Sen and Nussbaum: Agency and Capability-Expansion

Ethics and Economics (1):54-70 (2014)
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Capability approach pioneers Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum both recognize empowerment as an important aspect of human development. They seem to disagree, however, about how empowerment should be represented within the capability approach (CA). This essay is concerned with the analysis of the foundational concepts at work within Sen and Nussbaum’s CAs. Part One concerns the key concepts of empowerment at work in Sen’s CA and has three goals. 1) Clarify Sen’s various empowerment concepts. 2) Argue that Sen’s concept of Realize Agency Success is flawed. 3) Make clear that empowerment in Sen’s approach can be helpfully understood in terms of agency and capability set expansion. Part Two considers Nussbaum’s CA and the debate over whether it can account for empowerment. I conclude that not only can Nussbaum’s CA account for empowerment, but that the role of empowerment in both Sen’s and Nussbaum’s CAs can be understood in terms of agency and capability set expansion. In other words, Sen and Nussbaum actually agree about empowerment at the foundational level.


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