Dissertation, University of Glasgow (2021)

Imants Latkovskis
University of Glasgow
This thesis explores the relationship between the capability approach to justice and liberal philosophy. I argue that the most compelling articulation of the capability approach—one given by Martha Nussbaum—suffers from an unattractive kind of inconsistency. On the one hand, Nussbaum is committed to formulating a robust account of a dignified human life which can give rise to a range of individual entitlements which ought to be guaranteed to all individuals. On the other hand, Nussbaum is committed to political liberalism which requires state institutions to uphold strict neutrality between a variety of reasonable conceptions of the good. Nussbaum’s first commitment results in the formulation of a list of ten central human capabilities. However, I argue that the content and justification of this list cannot be successfully established in a way that is consistent with Nussbaum’s second commitment. Therefore, in this thesis, I propose a novel capability approach: a two-step approach which consists of two principles arranged in lexical priority. First, governments have a moral obligation to secure individuals with a meta-capability of autonomy. That is to say, governments must provide the conditions which are conducive to individuals exercising a range of agentic competencies which are constitutive of autonomous judgement. Second, governments have a moral obligation to provide opportunities for individuals to exercise this meta-capability in six domains of well-being: health, politics, knowledge, relationships, self-expression, and work. I argue that exercising autonomous choice in the pursuit of welfare is necessary for a good life, regardless of the specific choices individuals eventually make, and even if they choose to forgo some supposedly valuable choices altogether. My proposal has two striking features which set it apart from other articulations of the capability approach. First, my proposal is comprehensive in that it relies on a particular view about what is a valuable way of life. In my view, a way of life is valuable if it is pursued autonomously, that is to say, if it involves an individual exercising a set of agentic competencies and standing in appropriate relations with other people. And second, by virtue of being based in this particular comprehensive claim, my account of justice is anti-perfectionist. That is to say, my proposal does not aim to compel people to make valuable choices. Rather, it aims to equip people with the means to live the kind of life they find valuable and worth living. I then apply this capability approach to the domain of education, and I argue it can be useful in formulating an ambitious and transformative approach to education. In particular, I develop a program of civic education aimed at responding to the problems associated with disinformation and ‘post-truth’ trends in politics.
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