Three Flaws in One Justification A Critical Examination of Nussbaum’s Reasoning Behind Her List of Capabilities


Who should decide what makes one’s life good? This is a long-standing question that has recently led to an unresolved discussion between two leading figures of the contemporary political and social theory, namely Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. In this discussion, addressing the adverse effects of unjust social conditions on people’s choices such as the problem of adaptive preferences, Nussbaum proposes a philosophically-informed list of aspects of the good life developed from a particular normative account. However, the reasoning behind her proposal, I argue, involves three flaws that appear due to absence of a sociologically-informed account of people’s choices. First, considering that unjust social conditions can adversely affect not only people’s choice on aspects of good life, but also their choices in achieving these aspects, developing a list from a philosophical account of the good life cannot be a solution against these adverse effects. Second, Nussbaum excessively generalises her findings based on data involving a quite limited number of disadvantaged women in a way that her findings are applicable to all disadvantaged people living in varied social settings. Third, both existing empirical evidences and the qualitative data I collected in three distinct settings of Turkey demonstrate that disadvantaged people are not necessarily those who, as Nussbaum implicitly addresses, are unable to develop sophisticated/reasoned judgements on their material conditions, but might be those who must have developed the ability of deliberately adapting their preferences to make a living within given structural inequalities.

Anahtar Kelimeler

Capability approach adaptive preferences false-consciousness structural inequalities disadvantage