The capability approach


The capability approach to a person’s advantage is concerned with evaluating it in terms of his or her actual ability to achieve various valuable functionings* a part of living

It differs from other approaches using other informational focuses, for example:

  • personal utility
  • absolute or relative opulence
  • assessments of negative freedoms
  • comparisons of means of freedom
  • comparisons of resource holdings as a basis of just equality

The capability approach is concerned primarily with the identification of value-objects, and sees the evaluative space in terms of functionings and capabilities to function (…) Choices have to be faced in the delineation of the relevant functionings. The format always permits additional ‘achievements’ to be defined and included (…) There is no escape from the problem of evaluation in selecting a class of functionings in the description and appraisal of capabilities (…) (1) What are the objects of value? (2) How
valuable are the respective objects? the identification of the objects of value is
substantively the primary exercise which makes it possible to pursue the second question (…) The identification of the objects of value specifies what may be called an evaluative space (…) The selection of the evaluative space has a good deal of cutting power on its own, both because of what it includes as potentially valuable and because of what it excludes (…) The freedom to lead different types of life is reflected in the person’s capability set.  The capability of a person depends on a variety of factors, including personal characteristics and social arrangements. A full accounting of individual freedom must, of course, go beyond the capabilities of personal living and pay attention to the person’s other objectives, but human capabilities constitute an important part of individual freedom (…) We can make a fourfold classification of points of evaluative interest in assessing human advantage, based on two different distinctions. One distinction is between (1.1) the promotion of the person’s well-being, and (1.2) the pursuit of the person’s overall agency goals (…) The second distinction is between (2.1) achievement, and (2.2) the freedom to achieve (…) The assessment of each of these four types of benefit involves an evaluative exercise, but they are not the same evaluative exercise (…0 The four categories of intrapersonal assessment and interpersonal comparison that follow from these two distinctions (namely, well-being achievement, well-being freedom, agency achievement, and agency freedom) are related to each other, but are not identical

*functionings represent parts of the state of a person–in particular the various things that he or she manages to do or be in leading a life. The capability of a person reflects the alternative combinations of functionings the person can achieve, and from which he or she can choose one collections

Excerpts from Amartyr Sen’s Capability and Well‐Being, full paper available here

Image available here

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