Capability means what a person can do and be, i.e., that person’s substantial freedom. To live a flourishing life, we need not only formal freedoms declared and stipulated on paper but also substantial ones that we can enjoy only through decent social arrangements. Although people’s ways of life vary across boundaries, everyone lives a life in need of this freedom to act as an agent. According to Amartya Sen, the pioneer of the concept capability, an agent is “someone who acts and brings about change, and whose achievements can be judged in terms of her own values and objectives, whether or not we assess them in terms of some external criteria as well” (Sen 1999: 19). In this sense, capability is a universally applicable concept.
Equality of What?
The term capability first drew the attention of legal and social philosophers in 1979 when Sen gave the Tanner Lecture on Human Values, titled “Equality of What?” at Stanford University; this was subsequently published as an...
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