Martha Nussbaum sets out in “Frontiers of Justice” to challenge the Social Contract tradition, the current paradigm in political philosophy insofar as it relates to theories of justice, by defending her own approach which she refers to as the “capabilities approach.” She begins by describing the historical development of the Social Contract tradition, focusing on certain writings of philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, and most recently, John Rawls.
After briefly describing how the Social Contract tradition has come to exist in its contemporary form following the influences of John Rawls, Nussbaum levels some very strong criticisms against this philosophical tradition. In particular Nussbaum focuses on how proponents of the Social Contract tradition have (not) responded to the needs and interests of disabled individuals, the global community/nationality, and non-human species.
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A Statement of Values — Proponents versus Opponents
Collectively, the proponents of physician assisted suicide value personal autonomy and responsibility, the quality of life, and compassion towards others. Proponents of physician assisted suicide feel that by being allowed to choose between life and death as a personal and medical decision, patients are able to exercise personal autonomy, a freedom that they take to be fundamental to the nature of humanity. This autonomy ties directly into their perceptions about quality of life, in that some view life as undesirable or lackluster if they are not able to enjoy activities, events, and relationships that they previously did due to terminal or incurable medical conditions. They do not view life as inherently valuable and worth living, but derive life’s value from its pragmatic and functional elements. When the level and intensity of physical and mental suffering crosses a certain threshold, these proponents value the actions of those who will show compassion and act in accordance with their final wishes. Thus, proponents of physician assisted suicide feel obligated to protect the personal rights of patients as well as to ensure that they are being treated with compassion to alleviate their pain and suffering. Any events or legislation that interfere with those conditions are intolerable.
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