Martha Nussbaums capability theory of justice

Martha Nussbaum’s capability theory of justice

Martha Nussbaum has worked extensively on Capability Approach. In this section you will read about the structure and criticisms of Nussbaum’s Capability Approach and its relationship to Amartya Sen’s work.

Structure and Development of Nussbaum’s Capability Theory

Martha Nussbaum developed a very systematic, extensive, and influential capability theory of justice and her theory is based on dignity, a list of fundamental capabilities, and a threshold.

Nussbaum’s list of The Central Human Capabilities (Reproduced from Nussbaum’s book titled Creating Capabilities 2011)

1. Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living.

2. Bodily Health. Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.

3. Bodily Integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.

4. Senses, Imagination, and Thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think, and reason – and to do these things in a ‘‘truly human’’ way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth. Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech, and freedom of religious exercise.

Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid non-beneficial pain.

the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being able to work as a human being, exercising practical reason, and entering into meaningful relationships of mutual recognition with other workers.”

Nussbaum’s theory is concerned with the concept of human dignity in contrast to Sen’s emphasis on freedom. Her list of 10 fundamental capabilities have been tested and adapted over the course of an extensive cross-cultural dialogue carried out by her, particularly in India. The threshold specifies the minimum requirements of justice and every individual should have capabilities at least to this degree must be entitled to each capability which must be ensured by their governments and relevant international institutions. Human dignity requires access to these capabilities, but a life lacking in any of these whether from external deprivation or individual choice, does not imply to be any less
than human life.

However, choice and deprivation are different. Any person lacking access to these capabilities reflects the societies neglect and its failure to respect human dignity. Respecting a person’s choice of not taking up her opportunities to certain capabilities is also an aspect of respecting that person’s dignity.


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