Amartya Sen: A Comparison Of Freedom: Capability And Freedom

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Capability and Freedom: Another frequent misunderstanding in the secondary literature concerns the use of the term ‘freedom’. Especially in his more recent work, Amartya Sen often equates capabilities with freedoms, without always specifying in more detail what kind of freedoms he is referring to. Yet this equation can easily be misunderstood since, as Sen himself acknowledges, there are many kinds of freedom (some valuable, some detrimental, and some trivial) and ‘freedom’ means very different things to different people. The freedom to lead different types of life is reflected in the person’s capability set. The capability of a person depends on a variety of factors, including personal characteristics and social arrangements. A full accounting of individual freedom must, of course, go beyond the capabilities of personal living and pay attention to the person’s other objectives (e.g. social goals not directly related to one’s own life), but human capabilities constitute an important part of individual freedom. In so far as there are genuine ambiguities in the concept of freedom, that should be reflected in corresponding ambiguities in the characterization of capability. This relates to a methodological point, which I have tried to defend elsewhere, that if an underlying idea has an essential ambiguity, a precise formulation of that idea must try to capture that ambiguity rather than hide or eliminate it. Comparisons of freedom raise interesting issues of evaluation. The

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