Economics and Philosophy 32 (1):51-73 (2016)

Jessica Begon
Durham University
The capability approach was developed as a response to the ‘equality of what?’ question, which asks what the metric of equality should be. The alternative answers are, broadly, welfare, resources or capabilities. G.A. Cohen has raised influential criticisms of this last response. He suggests that the capability approach’s focus on individuals’ freedom – their capability to control their own lives – renders its view of well-being excessively ‘athletic’, ignoring benefits achieved passively, without the active involvement of the benefitted individual. However, positing ‘capabilities’ as the appropriate metric of distributive justice need not commit capability theorists to a comprehensive account of well-being, and so not to the athletic conception Cohen ascribes to them. Their aim can, instead, be to delineate legitimate government action and guide egalitarian public policy. Capabilities, in this context, are not just components of individual well-being; they must also be the appropriate goal of just distributive policies. When understood in this way, as a guide to policy, I will argue that the capability approach’s focus on ‘athletic’ individual freedom and control is justified: in the public domain, it is important not just that individuals receive ‘benefits’, but that they participate in their achievement.
Keywords Capability approach  Autonomy  Well-being  Freedom  G.A. Cohen
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DOI 10.1017/s0266267115000267
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References found in this work BETA

The Idea of Justice.Amartya Kumar Sen - 2009 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
What is the Point of Equality.Elizabeth Anderson - 1999 - Ethics 109 (2):287-337.
Liberalism Without Perfection.Jonathan Quong - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
Inequality Reexamined.Amartya Kumar Sen - 1927 - Oxford University Press UK.

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Citations of this work BETA

Disability: A Justice-Based Account.Jessica Begon - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (3):935-962.
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