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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

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
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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