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Capabilities versus Resources

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image of Journal of Moral Philosophy

What is the correct metric of distributive justice? Proponents of the capability approach claim that distributive metrics should be articulated in terms of individuals’ effective abilities to achieve important and worthwhile goals. Defenders of resourcism, by contrast, maintain that metrics should instead focus on the distribution of external resources. This debate is now more than three decades old, and it has produced a vast and still growing literature. The present paper aims to provide a fresh perspective on this protracted debate. It does so by defending capability metrics while also (1) criticizing the two most common arguments used to support them, and (2) sympathetically reconstructing the arguments for resourcism. I ultimately argue that while sweeping defenses of the capability approach do not succeed, capability theorists can indeed vindicate the justice-relevance of certain capabilities while still accommodating what is plausible in resourcism.

Affiliations: 1: University of Wisconsin-Madison,


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