Chicago Journal of International Law


What are people actually able to do and to be? And are they really able to do or be these things, or are there impediments, evident or hidden, to their real and substantial freedom, in some areas that are agreed to be of central importance to a rich human life, a life worthy of human dignity? More specifically, how have the basic constitutional principles of a nation, together with their interpretation, promoted or impeded people's abilities to function in some central areas of human life? The idea that all citizens in a nation are equally entitled to a set of basic opportunities, a set of substantial preconditions for a flourishing human life that includes opportunities to unfold themselves, to develop a set of basic human abilities to choose and act, has had a lasting appeal over the centuries in the Western tradition of political and legal thought. A familiar understanding of the purpose of government is that it should, at a minimum, secure those central entitlements. If it does not, it will not have a claim to be even minimally just. The Capabilities Approach (CA), as I have developed it over the years, is a normative approach to basic social justice. It identifies a list of ten Central Human Capabilities, or substantial freedoms, and it then says that securing those capabilities up to a threshold level is a minimum necessary condition of social justice. It does not, then, purport to describe any particular nation. It does however, have a close resemblance to the aims of quite a few modern nations, as embodied in their constitutional guarantees and their attempts to fulfill them. [CONT]