RECON Online Working Paper 2010/27

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Martha Nussbaum’s Outcome-Oriented Theory of Justice 

Philosophical Comments 

 

Cathrine Holst (ARENA, University of Oslo)

 

Abstract

The capability approach developed by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen has received substantial attention in recent years, in philosophical exchanges as well as in more applied discussions on policy-making, in particular in developing countries, but lately also in Western countries, including Europe and the EU. This paper contributes to the philosophical exchanges of Nussbaum’s version of the capability approach. Nussbaum herself presents her contribution as an alternative to John Rawls’ theory of justice, and following her lead, this paper compares Nussbaum and Rawls. The first part presents Nussbaum’s position and how it differs from Rawls’; the second and third parts develop arguments against substituting primary goods and a procedural justification of justice (Rawls) with capabilities and an ethical justification of justice (Nussbaum); the fourth part highlights some problems with Nussbaum’s conception of justice compared to Rawls’. The fifth and final part discusses how the critical points of the first four parts relate to European studies discussions on legitimacy in general and to RECON’s normative framework in particular. The merits of Nussbaum’s approach from a gender perspective are given particular attention.


Keywords

Democracy — Gender Policy — Justice — Legitimacy — Philosophy

 

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