Bates, Dana Matthew (2014). 'The Glory of God is Humanity Fully Alive: A (re)conceptualization of the CA in light of Eastern Orthodox Theology.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.
It is now widely recognized that the secular 'liberalism' that underpins much of Western development theory, including the CA, faces severe limitations when exported to other contexts. But without this Western philosophical background, must the concept of a normative notion of 'human development' capitulate to relativism, to incommensurate local-'isms' of various sorts that can be pernicious to human development and cross cultural dialogue about the nature of human goods? This paper argues no, and shows how Eastern Orthodoxy offers an important and specifically religious instantiation of the Capabilities Approach that affirms its central insights, serves as a source of 'ultimacy' or inspiration for action on behalf of human development, but also clarifies the moral presuppositions inherent in the theory/praxis of human development whether for secular or sacred contexts. The paper does this principally by exploring the notion of personhood in Eastern Orthodoxy in relationship to the picture of personhood in the CA and liberalism. While Sen and the CA focus primarily on the individual and her capabilities, this position represents both strengths but also faces problems for generating a sense of moral obligation arising from community or the unity of the human experience. The Orthodox picture of personhood, it is argued, better captures the inherent presuppositions embedded within human development theory/practice because it not only affirms the priority and the dignity of the individual and her freedoms, not only does it view these freedoms as (also) inherently communal, but both individual freedoms and communion are morally conditioned and gain specificity in virtue of humanity's share species nature, which serves as a lure towards what can be termed a 'communitarian-cosmopolitan' ethic. In both theological circles and the social sciences (development studies included), it is especially the category of 'nature' that has historically been abused (and thus rejected) and is in need of modern retrieval. The Eastern understanding of this category provides a helpful grounding for human development intuitions by making explicit the follow dimensions: a) 'shared nature' serves as a moral basis for obligations to humanity as such (versus mere communal obligations); b) 'shared nature' grounds a universal set of human functions/powers that demand fulfillment (e.g. Nussbaum's list), and c) nature is viewed as 'sacred', deserving of respect, but it not understood as a time-less moral order (as in Western scholasticism)---true development is possible. The argument shows that EO understands itself as a multidimensional theology of human development but also that it focuses not primarily on theoretical speculation, but on the exercise of practical reason (phronesis) and human agency understood as the spiritual project of unleashing creation's full capabilities that the social, human, and other sciences reveal. Related to this latter point, the paper also shows that Orthodox theology's so called 'mysticism' is linked to a profound deployment of Aristotle's phronesis (practical reason) and morally purifies his 'communitarian-ism' by widening the sense of moral obligation away from merely duties to the polis, but to humanity as such. The understandings of practical reason in the CA versus Eastern Orthodoxy are shown to be compatible and even require one another for a full grasp of the moral requirements of human development.