Progressive Politics: Liberalism, Humanism, and Feminism in Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach
AbstractA purely theoretical analysis of Martha Nussbaum’s basis of the capabilities
approach in feminist (rather than more broadly liberal humanist) justice
yields a philosophical project that may appear inconsistent, if not incoherent.
However, I suggest in this paper that when the reader considers the project’s
very concrete aims, there surfaces an intelligible reason for the apparent incongruities between her feminist and liberal commitments. Since even a capabilities approach rooted in feminist justice is itself radical and must win
political support in order to be implemented, I suggest that Nussbaum’s basis
of the approach in feminist justice can perhaps be understood as a canny attempt to win support for her project on politically popular grounds, using the
rhetoric of sex and social justice that has already been embraced by current
economic powers. Once arguments based on morally irrelevant differences
between sexes are politically endorsed, it will perhaps be easier to argue for
the directly parallel moral irrelevance of differences based on accident of
birth into the underdeveloped world.