Liberalism without perfection? Autonomy, toleration and education in nussbaum's capability approach

Johannes Drerup*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The present contribution develops a critique of Martha Nussbaum's attempt to deliver an anti-perfectionist justification of education. First, I argue that Nussbaum's rejection of education for personal autonomy as a legitimate policy goal of liberal states has untenable normative implications and rests on implausible theoretical assumptions. This, however, also holds for recent attempts to integrate personal autonomy as an aim of education into a political liberal framework of justification. Second, I demonstrate that Nussbaum's conception of education for tolerance and equal respect relies on perfectionist premises not compatible with political liberalism. Finally the critique is extended by focusing on major problems and tensions that result from Nussbaum's attempt to harmonize her version of political liberalism with central theoretical and normative assumptions of the Capability Approach. I conclude that in order to retain its critical potential it is necessary to rethink and readjust the justificatory framework of the Capability Approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-71
Number of pages31
JournalEthical Perspectives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Capability approach
  • Education
  • Liberal perfectionism
  • Personal autonomy
  • Political liberalism
  • Respect


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