will lead to much less happiness – because we know that not

everyone will help as they should. So we must help more.

There are economic justifications for giving benefits to poor people. These are the

following: poor people value income more than wealthy people, so you increase utility by taxing

the rich and giving the money to the poor. However, from an economic and utilitarian

perspective this is only one of the justifications for such transfers. The other is that most people

don’t like poverty, and so when we reduce poverty by giving money to a poor person we benefit

by seeing some poverty alleviated. This means spending on poverty reduction generates

externalities, and so it is efficient to subsidize it.

While these to arguments for the government giving to the poor seem similar, there can

be a conflict between these two goals if transfers or other direct subsidies do not eliminate or

even worsen future poverty. To give a hypothetical example, if the government gave a poor

person Php 10,000 today it will certainly increase their utility, but it may cause them to quit their

job or under invest in human capital even if you don’t promise to give them money next year,

which may make future poverty more likely.

Conservatives often support a strong version of this argument: that giving money to poor

people today makes them and their children dependent on government handouts and thus

increases future poverty. A weaker version is that rather than reducing poverty today with

transfers the government should spend money on things that reduce poverty over time, like

investments in their children’s education. Importantly, one need not assume irrationality on the

part of poor people to think they would not strictly minimize their future poverty. Another

question, why should we expect poor people to do this? Is it morally right to think like that?

The point here is that utilitarianism alone cannot justify the dilemma in this issue but the

good will of helping and not thinking of the personal intentions in the act of helping is enough to

justify the action as morally right.

On the other hand, an objection is raised saying that utilitarianism implies that we

should always act in order to maximize happiness; this is too strict, a requirement. It is asking

too much of people to be always motivated to promote the general happiness. Just like this
argument : “First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are

bad. Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without

sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so. Third premise: By donating to

aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care,

without sacrificing anything nearly as important. Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to

aid agencies, you are doing something wrong”. This is a logical argument that implies, we are

getting forced to help because it is our duty. It will argue with the concept of happiness

introduced in the key ideas of utilitarianism. No one is certain ahead of us; most of our decisions

are based from what is happening in the present and not what will happen in the future, although

we still consider it. But the point is, we are uncertain of will happen tomorrow, so we can’t

realize the act of helping to be right or wrong. We can’t say that after we help the poor, we have

reduced or even worsen poverty. Our moral intuitions are not always reliable, as we can see

from variations in what people in different times and places find intuitively acceptable or


Mill said that there is no system of ethics requires that the sole motive of all we do shall

be a feeling of duty; on the contrary, ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions are done from

other motives, and rightly so the motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action. The

great majority of good actions are intended not for the benefit of the world, but for that of

individuals, of which the good of the world is made up. Therefore, regardless of motivation,

utilitarianism does require that people always act to maximize overall happiness.

People have a right not to be harmed, so it is always wrong to harm them. But, many

deontologists argue, people do not have a similar right to be helped, so it is not always wrong not

to help them. While we may have some duty help others, but we are not required to help on

every possible occasion. For instance, we may say that, if you have gained what you own, e.g.

your money, without harming others, then you have a right to keep it or do with it as you choose.

If you have a right to your money that means that you don’t have a duty to give it away to help

the poor. Aquinas, however, argues that the point of material goods is to satisfy our needs. If

they are not being used to satisfy needs, then they are not being used rightly. Whatever we don’t

need, therefore, in a sense belongs to the poor more rightly than it belongs to us.
The act utilitarian approach overlooks or perhaps rejects the strong sense we have that

each person has a special relationship to their own projects and lives. As defined, act

utilitarianism states that a person’s act is morally right if and if it produces at least as much

happiness as any other act that the person could perform at that time. Example, compare the

consequences of buying all your wants like gadgets and going on a cinema tomorrow than

helping the poor and do charitable works tomorrow. You could produce more overall happiness

in the world by doing charity works tomorrow than by buying gadgets and watching movies all

day tomorrow. According to act utilitarianism, then, the right thing for you to do tomorrow is to

go out and do charity works; it is wrong for you to go to the mall and watch movie all day


Then, to say that helping the poor is required conflicts with the idea that our own

flourishing, our own lives and what we want to do with them, matter to each of us in a unique

way. The happiness of others does not play the same role in making our decisions as our own

happiness. Helping is not about what we can get or feel out of doing it but it is about how we can

be a part of change to the life of other people. Regardless of any ethical scale or moral values,

the good will of helping will draw the line itself that will make it different. Not thinking of what

tomorrow may have for all of us, but the fact that you helped with a good heart and openly

extended your arms, the act itself will reveal its purpose. Poverty places a duty on us to help – so

that it is wrong never to be charitable, but we are not required to make great sacrifices in our own


Printed sources:
Lacewing, Michael (2008).Utilitarianism.Philosophy for AS.ISBN: 0415458218.

Maboloc, Ryan B. (2008). Moral Theory. Applied Ethics :Moral Possibilities for the
Contemporary World).MS Lopez Printing & Publishing:Philippines.pp 13-15.

Ozimek, Adam (2012).The Economics of Reducing Poverty.Forbes. (64) (4).

Torres, Ted (2013 April 24). Poverty level in Phil unchanged since ’06.The Philippine Star.

Online sources:
Fieser, J. (2009). Ethics. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Retrieved
from http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/.

Governenment of Brunswick (2008).What is Poverty.Economic and Social Inclusion

Corporation. Retrieved from:http://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/esic/
Shah, Anup (2013 January 07).Poverty Facts and Stats.Global Issues. Retrieved from



http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0961757/, Paraiso: Tatlong Kwento ng Pag-asa at the Internet

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