Central to Martha Nussbaum's development of the capability approach into a theory of social and global justice is her addition of the notion of a capability threshold below which no dignified human life can be lived. This capability threshold identifies a standard for distributive justice that any decent political order must secure for all citizens. It is this threshold that is the intended focus of this paper.
Examining her most recent statement of the capability approach, Nussbaum's arguments that the threshold should be locally set by each nation in accordance with their history and traditions, and that all nations currently fail to satisfy the threshold condition, are assessed.
This paper shows that if Nussbaum's arguments are accepted, then the central function of a threshold as a tool of discrimination is undermined. If all nations fail to meet their locally set threshold, then there is no clear basis for the global redistribution that Nussbaum regards as necessary. Indeed, what basis there is could even justify counter‐intuitive redistribution from poorer to richer nations.
This paper concludes that if the capability approach is to be developed into a theory of social justice, then, rather than being set locally at different levels, the capability threshold may need to be a genuinely global one. Only then can the threshold discriminate between unjust political orders and those that are at least minimally just.
Roberts, P. (2013), "Nussbaum's political liberalism: justice and the capability threshold", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 40 No. 7, pp. 613-623. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSE-2012-0136Download as .RIS
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