Chronic Poverty and Skillful Deliberation

Philosophy Icon
18 Mar 2022 04.00 PM - 05.30 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Lilith Lee

Income, wealth, and practical self-respect are practical primary goods: they’re things that are good for practical agents whatever their plan of life. Likewise, evidence, evidential quality, and epistemic self-respect are good for epistemic agents, whatever propositions they’re interested in settling; they are epistemic primary goods. What happens when agents are chronically impoverished with respect to either the practical or the epistemic primary goods? I argue: it makes a difference to what skillful practical and epistemic deliberation comprises. Choice while poor isn’t necessarily poor choice even when it looks quite different from choice while rich. This has important upshots for how to think about attempts to relieve chronic material and epistemic impoverishment. In particular, it reveals why an attempt to alleviate either material or epistemic impoverishment by simply improving agents’ condition with respect to one or other primary good can be self-defeating. Happily, in the practical case, the problem of self-defeat is only conceptual: in the actual world, throwing money at material poverty (basically) works. In the epistemic case, things are much more grim. You can’t throw evidence at the epistemic poor. Or rather: you can do that but, for reasons I’ll explain, you can’t expect it to improve anyone’s epistemic condition, and it’ll probably just make things worse. I argue that, although we have a good sense of what successful epistemic poverty relief programs would look like, we should be pessimistic about our prospects for executing on them. This is not a happy conclusion: entrenched epistemic poverty of different sorts lies at the heart of some of our most difficult social-epistemic problems.


Nate Sharadin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Hong Kong University. His research centers on normative issues at the intersection of ethics and epistemology.