Ethical Perspectives

March 2016

The Right to Love during Childhood and the Capability Approach. Beyond the Liao/Cowden Debate

  • Mar Cabezas

Over the last decade, the debate on whether or not children have a right to be loved has generated broad discussion involving different ideas on love and care. The present contribution aims to surpass the polarised debate on the right to love and to enrich it by addressing the question from Martha Nussbaum’s version of the Capability Approach. In order to accomplish this, I will start by sketching the central points of Mathew Liao (2006) and Mhairi Cowden (2012). I will suggest that the main challenge lies in the lack of precision regarding the human affective dimension. Secondly, I will defend the Capability Approach as a perspective that, firstly, complements the discourse of rights and, secondly, has already introduced love as a basic human capability. Thus, I will explore what this right may imply towards children. Concretely, I will focus on the so-called emotional capability highlighted by Nussbaum (2011). However, in the interest of a functional theory of social justice, I will claim that a vague formulation of the right to be loved is not enough. In my view, the right to love and be loved can be translated into a right to be well-loved and to love well. Thus, I will focus on how children have a right to be well-loved, meaning they have a right to be provided with healthy secure attachment, positive self-esteem and well-tuned emotional and social competences. Finally, I will advocate the recognition of a right to love well and to be well-loved as a matter of social justice for children. In order to do so, I will try to (i) show how it fulfils the criteria of objectivity and social changeability, and (ii) suggest some cost-effective pathways that would derive from it.

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To  Ethical Perspectives 1/2016