Public Reason: Vol. 2, No. 2, December 2010
The Basis of Universal Liberal Principles in Nussbaum’s Political Philosophy
Matthias Katzer

In her political philosophy, Martha C. Nussbaum defends liberal political principles on the basis of an objective conception of the good of human beings. This paper examines whether her argument succeeds. It identifies three methods to which Nussbaum refers in order to select the central human capabilities, whose exercise is seen as constituting the human good. It asks whether these methods – the interpretation of actual ways of human self-understanding, the search for necessary anthropological features, and the idea of an overlapping consensus – can yield liberal political principles. The paper concludes that it is doubtful that the first two methods will lead to this result. As to the third method, it may yield liberal principles only insofar as it relies on the notion of human dignity which is interpreted in a way that contains a strong view of equality of all human beings. In this way, universal liberal principles are not primarily based on considerations of the human good, but on a genuine moral standpoint.

Key words: capability approach, dignity, equality, liberalism, Nussbaum, overlapping consensus.


Katzer, Matthias. 2010. The Basis of Universal Liberal Principles in Nussbaum’s Political Philosophy. Public Reason 2(2): 60-75.