On Nussbaum's Theory of Justice and Animal Capabilities: A Confucian Evaluation and Response
(Shui-chuen Lee)
Employing Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to justice, Martha C. Nussbaum gives a critique of Rawls’s theory of justice as well as some critical comments on Peter Singer’s theory of animal welfare and Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights. Nussbaum establishes the claim that capabilities, at least for those important for an animal to retain a sense of dignity of life, are the basic entitlements of animal not to be violated without good reasons. She refutes the traditional distinction of positive and negative duties towards others including other species and argues that humans have the responsibility to provide protection for the wellbeing of animals. She develops a new theory of justice for animals in terms of capabilities as flourishing and make up a list of capabilities that a just treatment of animal as a life worthy of dignity. Nussbaum’s approach comes very close to Confucianism. This paper will give a critical evaluation and comparison of the two approaches. In this paper I espouse one of the basic moral principle in Confucian ethics as a way to treating others and animals as well so as to let their inborn talents manifest to the utmost. The talents include both natural and moral talents. It will work as a Confucian principle of justice for human society. It is extended here to encompass the basic needs of animal as well as some possibilities of moral or ethical relationship for some higher animals. The Confucian principle is derived from Confucius idea of ren and has both moral and ontological implications. Some critical observations of Nussbaum’s emphasis on the political aspect of justice of animal capabilities are drawn. In contras to Nussbaum’s employment of compassion in support of her thesis, a justification of the human-animal relation is offered in terms of the kind of trans-species empathy implied in the heart/mind of ren. A number of critical observations in human-animal relation are drawn.



Department of Religious Studies, Hsuan Chuang University

Life Conservationist Association

HongShi Buddhist Cultural and Educational Foundation


Ministry of Science and Technology,Republic of China

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, R.O.C.

Ministry of Education, R.O.C.

Hsuan Chuang University


Hsuan Chuang University Research Center For Applied Ethics

Buddhist HongShi College