Last month I attended the annual conference of the Human Capability Development Association (HCDA) in the Hague. Their research work is rooted in the 'Capabilities approach' of which Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum and others are the major architects.
I just received their last newsletter and the short article on Sen's view on evaluation was really striking for me.
Although this blog is not a direct experience with a local response, I found that what I read here was so much in line with multiple experiences I had all over the world.
As a result, Sen points out, approaches which attempt to provide a consistent
systematic rule based framework for dealing with all problems that may come up can easily
be shown to produce absurd or awful conclusions about plausible cases;
Sen’s capability approach,
does not pretend to yield a ‘decision method’ that could be programmed on a computer. What it does do
is invite us to think about what functionings form part of our and other cultures’ notions of a good life and
to investigate just how much freedom to achieve various of those functionings various groups of people
in different situations actually have.
Sen believes the way we try to address practical problems must reflect their
underlying complexity rather than attempt to wish it away
It is almost a commonplace in the capability approach literature to say that it is about
evaluation, though the point is still misunderstood by many serious interpreters and critics.
Indeed many criticisms of Sen’s capability approach depend on seeing it instead as a theory of
justice, with ‘a metric and a rule’.
For the latter, Sen rejects various methods of determining values ‘objectively’, such as
(Aristotelian or other) perfectionist views of the good life or the revealed preference
approaches endorsed by some economists. Instead valuation should be an internal political
‘exercise in social choice’ that adequately reflects the evaluations of the people concerned,
characterised by public reason and deliberation