Adaptive Preferences, Identity and Reflection

Leßmann, Ortrud (2011). "Adaptive Preferences, Identity and Reflection" Paper presented at the 8th annual conference of the HDCA, 6-8 September 2011, the Hague, the Netherlands.

Under current arrangements it is difficult to care for others and have access to the opportunities and resources needed in order to survive and flourish. The decisions women and men make about employment and the distribution of care work are often misunderstood as purely a matter of individual choice. Nussbaum’s human capabilities approach provides a more promising way to think about the problem of care. It is attentive to the individual, specifying what each of us needs in order to live in a fully human way. Nussbaum stresses the importance of respecting individual choices but in a context where each individual has access to the ten central human capabilities. In this way her approach is sensitive to the effects of entrenched disadvantage and the phenomenon of adaptive preference formation. However, a number of questions remain. The most pressing is whether the capabilities approach can insist on a fairer allocation of care work. If we fail to specify our responsibility to provide care, the freedoms of some groups of individuals will continue to be compromised. This paper examines how we might build responsibilities or obligations into Nussbaum’s capabilities approach. This is a challenge because to do so may limit the freedoms that the various capabilities approaches seek to defend.
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