Both the capability and the recognition approach are influential and substantial theories in social philosophy. In this contribution, we outline their main assumptions in their assessment of poverty. The two approaches are set in relation to each other, focusing mainly on (a) their moral evaluation of poverty, (b) issues of justification of their central normative claims, and (c) the role that is attributed to subjective experiences, feelings and emotions in these theories. This comparison reveals that in spite of significant differences, both lead to the claim that poverty can never be adequately assessed without putting it into the context of a comprehensive ethical theory about the nature and function of societies. Drawing on this result, we conclude that the critical function of social philosophy plays an irreducible role in the study and understanding of poverty.