Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis



First Advisor

Christopher Tollefson


In the first full chapter of her book Frontiers of Justice, Martha C. Nussbaum enumerates three primary participatory attributes, and three corresponding expectations, of parties to the social contract (Nussbam 2006). Nussbaum situates these interests in a broad contractarian "tradition," primarily identified with, and advocated by, the classical liberal theorists John Locke and Immanuel Kant, but also importantly influenced by thinkers ranging from Thomas Hobbes and David Hume to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Nussbam 2006, 25-35). Nussbaum further defines and delineates this social contract tradition by citing the recent developments and refinements of John Rawls. She makes the case that classical liberalism is fundamentally concerned with freedom, equality and independence. These are the attributes that are "particularly salient for the tradition" and, according to Nussbaum, they remain "prominent even when a thinker does not offer a systematic account of the Circumstances of Justice as does Rawls" (Nussbam 2006, 28)

These three hallmarks of classical liberalism, freedom, equality and independence, offer an enlightening taxonomy for examination of the philosophical underpinnings of contemporary advocacy of School Choice, a range of public policies calling for varying degrees of common financial support of primary and secondary education directed, or importantly guided, by the separate decisions of individual parents within the framework of both public and privately administered instructional settings for their children (Enlow et al. 2006, 1). Broadly, contemporary liberals stress the pursuit of equality while their conservatives peers place greatest esteem on freedom in articulating their positions.

In the advocacy and defense of School Choice both liberal advocates and conservative supporters are right: school choice is better on a liberty front, and better on an equality front, than the more prevalent government-dominated system of funding and instruction they seek to displace or modify in the United States. Moreover, both liberal and conservative proponents of School Choice demonstrate a fundamental concern for independence, the third defining consideration cited by Nussbaum, and make a persuasive argument that school choice is better suited to address this as well. Finally, the proponents of heightened parental choice in education provide thoughtful and convincing replies to those critics who argue against school choice as a feasible, effective and efficient reform to primary and secondary education.