Category Archives: Jurisprudence

Saving the Polar Bear: Saving the World: … Capabilities Approach and … Ecosystems (E. Cripps)


Elizabeth Cripps


Capabilities, Nussbaum, Schlosberg, Justice, Nonhuman animals, Ecosystems


Martha Nussbaum has expanded the capabilities approach to defend positive duties of justice to individuals who fall below Rawls’ standard for fully cooperating members of society, including sentient nonhuman animals. Building on this, David Schlosberg has defended the extension of capabilities justice not only to individual animals but also to entire species and ecosystems. This is an attractive vision: a happy marriage of social, environmental and ecological justice, which also respects the claims of individual animals. This paper asks whether it is one that the capabilities approach can really deliver. Serious obstacles are highlighted. The potential for conflict between the capability-based entitlements of humans and those of nonhuman animals or ‘nature’ is noted, but it is argued that this does not constitute a decisive objection to the expanded capabilities approach. However, intra-nature conflicts are so widespread as to do so: the situation is outside the circumstances of justice as they are standardly understood. Schlosberg attempts to reconcile such conflicts by re-examining what it means to flourish as a sentient nonhuman animal. This fails, because of the distinction between flourishing as a species, which often requires predation, and flourishing as an individual, which is as frequently incompatible with it. Finally, the paper considers how a capabilities theorist might move beyond such conflicts, identifying two possible strategies (which are not themselves unproblematic) for reconciling the demands of humans, animals and ecosystems.


(2010) 16 Res Publica 1-22


Saving the Polar Bear, Saving the World: Can the Capabilities Approach do Justice to Humans, Animals and Ecosystems?