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Sen is not a capability theorist

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  • Antoinette BAUJARD

    (University of Lyon, UJM, GATE L-SE (UMR CNRS 5824), France)

  • Muriel GILARDONE

    (Normandie University, University of Caen Basse-Normandie, CREM (UMR CNRS 6211), France)

Abstract

According to the standard reading, Sen’s contribution to justice consists in the defense of a capability theory, i.e. of a simple switch of focus from utility to capability. This paper aims to undermine this standard reading. We claim that this capability-theory view amounts to the application of formal welfarism to capabilities: social welfare is the aggregation of individual welfares, where welfare is properly defined by capabilities. We show that this view is inconsistent with Sen’s idea of justice, because the latter requires agents to be involved in the definition of what should count for the evaluation of social states, and how it should count. The value attributed to agency in Sen’s idea of justice is such that the process of choosing better policies trumps the substantive definition of what welfare should be. We defend instead a heuristic account of the status of capability in Sen’s thought: capability was introduced to make a point against welfarism; it is an argumentative step that does not imply a definitive commitment to a capability theory. We conclude that a fruitful discussion of his alternative theory of justice requires that we relocate his main contribution: we should see it as pertaining to a theory of public reasoning, not a theory based on a specific material of justice.

Suggested Citation

  • Antoinette BAUJARD & Muriel GILARDONE, 2015. "Sen is not a capability theorist," Economics Working Paper from Condorcet Center for political Economy at CREM-CNRS 2015-02-ccr, Condorcet Center for political Economy.
  • Handle: RePEc:tut:cccrwp:2015-02-ccr
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Amartya Sen, 2008. "The Idea of Justice," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(3), pages 331-342.
    2. Antoinette Baujard & Muriel Gilardone, 2017. "Sen is not a capability theorist," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(1), pages 1-19, January.
    3. Muriel Gilardone, 2015. "Rawls's influence and counter-influence on Sen: Post-welfarism and impartiality," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(2), pages 198-235, April.
    4. Charles Blackorby & Walter Bossert & David Donaldson, 2005. "Multi-profile welfarism: A generalization," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 24(2), pages 253-267, April.
    5. Amartya Sen, 2004. "Capabilities, Lists, And Public Reason: Continuing The Conversation," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(3), pages 77-80.
    6. Alkire, Sabina, 2005. "Valuing Freedoms: Sen's Capability Approach and Poverty Reduction," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199283316.
    7. Amartya Sen, 2005. "Human Rights and Capabilities," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(2), pages 151-166.
    8. Amartya Sen, 2012. "Values and justice," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(2), pages 101-108, June.
    9. Carter, Ian, 2014. "Is The Capability Approach Paternalist?," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 30(1), pages 75-98, March.
    10. Sugden, Robert, 1993. "Welfare, Resources, and Capabilities: A Review [Inequality Reexamined]," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 31(4), pages 1947-1962, December.
    11. Mozaffar Qizilbash, 2002. "Development, Common Foes and Shared Values," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(4), pages 463-480.
    12. Muriel Gilardone, 2010. "Amartya Sen sans prisme," Cahiers d’économie politique / Papers in Political Economy, L'Harmattan, issue 58, pages 9-39.
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    20. Martha Nussbaum, 2003. "Capabilities As Fundamental Entitlements: Sen And Social Justice," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(2-3), pages 33-59.
    21. Amartya Sen, 1999. "The Possibility of Social Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(3), pages 349-378, June.
    22. Yukinori Iwata, 2014. "On the informational basis of social choice with the evaluation of opportunity sets," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 43(1), pages 153-172, June.
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    27. Fabienne Peter, 2003. "Gender And The Foundations Of Social Choice: The Role Of Situated Agency," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(2-3), pages 13-32.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Séverine Deneulin and Jhonatan Clausen, 2018. "Collective Choice and Social Welfare by Amartya Sen:A Review Essay with Reference to Development in Peru," OPHI Working Papers ophiwp113.pdf, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
    2. Antoinette Baujard & Muriel Gilardone, 2017. "Sen is not a capability theorist," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(1), pages 1-19, January.
    3. Antoinette Baujard & Muriel Gilardone, 2016. "Positional views as the cornerstone of Sen’s idea of justice," Post-Print halshs-01366695, HAL.
    4. Muriel Gilardone, 2018. "The influence of Sen’s applied economics on his “social choice” approach to justice: agency at the core of public action to remove injustice," Economics Working Paper from Condorcet Center for political Economy at CREM-CNRS 2018-01-ccr, Condorcet Center for political Economy.
    5. Muriel Gilardone, 2019. "3 enfants, 1 flûte : le choix des principes de justice chez Amartya Sen," Post-Print halshs-02274935, HAL.
    6. Antoinette Baujard & Adrien Lutz, 2018. "The capacity to confuse: rescuing the Saint-Simonian notion of ability from modern capability theories of social justice," Working Papers halshs-01963252, HAL.
    7. Muriel Gilardone, 2018. "3 enfants, 1 flûte : le choix des principes de justice chez Amartya Sen," Working Papers halshs-02274935, HAL.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Capability; capability theory; welfarism; justice; operationalization; paternalism; agency; public reasoning;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D79 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Other
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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