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10 - Selecting a List

The Capability Approach’s Achilles Heel

from Part I - Historical Antecedents and Philosophical Debates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2020

Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti
University of Pavia
Siddiqur Osmani
Ulster University
Mozaffar Qizilbash
University of York
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Capability theorists disagree on how to determine, for normative purposes, which capabilities are to be treated as basic, with Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen taking opposite views. This chapter will scrutinize this list debate. It has two aims. First, it argues that some distinction between basic and non-basic capabilities is an inherent commitment of capability theories, but that there are many more options for responding to the capability-selection problem than a procedure of democratic deliberation (Sen) or a philosophical criterion of neo-Aristotelian flourishing (Nussbaum). A whole range of possible procedures and philosophical criteria could be combined with the capability metric. Second, it responds to a forceful challenge raised by Ian Carter, who argues that capability theorists should not endorse the selection of specific capabilities as basic (either democratically or philosophically) at all. In his view, this will always have paternalistic implications; instead he proposes that the maximization of ‘capability as such’ should be the goal. In response, I distinguish well-being-based and autonomy-based capability theories, and argue that while Carter’s challenge is valid against the former, it fails against the latter.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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