A life worthy of human dignity.  The statement is at once impassioned, relative, and worthy of an ethics analysis.   The elements that make each of our lives worth living may be different for each of us, but all of them are connected in ways that extend beyond the analysis of this paper. Nussbaum (2011) includes a discussion of several issues that she feels are a laundry list of current problems, including poverty and disadvantage, education, gender, animal rights, environmental quality, political structure, and capabilities and psychology.  The list reads like a somewhat horizontal hierarchy of needs. In this paper, the always current issues of poverty and disadvantage and education will be viewed through the lens of Nussbaum’s applicable ten central capabilities, questions that must necessarily be asked as well as critiqued from the viewpoint of these current issues and from this essay writer’s personal bias.  The combined results will be analyzed for future applications and current problems.


While Nussbaum (2011) discusses each issue separately, issues intersect in one form or another throughout.  When one considers poverty, disadvantage, and education in the United States, they are difficult to separate.  Nussbaum’s capabilities approach equates poverty and disadvantage to the ability to do and accomplish things:  to purchase, to start a business, to meet basic needs, to guarantee job security.  Will this ability to do things satisfy central capabilities?  Does Nussbaum indicate exactly what is required to reach a minimal threshold to accomplish anything? Is it a threshold for living a life worthy of human dignity?  And what is the threshold of living a life of human dignity?  She does not answer these questions.

Education for Nussbaum is commingled with poverty and disadvantage.  She elaborates on the fundamental rights to education that are sometimes granted at the regional and local level of the United States as well as the international level but doesn’t really exist at the federal level of the United States except within the context of access to basic education and fundamental rights to basic education.  Does this right guarantee one the equal access to educational training to use imagination and critical thinking to experience and produce creative works and events of one’s own creative choice and expression without deterrents and without the infliction of pain?  Does this right guarantee that one is able to effectively participate in political choices governing one’s life, access to free speech, possession of property rights, and the ability to seek a job on an equitable level with others?  These questions are also not addressed.



Based on my own life experiences and observations, the list that Nussbaum (2011) provides as well as the descriptions of current problems are insufficient.  While she attempts a universal application of principles, those universal principles do not take into account the disadvantages that the privileged have over political minorities and those that are economically depressed.  The information provided is almost sanitized and whitewashed to appear neutral and unbiased.  In that neutrality, a bias that ignores the disenfranchised that she hopes to enable, clearly shows.  While nothing should be taken away from the lists, additional elements should be added that explain her biases and supplement the information already present to assist a future capabilities assessment that takes ethnicity and economic conditions as well as realistic access to education into consideration. While the volume is meant to be small, perhaps further elaboration of the elements of each list would benefit future readers.


Alternatives and Additions

Nussbaum (2011) considers principles and ideas that are only available in the mainstream:  corporate capitalism, using the apparatuses in place to effect change while ignoring the biases of the laws, rules, and structures already in place.  Without considering alternatives, additional ideas, or even structural changes, each one of us desirous of evolutionary change is doomed to repeat the history that we are supposed to learn from.  To effect some of the changes that Nussbaum suggests can be accomplished with a universal basic income that guarantees a monthly living stipend for all. (Sheahen, (2012).  This allows each and every person equally, no matter their economic background (unless perhaps beyond a specific threshold of income wealth), to have enough income to have adequate (i.e. better than subsistence) shelter and diet as well as the ability to pursue education or even start a business.  Additionally, giving each and every person a tool to critically assess their own biases, desires, and evolutionary objectives to determine if there is value in remaining static or to evolve, change as they deem necessary. Basic Universal Income; giving people a self-assessment tool to evaluate their own biases in order to determine their personal bias, knowledge, and skills to determine if there is value in remaining static or that individual to evolve, change, and improve themselves on their own.


Conclusion:  Evaluations

Nussbaum (2011) gives us a framework from which to operate, a foundation that takes into account everything from living a life worth living to adequate health, shelter, and food, security from violent assault, and freedom of personal and political expression.  However, nowhere in the text does the author elaborate on these elements that make a life worth living beyond this list to indicate they are present anywhere in the world or even anywhere in the United States.  She does not indicate what needs to occur to achieve these ideals. The implication here is a general adherence to liberal democracy based on corporate capitalism in the United States that in order to achieve these goals, a reliance on the government is necessary, and it can’t be done independently.  Nowhere does she indicate the adaptation of a universal basic income to achieve these goals (discussed above, briefly). Additional analysis would extend beyond this brief paper, but Nussbaum (and others) don’t seem to take into account what has been evident for several years and abundantly clear in 2017:  The United States and the governments of several states and nations are overloaded with a bureaucracy that makes them barely functional.  The point being, why isn’t Nussbaum advocating the achievement of these goals through self-sufficiency, at least on a partial basis?  The capabilities approach is an excellent start to a dialogue, but it is incomplete.



Nussbaum, M. C. (2011). Creating capabilities. Harvard University Press.

Sheahen, A. (2012). Basic income guarantee: Your right to economic security. Springer.