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Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach Hardcover – April 30, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


A remarkably lucid and scintillating account of the the human development approach seen from the perspective of one of its major architects. (Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics)

Nussbaum, who has done more than anyone to develop the authoritative and ground-breaking capabilities approach, offers a major restatement that will be required reading for all those interested in economic development that truly enhances how people live. (Henry Richardson, Georgetown University)

A marvelous achievement: beautifully written and accessible. With Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum is one of the founders of the 'capability approach' to justice; the most innovative and influential development in political philosophy since the work of John Rawls. This book, for the first time, puts in one place all the central elements of Nussbaum's systematic account of the approach, together with its sources and implications. (Jonathan Wolff, University College London)

The very best way to be introduced to the capability approach to international development. It is also a wonderfully lucid account of the origins, justification, structure, and practical implications of her version of this powerful approach to ethically-based change in poor and rich countries. (David Alan Crocker, The University of Maryland School of Public Policy)

Offering a forceful and persuasive account of the failings of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an accurate reflection of human welfare, the distinguished philosopher Nussbaum provides a framework for a new account of global development based on the concept of capabilities...The author argues that human development is best measured in terms of specific opportunities available to individuals rather than economic growth figures...This small book provides a strong foundation for beginning to think about how economic growth and individual flourishing might coincide. (Publishers Weekly 2011-02-07)

Nussbaum looks at what it really means for a country to experience prosperity. Traditionally, a country's economic well-being was measured by its gross domestic product. Nussbaum takes a more personal approach by focusing on how economic prosperity plays out in ordinary citizens' lives. She analyzes the life of a woman in India by taking a close look at her situation to see what capabilities and opportunities she--and women like her--might have. The key is not to look simply at the hand they've been dealt, but whether their particular society affords them opportunities to win with it. Nussbaum calls this the "capabilities approach," and it offers a novel way to measure prosperity on a national level by seeing how well a country can provide life-changing prospects for all its citizens...By demonstrating the philosophical underpinnings of this approach and how the theory plays out in the real world, Nussbaum makes a compelling case. Not only is this a more realistic measure of wealth, but it is also a far more compassionate one. For readers who enjoy economics laced with humanity. (Carol J. Elsen Library Journal 2011-03-01)

In her new book, Creating Capabilities, the philosopher and legal scholar Martha Nussbaum argues that we need to refocus our ideas about development on the scale of individuals: on concrete human lives and the way they actually unfold. Quantitative measures like per capita GDP, she writes, are poor measures of development; they can't capture the shape and texture of individual lives, even though individual lives are what matter. Development isn't about how rich your nation is, on average--it's about whether people can live in a way "worthy of human dignity."...Nussbaum's book comes at an interesting time, just as growth in the rich world is slowing. That slowdown makes her ideas relevant for rich people, too. Dignified life in the rich world isn't only about being "well-fed," either...Even amid a slowdown, there are other dimensions in which life can keep improving. (Josh Rothman Boston Globe online 2011-03-16)

Renowned philosopher Nussbaum concisely captures the essential ideas of a new paradigm of social and political thought, the "human development and capabilities" approach to global social justice, founded on the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, and now used by the World Bank, the IMF, the Arab Human Development Report, and the United Nations Development Programme. (S. A. Mason Choice 2011-10-01)

About the Author

Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1St Edition edition (March 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674050541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674050549
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, appointed in Law, Philosophy, and Divinity.

Author photo by Robin Holland

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Matt Mitterko on May 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Creating Capabilities is a significant achievement. Nussbaum has managed to accomplish four major tasks with her book, any of which would have made this a good book: write an accessible version of the Capabilities Approach; clearly differentiate her view from Amartya Sen's, who stands as the standard bearer of the approach; address some common criticisms of the Capabilities Approach that have arisen over the past decade; and to synthesize a large portion of her work over the past 15 or so years into a coherent whole.

The territory she covers is very familiar to those who know the Capabilities Approach. Capabilities are "substantive freedoms" - "a set of (usually interrelated) opportunities to choose and act" in one's life. They involve a choice between a set of activities for one's life, which are also known as functionings. So functionings are the active usage of one of your capabilities (e.g. voting (functioning) to participate effectively in political decisions (capability)). She also maintains the view that there are ten Central Capabilities, all of which must be grounded in a commonsense understanding of what a just society must have: human dignity.

One new feature of Nussbaum's approach is to split capabilities into two types: internal and combined. Internal capabilities are the general characteristics of a person (physical/mental/emotional) that are developed through interaction with external features of society. Combined capabilities are the "totality of opportunities [one] has for choice and action in [one's] specific political, social, and economic situation," which are the result of nurtured internal capabilities. As such, the two types of capabilities are interrelated, and cannot be separated within a society.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By MBF on August 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Creating Capabilities, Martha Nusbaum provides a lucid overview of her version of capabilities theory, which is a theory of justice built on the idea that a society is just if it enables individuals to achieve their potential as human beings. Capabilities theory stresses both the importance of enabling people to develop inner, personal abilities and their living in a society that permits them to use their abilities. In a sense it integrates concepts of liberty and of equality and of postive and negative liberty, concepts that are often viewed as in tension with each other. Prof. Nusbaum also comments on the similarities and differences between her view of capabilities and that of Amartya Sen.

Capabilities theory is an important alternative to traditional and contemporary theories of justice, including John Rawls' theory of justice as fairness. This book makes the theory accessible to non-philosophers and could become important in discussions of what the nature of a just society and a just world should and can be in the 21st century.
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Policies developed on capabilities leaves open the question of what 'capabilities' are appropriate to be considered humane. When capabilities are used to determine human rights, we should all question the intent of the writer and the policies she is attempting to advocate.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Billie Pritchett on November 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Martha Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities is a powerful statement on ways in which societies can promote justice through encouraging the development of certain capacities that are essential to what it means to be a human being. Nussbaum gives a list of what she calls the "Central Capabilities," capabilities without which people cannot flourish in a decent society and which would make for necessary conditions for the society to be called just. She writes that societies should grant their citizens the right to a complete life, health care, freedom of thought, emotion, and play or leisure, control over one's body, permission to associate with whom one pleases, permission to form one's own conception of a flourishing life, a respect for nature and other species, and some sort of control over one's material and political environment. Nussbaum says that this list might not be exhaustive and for its realization perhaps some citizens would find reason to restrict or expand work in any of these areas, but she nevertheless argues that these are necessary components for what would make a society just.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Addam M Smith on September 26, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have the utmost respect for the exploration of philosophy, and my own ideologies align rather closely with that of the author. However, This book is the perfect example of why academia and philosophy often fail to reach the mainstream in a way that would make a meaningful impact. It seems a rather pointless exercise to write a book so painfully redundant in building a framework, and so pontificating in it's delivery, that only people that are already completely versed on the Capabilities Approach - or in my case, a student held hostage by his GPA - can manage to read it from cover to cover. Even the intellectually curious are likely to find themselves asking why Nussbaum must outline her approach in needlessly painstaking detail, while ignoring the application of hundreds of compelling case studies that would provoke thought exercises that might prove useful to those who are just being introduced to this area of study.
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