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Prominent in Sen's account of Development as Freedom is the suggestion that economics as an academic discipline and as a practical activity requires explicit consideration of value-related issues. Such issues, he argues, are part of the proper domain of economic decision-making, and cannot be relegated and confined to philosophy or political science (Sen 3-5). Certain sections of this book therefore necessarily address foundational issues of rationality, choice, and values. The author shows that if economic policies designed by economists affect the whole of society, economists can no longer claim that they are solely concerned with the economic field. Such a stance would be unethical since it would mean avoiding the moral responsibility for the consequences of an action.
There can be substantial debates on the particular functioning that should be included in the list of important achievements and the corresponding capabilities. This issue is unavoidable in an evaluative exercise of this kind, and one of the main merits of the approach is the need to address these judgmental questions in an explicit way, rather than hiding them in some implicit framework.
In developing his account of Development as Freedom Amartya Sen instrumentally investigates five categories of capabilities. He argues that each of these types of rights and opportunities helps to advance the general capability of a person (10, 38-40). In developing the work the basic needs subject, Frances Stewart identified ten features of the full life (347-349). The scholar also reflected upon eleven intermediate needs that governments' social policies should address.
As these examples suggest, in many practical undertakings, be they participatory monitoring or data collection, constitution-building, policy-making, or needs assessment, leaders in development have found it useful to construct a list of the different dimensions of poverty or well-being.
The problem is focused by the fact that institutions tend to prioritize certain capability changes. In 1990 the World Bank renewed its commitment to poverty alleviation as the overarching objective of its work. But critical scrutiny of the operational directives, strategy papers, World Development Reports, and similar documents used from 1990 until 1993 showed that the intrinsically worthwhile 'dimensions' of development at which this poverty alleviation work aimed were education, health, nutrition, consumption, and amenity (including the environment). Any changes, whether positive or negative, in relationships, aesthetic arrangements, religion, participation, culture, meaningful work or play were not registered as intrinsically important. These dimensions were missing from the Bank's field of vision. Were these changes not valuable? (Stewart 356)
This question centers on when one tries to apply the capability approach, because in order to see whether the capability set, taken as a whole, has expanded or contracted, one needs to identify the valuable impacts a development initiative has—positive and negative, tangible and intangible, quantifiable and qualitative. Only after these have been identified and after they have been weighted and ranked, can at least a partial assessment possibly be made about capability expansion.
Moreover, if we are not able to propose how information on valuable capabilities might be obtained that is relatively complete and also sensitive to diversity, then the capability approach is operationally stymied. What is needed is a procedure to overcome the informational constraints that typically oblige organizations such as the World Bank and Oxfam to concentrate only on certain dimensions of poverty.
Sen recognizes that capabilities must be identified, and can be ranked from the more central to the trivial, that both of these tasks involve an evaluative exercise and even that it is valuation with which we are ultimately concerned in the functionings approach. He also recognizes that the identification of multiple basic capabilities is practically required for poverty measurement and analysis. Sen traces the philosophical basis of the capability approach to Aristotle's writings. He recognizes that introduction of such an account of human functioning would be a systematic way of eliminating the incompleteness of the capability approach. Sen has not himself further specified the capability approach because of five reservations:
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• this view of human nature may be tremendously over specified;
• the use of the capability approach as such does not require taking that route;
• the introduction of such a list would require a great deal of extension as a theory for practical evaluation;
• such a list may not have wide relevance, and thus the capability approach should permit other routes to be taken;
• there is a positive value in an incomplete theory which is consistent and combinable with several different substantive theories
Sen may not think it possible to specify the capability approach any further without effecting closure, without undertaking a universal valuation exercise, deciding on the mechanism by which valuable functions are to be identified, and subsequently choosing relative weighting and aggregating. Further specification at a theoretical level would involve, in Sen's account, the choice of exactly one interpretation of the value.
Yet, Sen does argue that in comparison with the utilitarian basis of welfare economics the capability approach has considerable power even before capabilities are identified. Much of this is due to the comparative advantage of capabilities as the space in which justice is to be evaluated, rather than utilities or primary goods, and also the capability approach's insistence that some functions and capabilities have intrinsic value.
Furthermore, Sen identifies two procedures for identifying capabilities sets without undertaking value judgments directly but rather making the maximal use of consensus: the dominance partial ordering approach. In different discussions, Sen suggests that the space for consensus might be widened if the capabilities and functions are conceived at a sufficient level of generality. While Sen never elaborates the general functions' approach directly or at length, he refers approvingly to Cass Sunstein's treatment of incompletely theorized agreements. Sunstein argues that
well-functioning legal systems tend to adopt a special strategy for producing stability and agreement in the midst of social disagreement and pluralism: Arbiters of legal controversies try to produce incompletely theorized agreements (45).
Sunstein's articulation of incompletely theorized agreements—that balance both the general and the concrete—seems implicit in Sen's own work. For example, as mentioned above, in Development as Freedom Sen investigates instrumentally five kinds of general yet concrete freedoms: political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security. He does not seek consensus on abstract principles such as liberty, nor on particularities of situations such as debating the capability to eat caviar; rather he focuses his discussion on general concrete issues such as life expectancy, hunger, and poverty.
The dominance partial ordering approach, and the general functionings approach both work by making the best, yet mechanical, use of consensus. Neither provides a mechanism for dealing with deep conflict.
While Sen has not discussed the resolution of deep value conflicts, in several places he does describe a process by which the area of consensus may be enlarged through a process of dialectical discussion or of information sharing. In Development as Freedom he writes that if there is a conflict between a traditional way of life and an activity that would reduce poverty then it is the people directly involved who must have the opportunity to participate in deciding what should be chosen (20-22, 73). The author presents a passionate endorsement of freedom that coincides with an underlying force of participation. In other words he says that the people have to be seen, in this [development as freedom perspective, as being actively involved in shaping their own destiny, and not just as passive recipients of the fruits of cunning development programs (22-25). When he discusses mechanisms of making decisions, though, he does not refer to the informal matter of participatory practices used by community-based organizations and NGOs, but instead mentions institutional forms such as democratic systems, legal mechanisms, market structures, educational and health provisions, media and other communication facilities and so on.
Participation pervades economic development initiatives. Initially the province of NGOs and activists, the discussion and to a much lesser yet not insignificant extent the practice of participation has been taken up by large donor organizations, by governments, and by international and regional development banks. Yet the linkages between deeply participatory processes in microeconomic development and Sen's approach have not been well appreciated. Some disprove of connections between Sen's capability approach and deeply participatory initiatives. Yet such critics interpret the capability approach as being philosophically restricted thus far. It is time to make the connections between Sen's capability approach and participatory or community-driven development explicit.