Social Justice and Capabilities

In the field of welfare economics, Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum agree that achieving socially just societies is more complex than, for example, just improving a country’s Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDP).

They argue that some countries may have a relatively high GDP per capita, but its citizens will not all have an equally prosperous and comfortable life or the capacity to access resources, opportunities and life-affirming experiences that could make their lives worthwhile.

The Capabilities Approach seeks to better understand social inequalities within and between places.

Nussbaum argues that a ‘capability’ can be interpreted as a ‘substantial opportunity’ and she asks ‘what should countries be doing in order to enable their citizens to live a dignified life in co-operation with others?’

Whilst Sen is reluctant to specify any universal capabilities, Nussbaum identifies 10 capabilities that she feels are fundamental to enabling people to live ‘a dignified life’ and that support the development of more socially just (although not necessarily equal) societies. 



Click on the Wikipedia image to find out more about the 10 Capabilities:

Listen to Martha Nussbaum talking about the capabilities approach and justice here:

  1. Introduction to Capabilities: 09.11-15.19
  2. The main Concepts in the capabilities approach: 15.25-21.57
  3. Are all Capabilities of Equal Importance? 30.27-33.08
  4. How do the Arts create Capabilities? 37.24-41.48

Or you can follow the full discussion and the Q and A that followed: