A Reformulation of Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach: Non-Idealized Dignity and the Moral Permissibility of Paternalism

Sheintul, Stephanie Ann (2016). 'A Reformulation of Nussbaum's Capabilities Approach: Non-Idealized Dignity and the Moral Permissibility of Paternalism' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract This paper has two main purposes: (1) argue that states following the capabilities approach are morally permitted to engage in paternalism once one adopts a more plausible account of dignity and (2) establish which kinds and forms of paternalism should be morally permitted by a state following the capabilities approach. At the outset of the paper, I present what seems to be a dilemma about state paternalism. It goes as follows. On the one hand, it may be that a state’s intervening on behalf of its citizens’ flourishing impermissibly undermines their dignity. So states should not be permitted to intervene paternalistically. But, on the other hand, it may be that its citizens will flourish less than they would if a state were to intervene. So states should be able to intervene paternalistically. But, is this truly a dilemma? I argue that the dilemma about state paternalism is not a true dilemma because our having dignity does not preclude government intervention on behalf of individuals’ flourishing. I argue that the proper conception of human dignity is what I term non-idealized dignity as opposed to what I term idealized dignity. I argue that Martha Nussbaum holds the latter conception, which leads her to strictly limit paternalism in liberal democratic regimes following her capability approach. By laying out the theses of non-idealized dignity and arguing that they better pertain to humans as we are, I conclude that paternalism is morally permissible for states following a cogent capabilities approach. Once I establish that paternalism is morally permissible, I offer a way to categorize different kinds of paternalism and go on to argue which kinds and forms are permissible given a non-idealized conception of our dignity. In the end, I argue that the cogent capabilities approach be more welcome to paternalistic action.

scroll to top