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Worlds, Capabilities and Well-Being
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.ˆvol. 13, no. 4 (2010), pp. 377-392.
Advocates of the Capability Approach hold that the capability, or effective freedom, to attain valued functionings, as well as their actual attainment, contributes to well-being. However not all capabilities contribute to well-being. Martha Nussbaum distinguishes those capabilities which are of value by means of a list of Central Human Functional Capabilities. My aim is to reconstruct the Capability Approach without the objective list. According to my proposed account, Broad Preferentism, preference satisfaction alone—possible as well as actual—is of value. States of affairs contribute to well-being because and to the extent that they satisfy actual or nearby possible preferences, and are fruitful, that is, compatible with a range of further states which satisfy actual or nearby possible preferences. It is the capability of attaining such valued states that makes us better off—where their actual attainment is to be understood as capability to the highest degree. Broad preferentism solves the problem of adaptive preference, which dogs traditional preferentist accounts according to which only the satisfaction of actual preferences contributes to well-being, and which critics cite as a compelling reason to reject preferentism in favor of the Capability Approach. Arguably, we should, ceteris paribus, prefer accounts of well-being which are monistic and subjective and so should prefer broad preferentism to the objective list version of the Capability Approach.