Abstract

This paper distills arguments by Indigenous public intellectual Noel Pearson in support of an “uplift” agenda for remote Australian Aboriginal communities suffering corrosive disadvantage and intergenerational dysfunction. Pearson draws on Amartya Sen while prioritizing personal responsibility, and attempts a synthesis of liberalism, social democracy, and capabilities building. The present paper also draws on Martha Nussbaum’s and Rutger Claassen’s capabilities approaches, with points of resonance and/or agreement with Pearson’s arguments highlighted. Under a charitable reading, Pearson’s position is defensible against prevailing criticisms, including the criticism that his responsibility emphasis leads him to misunderstand and misapply Sen’s capabilities theory, and that his policies are illiberally perfectionist and paternalistic, ultimately assimilationist, and in breach of Kant’s humanity principle.

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