Marrying A Social Justice Approach With Human Development

Can a theory of justice become an impetus for an approach to development, which could be practically implemented? What should be the nature of a theory of justice and the basis of distribution if it is to be employed for development needs? These were the issues that were recently debated at the workshop on Justice and Development organized by the Centre for Advanced Studies Justitia Amplificata in Frankfurt, Germany.

The capability approach, developed by economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, was at the centre of the discussion at the workshop. Sen developed his approach to human development, known as the capability approach, primarily as an evaluative framework to measure choice-based development in the lives of individuals. His capability approach emerged as a critique to the traditional idea of evaluating development in terms of happiness or access to resources and commodities. Sen argues that it is a mistake to measure development in terms of happiness (desire fulfilment) or availability of commodities. Individuals could be happy even under precarious conditions if they have adjusted their expectations with their vulnerable conditions. On the other hand, mere availability of commodities cannot be important in peoples’ lives unless those commodities could improve their conditions.

Sen defines development as freedom to do or to be as an individual wishes. What follows is that social, economic, political, cultural, environmental factors need to create appropriate conditions in which individuals can achieve their aspirations. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum develops the capability approach in order to formulate a social justice theory. Drawing on Aristotle, Nussbaum notes that the individual capabilities are the source of a good human life worth living (eudaimonia). Nussbaum argues that social factors for capability enhancement need to be institutionalized in the constitution of a democratic polity ...

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