Nussbaum, Kant, and the Capabilities Approach to Dignity

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (5):875-892 (2014)
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The concept of dignity plays a foundational role in the more recent versions of Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities theory. However, despite its centrality to her theory, Nussbaum’s conception of dignity remains under-theorised. In this paper we critically examine the role that dignity plays in Nussbaum’s theory by, first, developing an account of the concept of dignity and introducing a distinction between two types of dignity, status dignity and achievement dignity. Next, drawing on this account, we analyse Nussbaum’s conception of dignity and contrast it with Kant’s conception of dignity. On the basis of this comparison between Nussbaum and Kant, we highlight tensions between Nussbaum’s Aristotelianism, which is central to her conception of dignity, and her commitment to political liberalism. This leads us to conclude that Nussbaum’s claim that her conception of dignity is only a partial political conception is implausible and that her conception of dignity seems to commit her to a satisficing form of perfectionist liberalism
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