PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Nussbaum and Amartya Sen
March 24 2014
Final Exam – Class discussion + Friday discussion sessions + readings
They argue for a different approach to measure wellbeing. Varying consequences on
Nussbaum – Aristotle’s well being: different conception of wellbeing. What it implies for
Rawls and Justice
Amartya Sen: Economist, west Bengal, studied with Rawls @ Harvard
• Influenced by the West Bengal famine.
• Famine is not caused by not having enough food but not distributed
• Disagreed with Rawls in some aspects
• Influenced by Indian Philosophy and classical economics (An Idea of Justice)
Justice and Policy
• Rawls’ theory of justice articulates an IDEAL for fairness, liberty, equality of
opportunity (access to resources/power), and reduction of poverty
o It’s a compelling ideal
o In practice, the ideal may not help to address existing injustice
Agents in the original position are deprived of the very knowledge
they need to contend with actually injustice
They don’t know about human life, and that is needed to address
injustice in our worlds
o Knowing the ideal may not be sufficient for achieving it. Set it aside and try
to achieve it.
o Sen replaces the agent in the original position with an (imperfectly)
We should look at social arrangements comparatively and
pluralistically. PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Nussbaum and Amartya Sen
• Nussbaum adopts this idea of comparative and pluralistic approach
• We should look at human societies more generally
• Should be broad enough that they should have equally just but different
approaches. Some societies are really bad! They are treated unjustly.
• NOT JUST ONE WAY TO ORGANIZE a society to be just.
Development – Justice in a development context. How just developing countries can
• Rawls assumes that the principles of justice are decided for conditions of
• Original position they are making decisions for all but they’re behind the veil of
• Many places in the world there is dire scarcity! Not have enough for everything
o They don’t have minimal decency. Is the difference principle appropriate?
What if 105 is not enough to live on?
Disability – human beings are built differently to each other. Meaning different people to
convert income into wellbeing varies
• Some of us can take a little money to turn it into happiness
• The capacity to turn income into
• Personal social and environmental factors
Nussbaum and Sen:
• Need a more nuanced measure of well being
o One that can guide policy
• Functionings and capabilities are traits of persons
Nussbaum from Aristotle: PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Nussbaum and Amartya Sen
Functionings: beings and doings of a person. There are things that they do and things
that result from them. Things that you do! Both can be good or bad.
E.g. being a philosophy student, being a cheater
E.g. doing: taking a philosophy class, cheating in a test.
They can be subtly different: not eating, starving, fasting, and dieting. (level/degree) –
different reasons. Different behaviours.
(Nussbaum and Sen’s approach) Capabilities: effective opportunities to achieve
• Taking into account personal, social and environmental factors
• Basic Capabilities: innate capabilities needed for more advanced ones. We are
o Environmental conditions to trigger etc.
o Reason, language, imaginative abilities
• Internal Capabilities: internal states sufficient for functioning.
• Combined Capabilities: Internal states combined with environmental and social
factors sufficient for functioning.
o Free speech?
Conversion Factor: the degree to which a resource can be turned into a functioning.
• How much resource needed to make one person into a sumo wrestler! 1000
steaks or 100 steaks
• Social factors play an important role
• Environmental constraint (Physical and built)
o Some cities, you can’t use a bicycle in LA compared to Amsterdam
o They created an environment; you don’t need a lot of resources to
exercise the capability.
• Each person has different profile of conversion factors
• The conversion factors to price capabilities PHIL 102 – Political Philosophy: Nussbaum and Amartya Sen
• Cognitive makeup plays a factor too. (They may need more/less resources)
• This is why principles of justice cannot simply allocate resources (p. 284)
What matters is the capability that they have. But they don’t have the environmental
• Development influences the conversion factor
• Disability: you might need another tool to function. Different
physical/psychological frames will use the resources differently
Wellbeing is measured in terms of capability and its conversion price. Measure the
2013 Human Development Index (HDI) – to measur