The paternalism Critique of the Capability Approach

Qizilbash, Mozaffar Qizilbash (2009). "The paternalism Critique of the Capability Approach" Paper presented at the 6th annual conference of the HDCA, 10-12 September 2009, Lima, Peru.

In comparing Sen’s work with Mill’s, Sugden criticises Sen’s capability approach because it may be applied in a paternalistic way, with society judging what is best for people and potentially restricting liberty on that basis. Sugden cites Nussbaum’s work as evidence in making his case. Sugden’s critique of Sen’s approach succeeds on a narrow reading of it. On that reading Sen is also critical of it because it does not leave enough room for liberty. On a broad reading, the critique has less force, though the approach may still fall afoul of it. Nussbaum’s approach follows Mill in allowing people freedom to act on whatever desires they have if this does not harm others. This neutralises the central element of Sugden’s critique as it applies to her approach to some degree. Both Sen and Nussbaum nonetheless recognise the very real danger of paternalism which motivates Sugden’s critique.
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