Capabilities: Opportunities for change

Capabilities: Opportunities for change

Sustainable Development, human competence and resilience

Prof. Dr. Julian Nida-Rümelin
Dr. Rebecca Gutwald
University of Munich, chair for philosophy

What role does the notion of resilience play in normative ethics and political philosophy? So far, the concept has not gotten much attention yet. Our project aims to close this gap by using the capability approach of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum as a normative basis to assess human resilience. The capability approach focuses on evaluating the real freedoms and opportunities of people (i.e. their capabilities) in order to assess their well-being within multiple dimensions. It thus turns our perspective on the real opportunities that people and societies need to cope with the challenges of life - and thus on what they need to become resilient.

The main claim of the project is that people are resilient in a positive way,  if society provides them with sufficient capabilities. The aim of social policy is therefore to create and promote them. A difficult question consists in identifying the relevant capabilities that people need to deal with severe crises such as climate change, war or poverty. Here, we take the stance that the societal and political framework is the first focal point to create capabilities and ways to cope. This is especially relevant in case of vulnerable parts of society such as children, refugees or the severely poor. People must have the personal autonomy and the agency to participate in democratic discourse. They should be supported by the social context in their agency - via having the capabilities to be an agent.

The project works closely together with several projects within forchange. Our aim is to transfer philosophical and ethical reasoning into practice by showing that normative discourse is highly relevant in many so-called “practical” matters such as environmental change, the rule of law or evaluating working conditions.