Martha Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach

Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 50:823-835 (2008)
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Throughout the 1990-ies Nussbaum, in collaboration with others, has elaborated and argued for a list of human capabilities which specifies necessary conditions of human flourishing. The capabilities approach has been enormously influential in putting issues of global development and justice, and especially justice for women, on the philosophical and political agenda. Moreover, many international agencies and institutions, including the United Nations Development Program, have started to make use of this approach. Despite of its obvious good intentions the approach deserves more serious critical attention from philosophers than it has received until now. In my paper I take up some fundamental problems with Nussbaum’s philosophical framework. I will argue that Nussbaum’s conception of human nature is still (implicitly) Cartesian and, more in particular, that her conception of reason is outdated. It raises problems with respect to the question of universal values, the possibility of which Nussbaum defends by reference to the faculty of reason.



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Veronica Vasterling
Radboud University Nijmegen

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