Philosophy at work in development

Wells, Thomas; Gutwald, Rebecca; Munk, Tanja; Shekhawat, Prahlad (2014). 'Philosophy at work in development' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

This panel consists of four papers explicitly concerned with philosophical analysis about the capability approach to human development. Rebecca Gutwald contributes a conceptual and normative review of paternalism and defends a form of capabilities paternalism. Tanja Munk examines the contrasts and similarities between Rawls' account of primary goods and capabilities, and argues for a Rawlsian Capability Perspective. Prahlad Shekhawat discusses the philosophy of rights in the context of development, drawing on Amartya Sen's capability approach among others. Thomas Wells argues that adaptive preferences are a challenge the capability approach has to meet, and suggests that Adam Smith's account of moral psychology may be helpful in doing so.

Rebecca Gutwald's paper 'The charge of paternalism in development ethics – justifying capabilities paternalism' defends certain forms of paternalism in development by using normative arguments from the capability approach [CA] and concludes that sometimes, i.e. in a small class of cases, the CA demands a certain kind of paternalism in development, which can be called capabilities paternalism.

The first part of the paper is conceptual. Nussbaum's treatment and the very few papers on paternalism within the CA do not distinguish between different kinds of paternalism. Paternalistic acts form a whole family of very different kind of acts, omissions or policies – some very subtle, others more invasive. Starting from the familiar contrast between hard and soft paternalism, this paper proposes some more refined distinctions by turning attention to the goals of paternalistic interferences.  The second, normative, part of the paper is concerned with the justifiability of capabilities paternalism. It proposes that in some domains – bodily integrity, practical reasoning and social affiliation – development should aim at achieving actual functionings rather than capabilities, subject to certain sufficientarian and procedural constraints.

Tanja Munk's paper 'A Rawlsian Capability Perspective' compares Sen's and Nussbaum's capability related understanding of equality with another John Rawls' primary goods based account. A closer look at Rawls' theory shows that many objections that are brought against it by Sen and Nussbaum, don't work, and that several interesting similarities have been overlooked. A 'Rawlsian Capability Perspective' will prove helpful to solve some of the problems Sen's and Nussbaums' versions of the capability approach are respectively confronted with.

Rawls' revised account of primary goods as the basis of interpersonal comparisons of well-being is really a capability based account. In his articles and books since Kantian Constructivism (1980) Rawls describes primary goods no longer simply as 'all purpose means' for all kinds of rational life plans but, in addition, as goods that citizens need in order to 'adequately' develop and exercise their two moral powers – the capacity for a conception of the good and the sense of justice. Hence, primary goods figure in Rawls' revised account as the 'external conditions' of the capability set of persons and the criterion of their just distribution is the 'adequate development and exercise' of two basic capacities that also play a prominent and strategically central role in Nussbaum's Neo-Aristotelian capability account of well-being and equality, though in a slightly different wording.

Prahlad Shekhawat's paper 'Philosophy, Justice and Redefining Development' explores the issue of  different kinds of rights, their relationship with each other and with the ideas of social justice in the philosophy and development discourse, particularly by focusing on the contribution of Amartya Sen and Michael Sandel.

Thomas Wells' paper 'Adaptive preferences, capabilities, and Adam Smith's Impartial Spectator' argues that the phenomenon of 'adaptive preferences' is both a justification for the capability approach and a challenge it has to meet. If people's values, desires and aspirations can be induced by their circumstances of material poverty or social oppression then subjective judgements of well-being are unreliable for evaluating individual advantage. Yet the capability approach to evaluating individual advantage has a foundational commitment to respecting the freedom of individuals to determine what kind of life they have reason to value. Understanding and countering adaptation is therefore a central goal for the capability approach. This paper argues that Adam Smith's impartial spectator provides a normative theoretical framework for understanding adaptation, and also provides practical guidance for the methodology of evaluation and remediation.


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