Public Reason: Vol. 7, No. 1-2, 2015
Sen’s Perfectionist ‘Reason To Value’
Tulsa Jansson

Amartya Sen, the initiator of the Capability Approach, rejects perfectionism and the idea that theorists can, or ought to, predefine what capabilities we have reason to value. Instead he insists that the route to social justice stay true to the liberal ideal of value pluralism and human diversity and demands a content-neutral procedure of reflective scrutiny. This paper investigates the theoretical underpinnings assumed in such a procedural account. Can it avoid perfectionistic assumptions? I think it cannot for two reasons. First, it is clear that a deliberative process is taken to be valuable without it being a product of such a process. It is thus taken to be a priori valuable. Consequently, the capabilities that enable citizens to successfully partake in such a process are taken to be what we have reason to value. Second, I argue, Sen’s procedural approach is primarily aimed at enhancing freedom understood as personal autonomy. I then ask if Sen successfully can deflect perfectionistic allegations by referring to a formal and content-neutral account of autonomy. Again, I conclude he cannot. This suggests that Sen’s rejection of perfectionism is untenable.

Key words: perfectionism, anti-perfectionism, personal autonomy, social justice, Capability Approach.


Jansson, Tulsa. 2015. Sen’s Perfectionist ‘Reason To Value’. Public Reason 7 (1-2): 67-80.