The Capability Approach and the Debate Between Humanist and Political Perspectives on Human Rights. A Critical Survey

Gilabert, Pablo. 2013. "The Capability Approach and the Debate Between Humanist and Political Perspectives on Human Rights: A Critical Survey." Human Rights Review 14: 299-325.

This paper provides a critical exploration of the capability approach to human rights (CAHR) with the specific aim of developing its potential for achieving a synthesis between “humanist” or “naturalistic” and “political” or “practical” perspectives in the philosophy of human rights. The “Polemical Context: the Debate Between Humanist and Political Perspectives on Human Rights” section presents a general strategy for achieving such a synthesis. The “The Capability Approach to Human Rights” section provides an articulation of the key insights of CAHR (its focus on actual realizations given diverse circumstances, its pluralism of grounds, its emphasis on freedom of choice, its demand for public reasoning, its context-sensitive universalism, and its broad view of obligations). These insights go some way toward the achievement of the desired synthesis. But, as explained in the “Need for Further Development of the Approach” section, in its current form, CAHR faces two serious objections by the defenders of the political perspective: the gap between capabilities–interests and rights objection and the disconnect from practice objection. Answering these criticisms requires some amendments to CAHR. The “Recommending a Contractualist Framework of Normative Reasoning” section suggests a response to the first objection based on the introduction of a contractualist framework of justification. The “Recharacterizing the Cosmopolitanism Inherent in the Humanist Standpoint” and “Focusing on a Three-Dimensional Picture in the Search for Deliberative Reflective Equilibrium about Human Rights” sections tackle the second objection by introducing a recharacterization of the cosmopolitan standard underlying the humanist perspective and by identifying the differences and relations between various dimensions of a conception of human rights and their significance for actual political practice. The paper illustrates the practical implications of CAHR, in its modified form, for the pursuit of some important rights.

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