Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 443–455 | Cite as

Educating for Autonomy: Liberalism and Autonomy in the Capabilities Approach

  • Luara Ferracioli
  • Rosa Terlazzo


Martha Nussbaum grounds her version of the capabilities approach in political liberalism. In this paper, we argue that the capabilities approach, insofar as it genuinely values the things that persons can actually do and be, must be grounded in a hybrid account of liberalism: in order to show respect for adults, its justification must be political; in order to show respect for children, however, its implementation must include a commitment to comprehensive autonomy, one that ensures that children develop the skills necessary to make meaningful choices about whether or not to exercise their basic capabilities. Importantly, in order to show respect for parents who do not necessarily recognize autonomy as a value, we argue that the liberal state, via its system of public education, should take on the role of ensuring that all children within the state develop a sufficient degree of comprehensive autonomy.


Political liberalism Comprehensive liberalism Autonomy Children Public education 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2010 Conference of the Human Development and Capabilities Association, held in Amman, Jordan. We are grateful to participants for their comments. For helpful comments on various versions of this paper, we would also like to thank Christian Barry, Ryan Cox, Jonathan Herington, Thomas Pogge, and Scott Wisor.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universiteit van AmsterdamAmsterdamNetherlands
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, Kansas State UniversityManhattanUSA

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