A case for inclusion


Advocacy for those whose entitlements are excluded from theories of justice

FRONTIERS OF JUSTICE — Disability Nationality Species Membership: Martha C. Nussbaum; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 695.

This book by Martha Nussbaum on disability, nationality, and species membership is a work of reasoned advocacy for those whose entitlements are excluded from theories of justice. She urges the necessity of demolishing arguments that exclude some from the justice discourse; and to this end questions the social contract theories and closely scrutinises the work of John Rawls. She finds the social contract tradition to be exclusionary in import because it premises mutual advantage to be the basis of social cooperation, thus obviating need to cooperate with those from whom there is nothing to gain or who can be coerced. Further in the understanding of the tradition the makers and the beneficiaries of the social contract have to be the same. For example, if non-human animals cannot participate in devising the primary principles of social cooperation then their concerns need not be considered. Persons with disability are also excluded, because rationality is viewed as the primary characteristic of being human.

Cooperation for care

Nussbaum draws upon Aristotle and Marx to argue that humans are also animals while being sociable, political animals. This biological vulnerability as well as the need for community allows humans to cooperate for love and care and not just for advantage. If no being were instrumentally used and each were treated as an end in herself, social cooperation would happen in a non-exploitative manner. To allow for this she posits what she calls the capabilities approach. This approach measures human development in any country not on the basis of income and resources but on the extent to which the capabilities of all persons are enabled to flourish. She posits an open ended list of 10 capabilities which every society should guarantee to all persons. In recognition of human neediness Nussbaum includes the right to care in her list of capabilities. Nussbaum is at pains to point out that she is seeking capability and not actual functioning, which illustratively means that whilst she wants arrangements for care, she does not then want coercive procedures to ensure the utilisation of those arrangements if not desired by those for whom they are made. However, she does not endorse this distinction between capability and functioning for children; on the basis of their lack of maturity, she makes a case for compulsory education.

Nussbaum is confronted with the same argument of lack of maturity when she is required to consider the case of persons with severe intellectual disabilities. Significantly, however, Nussbaum does not equate persons with disabilities to children; she allows for support arrangements of guardianship in order to aid the flourishing of the particular person with disability. Thus guardianship as constructed by Nussbaum is no different from the concept of supported decision-making as incorporated in the recently adopted U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She seeks guardianship not due to the presumed incapacity of persons with disabilities but to enable the development of all those capacities which is present in all of them as members of the human species. This analysis of Nussbaum should be of assistance in challenging the actions of those states’ parties who are considering entering reservations on the provision recognising the full legal capacity of all persons with disabilities.

Global justice

Nussbaum quest for global justice is not confined to the human animal alone. She wishes to free the non-human animals from the trap of compassion and mercy; and in a detailed chapter of the book examines their justice claims. In her intuitive formulation of the canon of justice she extends the Kantian imperative to non-human animals, and requires that like human animals, they should be treated as ends in themselves. However, when it comes to implementation of this canon, Nussbaum, looking for social consensus, adopts a more pragmatic approach and concedes that adequate instead of equal justice may suffice for non-human animals. The same pragmatism stops her short of advocating total vegetarianism or absolute prohibition on using animals for experimentation. Animal rights activists may hold that Nussbaum does not go far enough in her claims for non-human animals; however, what needs to be noted is that she makes these claims under the rubric of justice. Also, she has inaugurated the discourse and not closed it.

Transnational equity, the third limb of the book, injects responsibility into globalisation. It requires that the opportunities of individuals should not be dictated by the chance of birth, and wants that transnational efforts to offset global inequity should enhance national autonomy and not create dependency.

Nussbaum holds that finding her agenda unrealistic signifies a lack of moral ambition and a belief that human sentiments are fixed. She believes that sentiments can be educated towards radical change and justice. Her book makes a substantial contribution in this direction, and towards creating a caring world.

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