Nussbaum, M. (2006). Frontiers of justice: Belknap Press.
Nussbaum's aim in Frontiers of Justice is to build upon John Rawls' Social Contract Theory (SCT). Social Contract Theory originated during the Enlightenment as a hypothesis to explain how and why humans come together to form a society. In a hypothetical State of Nature, human beings of close to equal power, with similar interests and limited resources, come together to create a partnership in which both parties are mutually benefited and in which both parties give up some rights against each other via a Social Contract. This Social Contract allows human beings to live a more peaceful life, and thus is beneficial. In Frontiers of Justice, Nussbaum hopes to address three unsolved problems of Rawl's SCT relating to three groups: People with Disabilities, Developing Nations and Nonhuman Animals. Nussbaum does not set out to reject SCT theory or Rawls' account of SCT, or provide a complete account of social justice; rather her Capabilities Approach is an "account of minimal core social entitlements". (p. 75) The cornerstone of Nussbaum's capabilities approach is captured in this quote, "The basic intuitive idea of my version of capabilities approach is that we begin with a conception of the dignity of the human being, and of a life that is worthy of that dignity--a life that has available in it "truly human functioning," in the sense described by Marx in his 1855 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts...Marx speaks of the human being as a being "in need of totality of human life-activities," and the approach also takes its bearing from this idea, insisting that the capabilities to which all citizens are entitled are many and not one, and are opportunities for activity, not simply quantities of resources." (p. 74). Nussbaum provides a list of entitlements that describes ten Central Human Capabilities. This list is to be used by governments/societies as a guide when planning and evaluating citizen rights. Nussbaum believes that a society should set up parameters that ensure truly human functioning in which the society should strive to obtain for all of its citizens and that these rights cannot be traded off for each other. Additionally, the Capabilities should not be imposed on anyone--ensuring that all citizens have a choice in their functioning.
As a student of Occupational Science, an interdisciplinary "academic discipline that generates knowledge about the impact of daily activities on the health of individuals, communities, nations and the world", I really appreciate Nussbaum's insistence that humans have the right to enjoy full functioning in life-activities, or Occupations-" everyday, often taken-for-granted, activity" that "promote(s) health, well-being and quality of life throughout the lifespan". (See USC Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy website for quotes cited above and more information[...].) After all, all humans are occupational beings and participation in Occupations is a key component of developing a rich quality of life. Nussbaum deserves applause for placing such importance on full participation in Occupations for all Occupational Beings. When considering Nussbaum's concern for people with disabilities and nations with lower economic capital through an Occupational Science lens, the concepts of Occupational Injustice and Occupational Deprivation are foregrounded.
People with disabilities often are not included in the designing principles stage in Rawls' SCT (or any other SCT for that matter) even though people with disabilities live in the same society in which these designing principles of justice are carried out. Consequently, social and physical constructions are not built in an inclusive manner (such as Universal Design- a concept supported and utilized by Occupational Therapists and Occupational Scientists that encourages the construction of buildings that are accessible to all Occupational beings). As a result, people with disabilities experience Occupational Deprivation and Occupational Injustice as they are excluded from many rights and capabilities that their non-disabled counterparts enjoy. Additionally, they are made and thought of, as living off of the practical arrangements, i.e. charity, of the citizens who designed the non-inclusive principles of justice. This omission of people with disabilities in the designing stage of society reduces the quality of life for people with disabilities as their choice of whether or not to take part in various occupations is limited.
In Rawls' SCT the notion of mutual advantage between parties making a contract excludes certain less advantaged groups. Nussbaum's group of concern, poor nations with less monetary capital, are excluded from participating in a contract with wealthier nations, thereby also excluding them from taking part in designing principles of justice and establishing a partnership with wealthier nations who could aid them. Probably more accurately (to better focus the onus of this situation), the desire for mutual advantage between nations results in wealthier nations not extending as much assistance to less well-off nations as they would if they were in a contract together. This lack of assistance results in poorer nations often experiencing Occupational Injustice. People living in poverty frequently do not have the means to fully participate in occupation--both life sustaining occupations and occupations in which a sense of joy and meaning are derived. Furthermore, Nussbaum finds traditional measurements of a nation's quality of life, a nation's GNP, troubling. Only using one measure, an economic measure at that, cannot holistically capture an individual's or nation's quality of life. Viewing occupations in a holistic manner is at the heart of Occupational Science. According to Nussbaum, a better measure for assessing quality of life is whether an individual or nation can fully participate in chosen occupations that are embedded within Nussbaum's ten capabilities.
Overall, Nussbaum's Frontiers of Justice is quite innovative, if not also Utopian. I kept thinking, "If only the world really could be like this." Even if Nussbaum's ideas are not currently a reality, her book gives us a good starting point towards achieving a more just society. A just society where all Occupational Beings can fully participate in their chosen occupations--living deep and meaningful lives.