Poor or Rich, Which One Wins?


Britney Sullivan- Period 7

Throughout the ages it has been commonly held that rich countries are far better than poor ones in regards to economics, social structure, etc. it’s believed that rich countries have the ability to provide better for the citizens as opposed to poor ones. But how does one determine which country is doing its job in helping their citizens achieve their good? With this question a problem arises regarding what the proper good is for human beings in general. In order to tackle the true roots of this argument it is necessary to analyze economic works, in particular that of Aristotle and John Stuart Mill.

In regards to a poor country one can conclude that most of the citizens live in poverty. Living in poverty usually means that children and adults are not provided with the necessary education to succeed. Furthermore, they are not provided with jobs that can sustain a family. Experts define poverty as “few assets or opportunities; low achievement as a result of inadequate education, healthcare and other basic social services; higher vulnerability to natural disasters, conflict, crime, disease and other dangers; [lastly,] little to no power over decisions that affect people’s lives”(Snel).

Aristotle is a firm believer that a good society allows citizens to achieve their common good. According to Aristotle, fulfilling a person’s function entails living a life of contemplation and living with reason. People should strive to apprehend the truth about the universe, God, relationships and more. Aristotle states that “the state or political community, which is the highest of all  and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good” (Aristotle). Meaning that the purpose of the state is to promote the most good which is to fulfill the function of contemplation and living with reason. It is said that “our nature does not itself provide all that is necessary for contemplation; the body must be in health, supplied with food, and otherwise cared for” (Aristotle). If a community is filled with citizens who are constantly dying from diseases and barley nourished with food, how could this state be contributing to an individual’s good?  Aristotle says that a man who is moderately supplied can effective carry out his function; however, a country encompassed with poverty has less than a moderate supply. Therefore, according to Aristotle, a poor country does not aid citizens in achieving their good.

Mill defines achieving good as achieving the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. In his opinion, happiness “is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure”(Mill).  This means that the government should strive to promote happiness and the absence of pain. Would one consider lack of adequate healthcare, education and basic freedoms happiness? Based on these facts, Mill might consider a poor country to hinder a person’s ability to achieve their absence from pain.  Poor countries do not have the means to promote a person’s wellbeing or even material comfort. These citizens are plagued with the physical pain of starvation and famine along with the emotional and psychological pain of watching so many people around them die.

What constitutes a rich country? Most say that a rich country is more economically developed than other countries. They have more money to spend on health, education, food and more. People in these countries have many occupations that can span from doctors and teachers to scientists and artists. Furthermore, a rich country commonly means that the government and infrastructure is strong and is effectively able to exploit their resources for the country’s profit. Overall, a rich country is self-sustaining and able to spend money on many different sectors and organizations throughout the entire government system.

Aristotle would most likely believe that rich countries have the ability to help their citizens achieve good. Like stated once before, according to Aristotle the good of life is to fulfill our given function which means to live in accordance to virtue and reason (contemplative life). In order to achieve a contemplative life external goods are needed along with a healthy body, good education and more. If a society has the means to supply their citizens with a good education, than they are aiding in their journey to contemplation. Furthermore, when a country is able to keep their citizens healthy and supplied with food they are once again aiding in allowing them to achieve their function.

However, rich countries can also hinder an individual’s ability to achieve good. Unnatural acquisition consists of accumulating money for its own sake. Within rich countries, there is a greater abundance of money, meaning a greater chance for people to accumulate such money. According to Aristotle “those who do aim at a good life seek the means of obtaining bodily pleasure; and since the enjoyment of these appears to depend on property, they are absorbed in getting wealth” (Aristotle).  These citizens spend their lives as a means of enjoyment in excess. In conclusion, a rich country contains more money which allows people to accumulate more property and excess. This distracts from the ultimate good of a life in accordance with reason.

Like previously stated, when a country is rich citizens are more susceptible to indulge in excess. This means that their capacity for enjoyment greatly increases. Mill stated that, “it is indisputable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly-endowed being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect” (Mills). This merely means that a higher capacity of enjoyment is harder to satisfy. However, according to Mills happiness is the absence of pain. Human beings try to obtain happiness by satisfying their enjoyment. If satisfying such enjoyment becomes harder than obtaining happiness becomes harder as well. As a result, it becomes even harder for citizens to experience pleasure and deviate from pain. In this instance, one can conclude that the country is not doing their part in helping their citizens achieve their good which is happiness itself.

However, one could also argue that Mill would agree that a rich country is doing right by its citizens. Mill believes “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill). If a country is providing proper education for their citizens wouldn’t that cause the people great pleasure (which is happiness)? When a country provides healthcare for their people is that action motivated with trying to diminish more pain and suffering? Furthermore, a rich country is effectively able to exploit their resources in order to engage in trade with other nations. Through this trade they are efficiently able to supply the citizens with ample amount of food and other resources. Supplying the body with necessary means results in pleasure, which is essentially promoting happiness.

Determining whether or not a country is doing its best in helping their citizens achieve good depends on the definition of human beings good. This one essential component varies from person to person. Aristotle believed that the ultimate good was to fulfill man’s function of living in accordance to reason. He referred to this ultimate good as a life of contemplation.  However, in John Mill’s opinion, the good of a citizen depended on happiness. He defined happiness as the presence of pleasure and absence of pain. Based on these definitions one can conclude what each author would think in regards to whether or not a poor or rich country is doing its job. For Aristotle, a poor country would not aid in helping man fulfil his function, while a rich country would both aid and hinder an individual from fulfilling their good. Similarly, Mills would most likely conclude that a poor nation does not do its job in helping their citizens achieve their functions, while a rich nation could both aid and impede citizens. With that said does a rich nation really surpass a poor one?

Works cited:

Round Earth Media: Next-Generation Journalism | What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?”Round Earth  Media Next      Generation Journalism RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.

Aristotle. Aristotle: Politics,. London: Heinemann, 1959. Print.

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957. Print.


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