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Determining the Value-Space of Well-Being in the Capability Approach

PhD project This research project is about how we should use the capability approach to determine political values such as individual and aggregated well-being. The project’s core questions concern how subjective assessments and objective theorising should be handled by the capabilitarian framework.

The capability approach offers a conceptual apparatus for analysing different types of political and ethical values. Examples of such values include well-being, agency, and human development. The framework is underspecified and allows for different assumptions and premises in its descriptions of these values. This research project is about identifying the limits we should put, respectively, on subjective ideas about well-being and more objective theorising in this otherwise open framework.

Head of project

Sebastian Östlund
Doctoral student

Project overview

Project period:

2018-09-03 2022-09-02

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Research area

Philosophy and philosophy of science

Project description

The capability approach is a multidimensional framework for theorising about political values. It focuses on two things. Firstly, it analyses political values in terms of our substantive freedoms, our so called ‘capabilities’. Secondly, it analyses these values in terms of the states of being and doing that these freedoms facilitate, our so called ‘functionings’.

How these capabilities and functionings should be selected for distribution in society is not obvious. Two dominant methods can be found in the frontiers of this field. One of the methods suggests that exemplars should be chosen by individuals in a deliberative and democratic way. The other method suggests that foundational ethical theories should give us the limits for what can be deemed acceptable from the viewpoint of justice. Both methods have strengths and weaknesses. The research I conduct seeks to balance these strengths and weaknesses in a way that offers a constructive contribution to the debate concerning people’s own evaluations, and accurate theories, can be reconciled.

The core questions concern how our basic needs should be identified, how problems with adaptive preferences can be avoided, and how we can capture not only those things that improve our quality of life, but also those things that detract from it. The questions are answered through analytical philosophical conceptual analyses in the intersection of axiology and distributive justice.

The research project will lead to a dissertation of selected papers. The project is modular, and its results will be presented as each respective module is completed.