Capabilities and Social Justice
The Political Philosophy of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum
The capability approach to social justice construes a person's well-being in terms of the substantive freedoms people value. John Alexander engages with the rapidly growing body of literature on the capability approach in economics, inequality, poverty measurement and development studies. Critically assessing Sen and Nussbaum's work in normative economics, social ethics and political philosophy, Alexander develops a unified vision of the capability approach embodying the ideal of creating the greatest possible condition for the realization of basic capabilities for all. He then assesses this vision as a political theory arguing that capabilities are necessary but not sufficient for overcoming conditions of domination. The book calls for a more intimate relationship between individual liberty and the freedom of the political community as a whole.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction; Part I The Capability Approach in Perspective: Sen's critique of utilitarianism; Rethinking Rawlsian justice; Towards a capability theory of justice. Part II Capabilities, Morality and Politics: The theory of broad consequentialism; The question of individual responsibility; Aristotle and Nussbaum's hybrid theory of capabilities; Which freedom? What sort of public reasoning?; Bibliography; Index.
Dr John M. Alexander is Research Fellow at the Centre for Economics and Ethics at the Institute of Philosophy, University of Leuven, Belgium. He also teaches Philosophy and Business Ethics at Loyola Institute of Business Administration, Loyola College (University of Madras), Chennai, India.
'This is probably the best introduction to the capability approach in social sciences ever written. Emphasis is laid on the philosophical background of the capability approach. The author compares the theories of Sen and Nussbaum to welfarism, Rawlsian and rights-based approaches. The merits and weaknesses of consequentialist and deontological versions are clearly explained. Capability theorists will be particularly interested in John Alexander's argument that the capability approach is closer to republicanism than to mainstream liberalism. Throughout the text, the practical relevance of philosophical debates for development issues is made clear. Arguments are carefully devised in a highly readable text.' Antoon Vandevelde, University of Leuven, Belgium and editor of Gifts and Interests, Peeters, 2000. 'John Alexander's work is a very good study of one of the leading approaches to social justice in contemporary political theory. It shows a very strong grasp of the authors discussed and is completely up-to-date on the relevant literature. It is very well written - very clear throughout, well-structured, and easy to follow. The lines of argument in the work are always on the mark and are challenging and original. As a whole, the book makes an important contribution to the literature on social justice and is particularly strong on bringing together traditions that are often seen as rivals.' John Baker, University College Dublin, Ireland and author of Arguing for Equality, Verso, 1987 and co-author of Equality: From Theory to Action, Palgrave, 2004. 'This is a very helpful discussion of the main issues connected with the capability approach to social justice associated with Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. John Alexander is very well versed in recent discussions of social justice and in addition to giving a lucid account of the capability approach brings it into fruitful dialogue with the main strands of that recent discussion. He writes with intelligence and luc