Which Dimensions Should Matter for Capabilities? A Constitutional Approach

Burchi, F., De Muro, P. and Kollar, E. (2014), “Which Dimensions Should Matter for Capabilities? A Constitutional Approach” Ethics and Social Welfare 8(3):233-247, Special Issue on “Understanding Well-Being in Policy and Practice”, edited by G. Brock and S. Smith.

Multidimensional theories of well-being are locked into a debate about value judgment. They seek to settle which dimensions should matter for measurement and policy, and, more importantly, on what grounds to decide what should matter. Moreover, there is a gulf between theory and practice, given that measurement and policy are rarely rooted in a coherent ethical framework. Our paper engages in the debate concerning the legitimate grounds for selecting dimensions. Combining Amartya Sen’s capability approach and John Rawls’ method of political constructivism, we explore whether the constitution and its public culture can be used as an ethically sound informational base for selecting dimensions, and if so, why. We apply this ‘constitutional approach’ to the Italian case with the aim of deriving a set of publicly justifiable dimensions of well-being. It is a long-standing Constitution with broad public consultation at its base, which still enjoys a wide consensus. We seek to show why there is a need for more ethically sound methodological approaches to measuring well-being, pointing out the advantages of the constitutional approach, and how it may enrich the work of practitioners engaged in the policies of well-being.

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