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Lecture 9

PHIL 296 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Individualism, Sentience, Nationstates

Course Code
PHIL 296
Angie Pepper

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The Capabilities Approach
-Nussbaum on Justice for Animals
When we say that a bad act is unjust we mean that “the creature injured by the act
had an entitlement not to be treated in that way […] The sphere of justice is the
sphere of basic entitlements” (Nussbaum 2004, 302).
-Rejecting Contractarianism and Utilitarianism
-Nussbaum traces the inability of the social contract tradition to accommodate
disability and nonhuman animals to two deeply held commitments:
-“the idea that parties to the social contract are roughly equal in power and ability,
and the related idea of mutual advantage as the goal they pursue through
cooperating rather than not cooperating” (Nussbaum 2006, 66).
-Humans and animals have different capacities and therefore we can not contract.
-1. Utilitarianism cannot rule out certain harsh and cruel forms of treatment in
advance – because right actions are determined by sum-ranking all pleasures
and pains. So, it is possible that slavery, torture, cruelty etc. would be obligatory.
But even if they were not, it seems misguided to view these actions as wrong
because of an empirical calculation of how much pleasure/pain they would
bring about.
They are wrong because they are unjust i.e. creatures treated as slaves,
subject to cruelty, or tortured are entitled not to be treated in these ways.
-2. Utilitarianism cannot deal with adaptive preferences.
Ignorance, malice, “habit, fear, low expectations, and unjust background
conditions deform people’s choices and even their wishes for their own lives
(Nussbaum, 2000: 114).
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A perverse feature of harmful adaptive preferences, whether is that they often
serve to enlist the oppressed and the vulnerable in the reinforcement of their
own subjugation.
Utilitarianism does not consider whypeople find pleasure or satisfaction in
certain things.
Utilitarianism, including Singer’s preference utilitarianism, “cannot consider […]
all the deprivation of valuable life activity that [humans and nonhuman animals]
do not feel” (Nussbaum 2004, 305).
-3. Pleasure isn’t the only thing that is important to humans and nonhuman
animals – e.g. freedom of movement, friendship, grief, altruistic sacrifice, and
physical achievement.
-4. Why should all pleasures be counted? Bad pleasures – recall Regan’s critique
of utilitarianism.
-The Capabilities Approach (CA)
CA is concerned with what human beings are able to do and what they are able to
be, that is, with their capabilities.
-Capability vs. functioning: A key feature of CA is that it is capability rather than
functioning that is the political goal (Nussbaum 2000, 87).
-CA is “informed by an intuitive idea of a life that is worthy of the dignity of the
human being” (Nussbaum 2006, 70).
-Ten Central Human Capabilities
(1) Life
(2) Bodily health
(3) Bodily integrity
(4) Senses, imagination, and thought
(5) Emotions
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(6) Practical reason
(7) Affiliation
(8) Other species
(9) Play
(10) Control over one’s environment
-Humans who have these opportunities for functioning are able to lead flourishing
human lives.
-Justice demands protecting and enabling human capabilities.
Human capabilities are to underpin political principles that should be the foundation
of each and every nation-state’s constitution (Nussbaum 2006, 70).
Situation is determined baed on capabilities.
-CA is global in scope – unmistakably cosmopolitan: “notice that the approach makes
each person a bearer of value, and as an end” (2000, 73; see also 74); “the
capabilities approach remains focused on the person as the ultimate subject of
justice” (2006, 295).
-Extending the Capabilities Approach to Nonhuman Animals
-CA “wants to see each thing flourish as the sort of thing it is” (Nussbaum 2004, 306)
Individualism: all existing individual creatures are the primary units of moral
Species continuation does not matter from the perspective of justice unless
humans are actively involved in the harm done to individual creatures.
-Maintains that sentience is a threshold condition for a creature to be a subject of
-Beings with complex capabilities can experience greater suffering when their
capabilities are thwarted – this does not mean that beings that are more complex
are more morally considerable.