Philosophy Week 14

Take a close look at Nussbaum’s list of capabilities. Then read the descriptions of the list of global issues at the United Nations site (see the second reading assignment for this week). Then try and reflect on how some global issue (or two) might be helpfully understood in terms of Nussbaum’s list. For example, when we talk about children as a global issue we talk about whether every child has the right to health, education and protection. What capabilities from Nussbaum’s list can help us think about securing these rights? How might certain capabilities on the list help us criticize certain practices and institutions for not giving children what they need? Just see what you can do to use Nussbaum’s insights to shed some light on some global issue you think is important.


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Global Ethics: Capabilities Approach



What is Amartya Sen’s understanding of capabilities?


How does Martha Nussbaum expand on Sen’s vision of capabilities? Here you should know how she (1) appeals to human nature to offer an objective ground for evaluating capabilities thus claiming to overcome the threat of moral relativism found in Sen’s account and (2) does so in a way that brings out the specifically human nature of certain capabilities.

Know that one of Nussbaum’s justifications for the capabilities approach appeals to intuitions. As it says in the reading, “Nussbaum contends that the theory that best represents our intuitions is the capabilities approach. The intuition that grounds the capabilities, according to Nussbaum, is the intuition of a dignified human life whereby people have the capability to pursue their conception of the good in cooperation with others.”

Know that another way Nussbaum justifies the capabilities approach is by employing a broadly Kantian approach which “claims that one consults the desires or preferences of another who is impacted by the outcome of the decision at hand.” These desires are not just any desires but “informed desires” constructed by treating people with dignity.

Know Nussbaum’s list of 10 central capabilities and know that they are, on the one hand, “thick” enough to provide a substantial and objective conception of the

human good as flourishing and, on the other hand, vague enough to allow for this form of the good to take on a variety of forms. This variety is desired when we are trying to do global ethics in ways that preserves both an objective ground for moral evaluation and diversity.

Know how the capabilities approach relates to virtue ethics, Kantian deontology, rights, and consequentialism. You will see an overview of these theoretical approaches in the reading.

What does it mean to say that the capabilities approach is illerbal and neo-colonial?

How can the capabilities approach be employed when it comes to the environment and people’s disabilities?

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