Prof. Dr. Thomas Pogge


Philosopher and Professor

DAAD Scholarship 1977–1978

Prof. Dr. Thomas Pogge by Tobias Klenze [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1953, Thomas Pogge is today regarded as “perhaps one of the world's best known philosophers who thinks about poverty and hunger”, according to the German weekly Die Zeit. Published in 2002, his book World Poverty and Human Rights is one of the most important works to address the question of global justice.

If philosophy can't help, what can?
Prof. Dr. Thomas Pogge

After studying sociology in Hamburg, Thomas Pogge went to Harvard University as a guest student in 1977 with a DAAD scholarship. It was there that he met the American justice philosopher John Rawls and finished his doctorate in 1983 with a thesis on Kant, Rawls, and global justice. "I had already been interested in politics and political reform," says Thomas Pogge, "but the meeting with Rawls helped me to develop new ideas, on how to combine political work with work in political philosophy." After finishing his doctorate, he stayed in the United States and taught at Columbia University in New York until 2008, before accepting the offer of a professorship at Yale, where he is now the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs.

Thomas Pogge not only thinks theoretically about justice. He also makes suggestions on how global economic structures could be reformed to relieve poverty, hunger and illness in the world. This is why he launched the Health Impact Fund. The underlying idea of this fund is to provide the pharmaceutical industry with incentive systems to promote the development and marketing of those drugs, which the poor worldwide urgently need, such as to combat AIDS and tuberculosis.

For Thomas Pogge, this philosophical approach is "a new way to engage in a new kind of political philosophy." As he sees it, discussions on political philosophy should enable citizens to think about existing injustices and the responsibility that derives from this and so work towards the necessary reforms. "If philosophy can't help, what can?"

Pogge has made a name for himself as a vociferous critic: in a 2015 interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung he accused the United Nations and the World Bank of playing down global hunger with false numbers. "Measuring methods and definitions have always been retrospectively adjusted and each new adjustment has led to new reports of success." The philosopher is also combative when it comes to climate change: he belongs to a group of renowned law scholars in the USA that call upon states to protect their citizens and introduce measures against climate change. "Governments that do nothing to counter climate change are a case for the judiciary," said Pogge on Deutschlandfunk in 2015.