The importance of equal respect: What the capabilities approach can and should learn from human rights law

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Martha Nussbaum has argued for the superiority of her capabilities approach over the language of human rights. In this article it is argued that the capabilities approach is incapable of justifying something crucially important expressed in international human rights law: the requirement that every government treat all people as having equal status. Nussbaum has recently grappled with the role of equality within her approach, but has failed to offer a satisfactory explanation of its importance. The reason is that the value and importance of equal status cannot be fully articulated in the language of capabilities alone. While most philosophical conceptions of human rights also fail to incorporate the importance of equal respect, the limitations of the capability approach are more serious. For the purposes of specifying the duties of governments, capabilities are not the only things that matter. (c) 2014 Political Studies Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-400
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • human rights
  • capabilities
  • equal respect

Cite this