Martha Nussbaum en de Capabilities Approach

Martha Nussbaum is classica en filosofe. Zestudeerde aan de Universiteit van New York (1969) en Harvard (1975) en gaf college aan beide universiteiten. Van 1986 tot 1993 gaf zij als wetenschappelijk onderzoeker advies aan het Wereldinstituut voor Onderzoek en Ontwikkeling van de Economie in Helsinki, een onderdeel van de universiteit van de Verenigde Naties. Ze is als hoogleraar recht en ethiek verbonden aan de Universiteit van Chicago. Nussbaum werd vooral bekend door haar boek The Fragility of Goodnesss (De kwetsbaarheid van het goede, 1986), over moreel geluk en ethiek in de Griekse tragedie.

Andere boeken zijn o.a. Love's Knowledge (Wat liefde weet, 1990), Sex and Social Justice (1998), Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Oplevingen in het denken, 2001), Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004), Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Grensgebieden van het recht, 2006) en Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality (2008). In Nederland werd Nussbaum ook bekend door haar optreden in de documentaire Van de schoonheid en de troost (zie link voor video) van Wim Kayzer.

De Human Capabilities Approach is een specifieke mensenrechtenbenadering, die inmiddels grotendeels is overgenomen in de Human Development Reports van de Verenigde Naties. Hierbij wordt om de welvaart of armoede van een land te beoordelen niet langer alleen gekeken naar de hoogte van het Bruto Nationaal Product en economische groei, maar of mensen de mogelijkheid hebben om bepaalde "capabilities" te ontwikkelen waar ze recht op hebben. Nussbaum definieert op deze manier tien specifieke basis"capabilities": mogeljikheden die gewaarborgd moeten zijn voor ieders leven in een beschaafde samenleving. Voorbeelden hiervan zijn gezondheid, onderwijs, lichamelijke integriteit en controle over je politieke en materiële omgeving. Om het iedereen mogelijk te maken om keuzes te maken en te functioneren op de terreinen van die human capabilities, zijn bepaalde sociale en economische voorwaarden nodig, en een inspanning van de regering, bijvoorbeeld op het gebied van regelgeving en recht.

Hieronder een artikel dat Martha Nussbaum speciaal schreef naar aanleiding van deze uitzending voor Tegenlicht en het Financieele Dagblad:

National Wealth and Human Development
Martha C. Nussbaum
The University of Chicago

Emergencies often make for bad thinking. The global financial crisis has produced widesprea panic and uncertainty. Everywhere quick fixes are being sought, ways to turn the tide. This instinct for speed is not wrong: economic stimulus packages are an important way to create jobs and regenerate consumer confidence, and they do need to be adopted quickly. But the danger is that leaders will simply charge into action without engaging in deeper reflection about their nation's goals and purposes.

At the same time, then, nations and their leaders should step back and reflect: how did we get into this mess, and where shall we go from here? Some of this rethinking must concern financial policy. But we can't fix what is wrong with our economic systems without thinking about where we ought to be going, without pausing to take stock of what a decent society is and what it does for its people.

For a long time, a successful nation has been seen as one that fosters economic growth, and increase in GDP per capita has been equated with improved quality of life. This crude measure of a nation's development doesn't tell us much, however, about how people are really doing in the things that matter most to people. It doesn’t even factor in distribution, and so it can give high marks to nations containing enormous inequalities. (South Africa under apartheid used to get high marks in the development literature because there was a lot of wealth there: the trouble was, it improved the lives of only a tiny minority of the nation's people.)

The old approach also fails to examine aspects of the quality of people's lives that are not very well correlated with growth, even when distribution is factored in. There's lots of empirical evidence that promoting growth does not automatically improve people’s health, their education, their opportunities for political participation, or the opportunities of women to protect their bodily integrity from rape and domestic violence. So if we want to ask about how people are doing in an insightful way, we need to determine what they are actually able to do and to be in these all-important areas, and in still others. Instead of asking simply about wealth, or even about the satisfaction of preferences, we should, then, be asking what people are really in a position to achieve, what obstacles stand between them and real opportunity, and what opportunities they are entitled to as a matter of basic justice.

Today a new theoretical paradigm is having increasing influence in both developed and developing nations. Known as the “Human Development” paradigm, and also as the “capabilities approach,” it studies people's real opportunities and substantial freedoms, in these and other areas, insisting that the goals of policy ought to be seen as plural, not commensurable by any single metric, but also as mutually supportive. What the approach asks policy-makers to do is to frame a broad set of central goals, seen as an interlocking set, and then to devise policies that will bring all citizens nearer to the most important of these goals.

My own work on the approach has focused on the issue of justice: Some opportunities, or capabilities, are necessary ingredients of a life worthy of human dignity, I argue, and any nation that wants to claim to be even minimally just must deliver these to all its people. Health, education, and political opportunities are central to my account of the "central human capabilities."

The Human Development approach is the one we need in the current crisis, because governments exist for the sake of people, to promote prosperous, free, and creative lives. So the new approach asks the right, the fundamental question: what choices do people's lives really offer them, and how can these opportunities be improved, in areas of central importance to a life worthy of human dignity? If we don't step back and ask this deep question, we're at risk of adopting a quick fix that will bring people no nearer to the rich and meaningful lives they deserve.