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8 - Taking Multidimensionality Seriously

Capabilities, Rawls’s Primary Goods and Guiding Action

from Part I - Historical Antecedents and Philosophical Debates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2020

Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti
University of Pavia
Siddiqur Osmani
Ulster University
Mozaffar Qizilbash
University of York
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This essay seeks to get beyond the narrow debate between two candidate grounds for indexing advantage in accounts of justice: the Rawlsian primary goods of income and wealth and capability or capabilities. Rawls is more deeply committed to multidimensionality than this debate has tended to recognize. Commitment to multidimensionality is shallow if each of the multiple dimensions is seen as contributory to something sought only for its own sake that can be adequately represented along a single dimension, such as welfare or well-being as they are sometimes conceived. To avoid treating multidimensionality shallowly — whether within the domain of justice or outside it — defenders of appealing to capabilities would do well to follow Rawls in recognizing a division of moral labour among multiple principles, with the different principles serving different social values and addressing different sets of social institutions. This approach offers an attractive and flexible alternative to single-principle outcome-ranking approaches. Along the way, in reference to the older debates, it is shown that there is, for Rawls, no single currency of justice and that he has serious reasons, grounded in respect for the fact of pluralism, to avoid resting too much theoretical weight on the idea of well-being.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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