The Capabilities Approach and Environmental Sustainability: The Case for Functioning Constraints

Environmental Values 24 (3):367-389 (2015)
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The capabilities approach of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum has become an influential viewpoint for addressing issues of social justice and human de- velopment. It has not yet, however, given adequate theoretical consideration to the requirements of environmental sustainability. Sen has focussed on the instrumental importance of human development for achieving sustainability, but has failed to consider the limits of this account, especially with respect to consumption-reduction. Nussbaum has criticised constraining material consumption for its paternalistic prescription of one particular conception of the good life, without considering it as an imperative of justice. We discuss two possible extensions of the capabilities approach. First, the concept of ca- pability ceilings contains several attractive elements, but it also suffers from some shortcomings. Therefore, second, we advocate constraining people’s combinations of functionings in accordance with a personal budget which con- sists of a fair share of environmental resources.



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Author Profiles

Wouter Peeters
University of Birmingham
Sigrid Sterckx
University of Ghent

References found in this work

The idea of justice.Amartya Sen - 2009 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Political Liberalism: Expanded Edition.John Rawls - 2005 - Columbia University Press.

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