Nussbaum on Capabilities

Interesting paper by Nussbaum: Beyond the Social Contract: Capabilities and the Social Contract.
I was already moving in a Sen/Nussbaum capabilities direction even before I started to become skeptical of the usefulness of happiness as the standard of evaluation in contractarian normative modeling. So I'm pretty interested in what Nussbaum has to say. My guess is that I'll feel a lot like I do when I read Rawls, that he's right about the way to think about the issue, but wrong about some of the important facts that feed into the normative analysis. Will report later.
[Update: I take it back. Nussbaum's is not the right way to think about the issue. She basically abandons the logic of contractarian reasoning simply because it cannot straightforwardly generate obligations to redistribute to people in poor countries. She does not argue that we have such a duty; she just asserts it. This is a problem not only because she punts on the question of the source of that obligation, but because she in effect ignores the logic of stable cooperation. If a system is not mutually advantageous for its participants, there is little reason to believe it will garner compliance, and thus define a stable order. But the point of contractarian reasoning is that it is non-utopian and has the analytical resources to identify the conditions for stable order. Nussbaum ends up merely stating an aspiration based in the assertion, rather than the reasonable derivation, of obligations to others. She therefore doesn't lay out a serious international political theory. She is, however, quite right about many of the problems of Rawls and Pogge/Beitz at the international level.]

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center