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The Capabilities Approach added to the idea list

This is the 3rd idea I’ve added to the list of Ideas I’m Mulling. I have been kind of obsessed with Martha Nussbaum’s work ever since reading Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. If you enjoyed The Good Place but felt like it didn’t really fully address the questions it very creatively and entertainingly poised around a truly just moral philosophy, I recommend this book and her work. I’m currently making my way through Frontiers of Justice and it seems like a much more thorough, and dense, exploration of the the approach she has designed, and feel like integrating some of these ideas into my codex will vastly improve its overall structure and value.

Every moral philosophy has to begin with an axiom or two. For example utilitarianism centers around the value of the greatest good to the greatest number of people, and social contract theory centers around the value of personal power and conscience. The capabilities approach centers around the concept of human dignity and on the idea that individuals should have the freedom to explore different possibilities. A capability is a blend of belief and action: it’s possible to believe you have a capability even if you don’t, and it’s possible to believe you don’t have a capability even if you do. In the context of this moral philosophy, it’s necessary to both believe and to actually have the capability in order for it to count. It’s nuanced, and there are a lot of ways to misinterpret or to strawman flaws for this approach, so I won’t attempt to describe or defend it entirely here. Read the books!

In the new section of Ideas I’m Mulling, I’ve listed the 12 or so capabilities that Nussbaum has identified as a starting point from which to explore the question: “What does a life deserving of human dignity deserve?”

As I work through Frontiers of Justice, and think about ways to integrate this idea into the codex, I will probably iterate on this list and try to come up with my own draft that maps closest to my own personal beliefs.

I also added an entry for blagenflorble to the Ideas I’m Mulling document, because I want to be able to reference it in relation to the other ideas, and I feel like the idea itself will continue to evolve as I circle around it.

I’m starting to think of these entries as release notes for changes to a text file. Probably more for myself than for anyone else, but that’s okay. Putting unpolished, rambly shit on the internet used to be the norm, and now it feels kind of transgressive. 😈

See the idea list as it was when this article was published, and as it is now.



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Buster Benson

Buster Benson


Product at @Medium. Author of “Why Are We Yelling? The Art of Productive Disagreement”. Builder of