Towards a pragmatic capability approach: Essays on human development, agency and pragmatism
Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach (CA) makes an important contribution to the development literature. It moves from the conventional focus on a single indicator: opulence, to an emphasis on people, their plurality, and the multiple dimensions characterizing their quality of life. As such, it proposes an influential account of human beings and their agency. Its advantages notwithstanding, its notion of agency seems to warrant in depth scrutiny.
This dissertation explores the actual scope of the CA’s agency as well as its limitations, and suggests a way to complement it. An account of the capabilitarian agent encompasses two elements: freedom or choice and rationality or reasoning. Thus, the CA rejects the conventional rational agent, advancing instead a reasoning one. As such, the CA’s agency seems to require attention to measurement and explanation (observables) as well as to meaning and interpretation (unobservables), which demands moving beyond a positivistic philosophy of science. At the same time, it is found that this notion seems to leave people who have others choosing and reasoning for them unaccounted for.