A Capability Approach to intergenerational justice – a survey of issues

Gutwald, Rebecca, Ortrud Leßman, Torsten Masson, and Felix Rauschmayer (2011). "A Capability Approach to intergenerational justice - a survey of issues" Paper presented at the 8th annual conference of the HDCA, 6-8 September 2011, the Hague, the Netherlands.

The politically influential idea of sustainable development is closely tied to the concept of universal justice without having clarified the latter notion and their relationship to sustainability. In developing an account of human development, the capability approach conceptualizes parts of intragenerational justice, but not intergenerational justice. This paper aims to close the gap in two steps: first, it clarifies elements of a universal theory of justice. Second, it examines how well the CA can take up these elements in order to point out how this would translate back to the political context of sustainable development

Motivated by the ongoing discussion on sustainable development, this paper aims to bring together two issues which have largely run separately so far: Sen and Nussbaum’s capability approach (henceforth “CA”) and a theoretical account of intergenerational justice. Our goal is largely explicative: we characterize the potential of the capability approach in answering questions of intergenerational justice. It has two parts: First we will examine the issue of intergenerational justice in light of our interest in the notoriously difficult notion of sustainable development (henceforth “SD”). In this examination we characterize the main elements of a theory of justice, which yields a structure for an account of intergenerational justice. Along this structure we identify what we view as the most pressing philosophical issues of the intergenerational context. The second part introduces the CA into this discussion. We claim that the CA makes a theory of intergenerational justice more plausible in three positive ways. First, the CA determines a metric for a theory of intergenerational justice. Second, we argue how our interpretation of the CA can be used to tackle the specific problems of the intergenerational context identified in the first part of the paper. Third, we make a connection to sustainable development via the CA’s insights about human development. On the negative side, it has to be admitted that the CA still exhibits considerable gaps. We therefore conclude by pointing out the most pressing questions that need to be addressed in further discussion.

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