Rights, Goals, and Capabilities

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This article analyses the relationship between rights and capabilities in order to get a better grasp of the kind of consequentialism that the capability theory represents. Capability rights have been defined as rights that have a capability as their object (rights to capabilities). Such a definition leaves the relationship between capabilities and rights to a great extent underspecified since nothing is said about the nature of those rights. Hence, it is not precluded that they are mere negative liberties, something that capability the-orists deny. On the other hand, to say that all capability rights are substantive in the sense that they themselves are capabilities (rights as capabilities) will in a significant number of cases fail to match well with our intuitions. This article presents an account of the relationship between rights and capabilities that avoids these problems of under-specification and of plausibility, respectively. First, it is argued that to take the idea of capability rights seriously, three new 'list issues' need to be addressed. Second, devel-oping a point made by Nussbaum, it is argued that capability rights are to be defined as being purely instrumental. Whereas the resulting analysis of capability rights solves the problems of underspecification and plausibility, it raises doubts about the claim that the capability approach gives more importance to rights than do traditional forms of consequentialism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-259
Number of pages13
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Capabilities
  • capability rights
  • consequentialism


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