Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Human Flourishing

Yesterday I wrote a post about a unifying narrative for President Obama, building on what Tom Friedman said about this subject in his Sunday New York Times column. Today I want to add to this just a bit by describing in somewhat greater detail what the economist Amartya Sen and the philosopher Martha Nussbaum have called the Capabilities Approach to promoting human well being, an approach that I believe should be the basis for that unifying narrative.

In her book Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach, Nussbaum writes that she wants to provide a philosophical justification for ensuring that every person is treated as an end, not merely as a means, able to lead lives worthy of the dignity that goes with being a flourishing, fully realized human being. For her and for Professor Sen, this means that society has a responsibility to ensure that all human beings, without exception, are able to do a set of things - what they call "human functional capabilities" (ten in all) - that permit every human being, without exception, to "live really humanly" (p. 74). She goes on to say that the enumerated human capabilities "can be convincingly argued to be of central importance in any human life, whatever else the person pursues or chooses." Finally, before sharing the list, it must be emphasized that many of these capabilities emerged from the constrained experiences of women from around the world. As Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue in their new book Half the Sky , the great human rights issue of the 21st century may well be the opportunity for women everywhere to live securely and fully, without fear of violence or repression. An incredibly large number of women lack these basic rights, which has been one of the chief spurs for the development of the list of capabilities indicated below. Please note I have shortened some of these simply owing to space considerations. See pages 78-80 in Women and Human Development. Finally, I should add that although Amartya Sen has pioneered some of this thinking about capabilities, Martha Nussbaum is wholly responsible for the list below.

1. Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one's life is so reduced as to be not worth living.

2. Bodily Health. Being able to have good health, including reproductive health, to be adequately nourished, to have adequate shelter.

3. Bodily Integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; having one's bodily boundaries treated as sovereign; being secure against assault, sexual abuse and other infringements on freedom and safety.

4. Senses, Imagination, and Thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think, and reason -- and to do these things in a "truly human" way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education...Being able to search for the ultimate meaning of life in one's own way. Being able to have pleasurable experiences, and to avoid non-necessary pain.

5. Emotions. Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger.

6. Practical Reason. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's life.

7. Affiliation. Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction, to be able to imagine the situation of another and to have compassion for that situation; to have the capability for both justice and friendship.

8. Other Species. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature.

9. Play. Being able to laugh, to play, and to enjoy recreational activities.

10. Control Over One's Environment. A. Political. Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one's life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association. B.Material. Being able to hold property and having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.

1 comment:

  1. Nussbaum is a powerful voice for justice and gender equality. Thanks for being her views to your post. And, she was born in NYC!