Res Publica

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 157–183 | Cite as

Non-Reductionist Naturalism: Nussbaum between Aristotle and Hume

  • John M. Alexander


Martha Nussbaum proposes a universal list of human capabilities as the basis for fundamental political principles. She claims that the list, in an Aristotelian spirit, might be justified by an ongoing inquiry into valuable human functionings for the good life. Here I argue that the attractiveness of Nussbaum’s theory crucially depends on the philosophical possibility of a non-reductionist understanding of naturalism and on resolving the tensions between ethical and political aspects of the role of capabilities. Through a comparison of Nussbaum’s approach with those of Aristotle and (less familiarly) Hume, I try to show that in these alternative versions we find valuable resources for the kind of non-reductionist model which might, in line with Nussbaum’s own objectives, provide the basis for a capabilities-based critique of dominant modes of normative theorizing and their influence in public discourse.


Aristotle capabilities equality Hume justice Martha Nussbaum naturalism perfectionism Rawls social contract 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhilosophyCatholic University of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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