Filice, Mary (2014). 'Catholic Social Teaching, Communitarian Ethics and a Warning to Capability Thought' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

This paper discusses the current 'Time in Crisis' on the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's 1964 Nobel Lecture at Oslo, Norway.  It was then that this great pastor, activist, and humanitarian alerted the world of the 'deep and haunting problem confronting modern man.'  He warned of the dangers that the world could expect if 'moral progress' lags global progress in science and technology.  He spoke of the poverty of the spirit that in 1964 had already begun to stand in vast contrast to existing scientific and technological abundances.  This paper examines the current temperament of the spirit globally and questions whether the Capability Approach does enough in promoting an environment where humanity learns to live as brothers and sisters.  It questions whether it encourages moral and spiritual development and concludes that the Capability Approach falls short in this respect.  In addition, it states that principles of Catholic Social Teaching strengthens the Capability Approach's inherent weakness by focusing on what an individual is able to do and be, encouraging individualism.  Through the introduction of key principles of Catholic Social Teaching, this paper demonstrates that instead of only being concerned with providing the proper space for an individual to fulfill a capability if she only choses, the Capability Approach must also address character building and motivation.


The thesis is defended by drawing from Catholic Social Teaching, which has been issuing statements on human development since 1891 by calling its adherents to improve the lives of those experiencing injustices.  Catholic Social Teaching focuses on building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. Through examination of modern social teaching, articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents, this paper will argue that Catholic Social Teaching further develops notions found in the Capability Approach such as freedom, liberty, and human dignity.  In addition, it offers a measure of protection against the Capability Approach's potential to lack emphasis on moral and spiritual development This is accomplished through Catholic Social Teaching's principles of solidarity and the common good, participation and community, and the virtue of charity. 


The paper constructs the argument by first offering a brief outline of Martin Luther King Jr.'s quest for peace and justice, and his understanding of human dignity, freedom, and poverty.  It is during this quest that King realizes the greatest threat is poverty of spirit.  From here the paper addresses how the Capability Approach speaks to these notions and explains that it falls short due to its emphasis being placed on the physical aspects of life and undervaluing spiritual life and well being. The paper concludes with an explanation of how Catholic Social Teaching's emphasis on community and relationship augments and transforms the Capability Approach by ensuring that moral and spiritual development occur along with the other aspects of human development.