In its most general description, the capability approach is a flexible and multi-purpose normative framework, rather than a precise theory of well-being, freedom or justice. At its core are two normative claims: first, the claim that the freedom to achieve well-being is of primary moral importance, and second, that freedom to achieve well-being is to be understood in terms of people’s capabilities, that is, their real opportunities to do and be what they have reason to value. This framework can be used for a range of evaluative exercises, including most prominent the following: (1) the assessment of individual well-being; (2) the evaluation and assessment of social arrangements, including assessments of social and distributive justice; and (3) the design of policies and proposals about social change in society. In all these normative endeavors, the capability approach prioritizes (a selection of) peoples’ beings and doings and their opportunities to realize those beings and doings (such as their genuine opportunities to be educated, their ability to move around or to enjoy supportive social relationships). This stands in contrast to other accounts of well-being, which focus exclusively on subjective categories (such as happiness) or on the means to well-being (such as resources like income or wealth).

Erasmus School of Philosophy

Robeyns, I. (2011). The Capability Approach. Retrieved from