Examined Life [2008] – Martha Nussbaum.avi

Aristotle had the ingredients
of a theory of justice… that I think is very powerful. And that is that it’s the job of
a good political arrangement… to provide each
and every person… with what they need
to become capable… of living rich
and flourishing human lives. Now, of course,
he didn’t include all the people, but he at least had that idea
of supporting human capability… that’s the foundation
of my own approach. Now then, in the 17th
and 18th centuries, a very powerful new approach
came on the scene, and that was
the social contract approach- Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant. The social contract approach
was inspired… by the background culture
of feudalism, where all opportunities
were distributed unequally… to people according to their class, their inherited wealth,
and their status. And so what these theorists said is
try to imagine human beings… stripped of all those
inherited advantages, placed in what they called
the “state of nature,” where they had only their natural body
and their physical advantages, and try to imagine
what kind of arrangements
the would actually make. The social contract tradition is,
of course, an academic,
philosophical tradition, but it also has tremendous influence
on popular culture… and our general public life. Because we-
Every day we hear things like, “Oh, those people
don’t pay their own way.” Or, supporting
some new group of people, “Well, they’ll be a drag
on our economy.” So the idea that the good member
of society is a producer… who contributes advantage
to everyone, that is very-
a very live idea. And it lies behind
the decline of welfare programs
in this county. I think it lies behind many Americans’
skepticism about Europe, about European social democracy. You hear terms like
the “Nanny State,” as though there were something wrong
with the idea of maternal care… as a conception of what society
actually does. Um, we also see it in another way
in images of who the real man is. The real man is sort of like these
people in the state of nature. He doesn’t deeply need anyone. He isn’t bound to anyone
by ties of love and compassion. He’s the loner who can go
his own way… and then out of advantage, he’ll choose to have certain kinds
of social arrangements. The theorists of the social contract
made certain assumptions
that aren’t always true. They assumed that the parties
to this contract… really are roughly equal
in physical and mental power. Now, that was fine… when you’re thinking about adult men
with no disabilities, but as some of them already
began to notice, it doesn’t do so well
when you think about women, because women’s oppression
has always been partly occasioned… by their physical weakness,
compared to men. And so if you leave out
that physical asymmetry, you may be leaving out a problem
that a theory of justice
will need to fix. But it certainly does not do well
when we think about justice… for people with serious physical
and mental disabilities. And in fact, some of the theorists
who noticed that said, “Well, this is a problem,
but we’ll just have to solve it later. We’ll get the theory first,
then we’ll work on this problem
at some other point.” Well, my thought is
that this is not a small problem. There are a lot of people with serious
physical and mental disabilities. But not only that,
but it’s all of us- when we’re little children
and as we age. How do you think about justice
when you’re dealing with bodies… that are very, very unequal
in their ability and their power? And perhaps even harder, how do you think about it
when you’re dealing with… mental powers that are very, very
unequal in their potential? And I think that this is
a really serious political problem. We have only just began
to understand how to educate
children with disabilities, how to think about
their political representation, how to design cities
that are open to them. I mean, this bridge we walked
across, a person in a wheelchair
can go over that bridge. But, you know, 50 years ago
that would not have been the case. There would have been steps,
and that person could not get
to see this beautiful lakeshore. The capabilities approach,
as I’ve developed it
as a theory of justice, begins with the idea
that all human beings… have an inherent dignity… and require life circumstances… that are worthy of that dignity. The areas of life that seem to me
particularly important… when we think
about the capabilities are; of course life
is the very most basic one; bodily health; bodily integrity; the development of the senses,
imagination and thought; the development
of practical reasoning; the development of affiliations,
both more informal, in the family and friendship
but also in the political community; the development
of the ability to play… and have recreational opportunities; the ability to have relationships… with other creatures
and the world of nature; developing emotional capabilities, because I think a lot of theories
leave out the fact… that we don’t want to have lives
that are filled with fear,
for example. In my view, people get together
to form a society… not because they’re afraid… and they want to strike a deal
for mutual advantage, but it’s much more out of love… that they want to join with others
in creating a world
that’s as good as it can be.

Maurice Vega

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