Toward a theory of the basic minimum

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 7 (4):423-445 (2008)
Many have thought that an important feature of any just society is the establishment and maintenance of a suitable basic minimum: some set of welfare achievements, resources, capabilities, and so on that are guaranteed to all. However, if a basic minimum is a plausible requirement of justice, we must have a theory — a theory of what, precisely, the state owes in terms of these basic needs or achievements and what, precisely, is the proper structure of the obligation to provide them. In Section 1, I will critically examine one recent influential account of the basic minimum: Martha Nussbaum's `human capabilities approach'. I argue that Nussbaum's account has several structural features, few of which are independently plausible, and which create insuperable difficulties when viewed in combination. The failure of Nussbaum's account is instructive, however. It provides motivation for the positive account I sketch in Section 2. Key Words: Martha Nussbaum • welfare • capabilities • autonomy.
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