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Sen and Nussbaum argue that a given capability, say bodily health, can be realized in different ways. The specific way a capability is realized is called its functioning. Resources (personal, social, and natural) that help turn capabilities into functionings are called conversion factors. A bicycle is a physical conversion factor that, under favorable conditions such as roads with decent surfaces, can turn the capability of bodily integrity into movement from home to work.

The Capabilities Approach changes the way we view developing communities and their members, replacing the view of developing communities as beset with needs and deficiencies with the view that they are repositories of valuable capabilities. Humans should strive to shape and reshape the surrounding socio-technical system to bring about the exercise and expression of fundamental human capacities. According to Nussbaum, capabilities answer the question, “What is this person able to do or be?”

The Capabilities Approach, thus, adds depth to appropriate technology by providing criteria for choice; a technology derives its “appropriateness” from how it resonates with basic human capabilities and more specifically by whether it provides “conversion factors” that transforms basic capabilities into active functionings.

Amartya Sen declines to provide a definitive list of capabilities, arguing that this list varies according to context. Nussbaum, by interviewing different women’s groups and especially by studying the plight of women in India, developed a list of capabilities and has made different modifications from time to time. She provides this list in several works. “Capabilities and Human Rights” provides an early version. Subsequent versions found in Women and Development, Upheavals of Thought, Frontiers in Justice, and Creating Capabilities provide the same list but with more detail and differences in emphasis. (For example, Nussbaum, based on her study of the situation of abused women in India, argues that property rights are essential and includes these in her discussion of the capability “Control Over One’s Environment.” Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, originated the Capability Approach and has developed it through many publications; he gives a particularly illuminating account in Development as Freedom referenced below. Finally, Ingrid Robeyns summarizes much of the literature in two articles, a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Capability Approach, which has been updated frequently, and a widely-sourced paper in the Journal of Human Development, “The Capability Approach: a theoretical survey.” A particularly important addition made by Robeyns is her discussion of “conversion factors” that help turn capabilities into functionings.

Iii. precursors to the capability or human development approach


  • Nussbaum mentions three precursors of the Capability Approach, Aristotle, Marx, and Smith.
  • In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that practical reason (phronesis) makes humans unique among living things and among animals. Practical reason is not just added to other attributes that humans share with living things such as life, growth, reproduction, self-propelled movement, and perception/sensation; rather practical permeates each of these attributes that humans share with other beings to make these attributes peculiarly human.
  • Aristotle, at the beginning of the Politics, also poses the classical conception of the human being as a social animal, a being that forms communities. Aristotle social conception of the human differs fundamentally with the prevalent economic view, Homo Economicus. According to Ghoshal, Homo Economicus characterizes humans as “rational self-interest maximizers. Human studies under Homo Economicus argues that social collectives must be reduced to the isolated, independent human beings that form their parts. This methodological individuals entails ontological atomism; as opposed to Aristotle’s conception of the human as the “social animal,” Homo Economicus sees humans as determinate and complete prior to and independently of any social relationships.
  • The distinction between capability and function closely parallels the Aristotlian distinction between potentiality (dynamis) and actuality (energia); capabilities capture what humans are potentially and functionings capture the specific and unique way capabilities are realized by specific individuals in unique situations. Using a list of capabilities to outline human nature in its potentiality helps to set the minimal thresholds that must be met in order for humans to live lives of dignity without overly specifying or determining how individual turn these capabilities into functionings. In this way, capabilities represent different realms of freedom or choice.
  • Finally, Aristotle outlines basic features that set boundaries to human being; humans are vulnerable (in that conditions can arise which prevent humans from realizing their potentialities) and mortal.

Questions & Answers

how can chip be made from sand
Eke Reply
are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Business, government, and society. OpenStax CNX. Mar 04, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col10560/1.6
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