Capabilities, the self, and well-being: a research in psycho-economics
Sen’s capability approach to the assessment of individual well-being and welfare policies, and to the search for theoretical foundations of a paradigm of human development, is challenged by a puzzling fact. In rich countries where material wealth and liberties are at high levels, a significant fraction of the population exhibit malaise in the form of depression, anxiety, addiction, conflicts within the family and among adolescent peers. This evidence suggests that consideration should be made of an additional functioning which is neglected by the capability approach: that of the mind in humans, i.e. the self. This addition is crucial because the self also evaluates well-being, and regulates the capability of choosing. Contributions from psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry point out that the self is a construct built up by accumulating beliefs based on new and recalled information as a largely non-conscious process. This activity is self-serving, and may inflate or deflate the self-image, thus impairing the functioning of the self in its relation with the world. This problem seems to begin when primary close relationships thwart the feeling of the non-conscious self during infancy, although material care may be guaranteed. Policy implications for the educational and mental health system are briefly drawn.
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