Recovering Nussbaum's Aristotelian roots
International Journal of Social Economics
The paper examines the relationship between Creating Capabilities and political liberalism. It argues that the reality of climate change calls for the capabilities approach to be more rooted in a relational anthropology which the Aristotelian ethical tradition is more akin to. It discusses how traces of this ethical tradition can be found in Nussbaum's capabilities approach itself: affiliation as an architectonic capability leads to the common good being the end of political action, and
... action, and practical reason as an architectonic capability leads to reasoning being structured by concerns for the common good. The paper concludes by suggesting some practical implications of an Aristotelian version of the capabilities approach. The capabilities approach Creating Capabilities aims at presenting the capabilities approach to a non-academic audience. The capability approach was initially framed by Amartya Sen to provide an alternative to the utility assessment of wellbeing which had prevailed in economics. Wellbeing, he argued, is best assessed not in the utility space but capability space, that is, in the freedom people have to do or be what they have reason to value (Sen, 1992). Whereas Sen's capability approach is an evaluative space for assessing states of affairs and comparing them (Sen, 2009), Nussbaum's version of the capability approach offers a stronger programme for political action. Whereas Sen situates the evaluation space in the 'capabilities people have reason to choose and value' and leaves it to public debate to specify valuable capabilities (Sen, 2004), Nussbaum proposes that state of affairs be assessed on the basis of a list of ten central human capabilities, for public reasoning processes are not immune from power abuse and people may come to value certain 'sets of beings and doings' (capabilities) which may be harmful to them. The central human capabilities are: to live a life of normal length; to have bodily health; to have bodily integrity; to think and reason (this includes guarantees of freedom of expression); to express emotions; to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's life; to engage in social interaction and have the social bases of self-respect; to live with concern for the natural environment; to laugh and play; to control one's environment (this for helpful comments on an earlier draft.