A hermeneutic of Amartya Sen's concept of capability
Herrera Rendon Teresa
Purpose – Sen's notion of capability is often referred to by its standard definition “the various combinations of beings and doings that a person can achieve and value”. But do economists truly understand all what is meant by it? The concepts of agency as well as the notion of capability do not only refer to economics, but also to a rich philosophical tradition of thought. The purpose of this paper is thus to propose a philosophical hermeneutic of the concept of capability. Design/methodology/approach – The notion of capability has been heavily linked first to Aristotle and then to Libertarianism (Nussbaum), but it also have been referred to Marx and recently to Kant (Crocker). It is, in fact, a matter of interpretation, for Sen does not exclusively ground the notion of capability into one or another tradition of thought. The paper proposes to find in Hannah Arendt and Paul Ricoeur some insights to understand the concept of capability. Findings – The paper hints to a shift by not only measuring capabilities but also directly agency, thought of as the inter-temporal sphere of effective freedom one as reasons to value. The inclusion of time is precisely what compels us to search for the bearer of capabilities; for the person is the only point that gives and achieve continuity into the constant changes occurring both to the context and to the personal valuation of the capability set. Originality/value – The hermeneutic gives to the concept of capability an ethical coherence through time it usually lacks both in Sen and in Nussbaum. The paper should be of interest for philosophers and social scientists eager to work or apply the capability approach throughout time.
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