'Give man a fish, but control him’. Philosophical perspectives on conditional social protection

November 22, 2022 - November 23, 2022
University of Salzburg


View the Call For Papers


Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) (PhD)
University of Salzburg

Topic areas

Talks at this conference

Add a talk


The Centre for Ethics and Poverty Research (CEPR) of the University of Salzburg and the Argentinean Research Center (CONICET) are happy to announce the 2022 Workshop in Philosophy and Poverty: 'Give man a fish, but control him’. Philosophical perspectives on conditional social protection.

The workshop will be held online.

Both in prosperous and non-prosperous societies, a paradigm of conditional social protection has been firmly stablished in the last forty years. According to it, any monetary benefit received by the citizens in need has to be conditioned to some behavioral change. In the Global North, the paradigm takes several forms, from workfare to policies of activation of marketable individual capabilities. Some of the actions required by these forms are actively seeking for a job, having to accept any job, improving the individual employability or going through routinized and bureaucratic processes. In the Global South, the paradigm took the form of conditional cash transfers. One example for this are conditional cash transfers which require from parents living in poverty to invest in the human capital of their children, by sending them to schools and to health controls regularly. The State role is, then, to teach to beneficiaries how to improve its economic welfare and abandon their shortsightedness and, hence, break the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Despite internal important differences, this paradigm seems to be a modification of the classical Chinese saying ‘Do not give a man the fish, teach him how to fish’. The idea would be that while refusing ‘the fish’ to the less advantaged could be socially inefficient, the State should have a final control over final uses, ends and stability of ‘the fish’. 

The philosophical discussion of this paradigm of social protection has been considerable, ranging from the objections to the use of controversial patterns of individual responsibility in delivering social protection to the commodification of social citizenship, from the likely harms to self-respect and self-esteem (which already constitute the social identity of the poor) to the creation of stigmatizing hierarchies. At the same time, defenders of this paradigm have appealed also to several traditions, from the ones that emphasize that conditionalities are required by the principle of reciprocity embedded in treating every citizen with equal respect to positions that defend it as a legitimate incentive under non-ideal conditions to comply with duties towards others. The economic and social crisis caused by COVID pandemic in 2020 revived these discussions by bringing attention to the proposals of Universal Basic Income, a clear antagonist to this ‘welfare conditionality’ model: instead of targeted, conditional and means-tested benefits, it proposes universalization, unconditionality and non-supervision.

This workshop attempts to reunite academic researchers from Global South and North to discuss the multiple normative dimensions of this paradigm. Some of the questions that the workshop aim to cover are the following. How different social and economic contexts affect the philosophical reflection about social protection and poverty alleviation policies? Should the principles of social protection change according to empirical facts about the job market, the general conditions of economy or a history of oppression, be it towards women or towards specific groups of the population? Which are the ethical considerations that could distinguish between conditionalities that are acceptable and ones that are unacceptable? What would make them legitimate instruments of social control and what coercive offers?  How do the imposition of conditionalities obstructs the intersubjective constitution of beneficiaries as citizens? Which is the weight of economic and budgetary reasons when deciding between conditional or unconditional proposals? Should the subjective experiences of poverty between beneficiaries be considered in the normative evaluations of these programs? Should the preferences and views of non-beneficiaries model the legitimacy of these policies, since they are the ones that are funding them? Do conditionalities reinforce hierarchical relations between beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries, or do they create egalitarian relations that avoid the actions of free-riders, welfare cheaters, etc.?

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)




November 20, 2022, 9:00am CET

Who is attending?

1 person is attending:

Shahjalal University of Science and Technology

See all

Will you attend this event?

Let us know so we can notify you of any change of plan.

RSVPing on PhilEvents is not sufficient to register for this event.