Volume 31, 2015
Power, Protest, and the Future of Democracy
Does Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach Support Political Surrogacy?
Martha Nussbaum offers a robust vision of justice in terms of capability that she contends is capable of handing the most difficult cases. In recent work, she suggests that her capabilities approach supports a range of accommodations to make voting accessible and feasible for citizens with cognitive disabilities, including surrogate voting in the instance of profound cognitive impairment. Although Nussbaum’s call for political surrogacy is noble, I argue that it conflicts with at least three of five commitments that together characterize her capabilities approach to justice. The commitments that characterize her capabilities approach to justice include the commitment to justice in terms of capability, the commitment to an Aristotelian conception of human dignity, the commitment to a universal standard of justice, and the commitment to liberal individualism. In addition, Nussbaum’s approach is a “social minimum” approach to justice. Thus my critique is methodological. I do not contend that political surrogacy is either undesirable or unjustifiable, only that it is incompatible with Nussbaum’s capabilities approach.