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Gustavo Pereira (Universidad de la Repblica) Thesis Eleven, vol. 108, no.

1, February 2012, 66-83

Intersubjectivity and Evaluations of Justice*

The capability approach assigns a central role to the contexts within which social interactions take place, which make individual liberty achievable. However, an auxiliary concept is necessary to explain the contexts of collective action more accurately. In this paper I shall present Taylors concept of irreducibly social goods as a supplement to the capability approach. I shall also introduce the concept of hermeneutics as a strategy suitable for evaluating which capabilities are to be considered valid, as an alternative to aggregative methodologies. This conceptual development at the core of the capability approach demands to be framed by a normative criterion that enable us to distinguish between emancipatory and conservative contexts of social action; for that purpose I make use of the subject idealization that Honneth and Anderson present.

Contemporary discussions of justice have been enriched by the increasing relevance of the capability approach. The concept of human capability, and the reference Sen makes to situations where intersubjectivity acquires a central role in expanding human freedom, have prompted the following question: does the capability approach incorporate a concept enabling it to explain collective action in accordance with intersubjectivist assumptions? In order to answer this question it will be necessary to explore the characteristics of the assumed intersubjectivity of the capability approach. This requires a reconstruction of the subject idealizations that are at stake. I shall propose Honneth and Andersons recognitional autonomy as a way to achieve this. Their version of autonomy, closely related to Sens assumption of intersubjectivity, enables the introduction of a normative criterion that can serve as a guide. Finally I shall introduce the concept of irreducibly social goods in order to explain the phenomenon of collective action in terms of intersubjectivity. The standard methodologies of economics (such as the representative agent or individual constrained maximization) are insufficient to explain collective action. Philosophical hermeneutics is a more suitable method. This paper is organized as follows: in Section 1 I introduce the distinctive characteristics of Sens capability approach. Section 2 outlines the thesis that Sens
This paper has resulted from two research programs on adaptive preferences, funded by CSIC of the Universidad de la Repblica Oriental del Uruguay and FCE by the Uruguayan Ministry of Education and Culture. Translated by Helena Modzelewski and copy-edited by Gastn Daz.

capability approach implies an intersubjectivist or relational idea of personhood. This intersubjectivist assumption entails high sensitivity to vulnerability and interdependence of individuals, which converges with Anderson and Honneths recognitional autonomy. In section 3, the assumption of intersubjectivity in Sens proposal is explained through his concept of agency, which goes beyond a strict individualistic interpretation. Section 4 introduces the concept of Taylors irreducibly social goods, which is based on intersubjectivity, as a way of explaining the relevance of collective action and enhancing the explanatory scope of the capability approach. The fact that irreducibly social goods cannot be reduced to individual terms introduces a methodological problem for evaluations of justice, so in section 5 hermeneutics is presented as a more suitable interpretive perspective. Section 6 outlines a normative criterion to guide the interpretations required to process evaluations of justice. The main advantage of integrating intersubjectivity and irreducibly social goods into the capability approach is that it provides an accurate explanation of collective action in the expansion of individual freedom, which enables: a) more precise evaluations of justice, b) a better design of social policies and c) an appropriate adaptation of social policies to local tradition.

1) The framework for normative evaluation

Amartya Sens capability approach has introduced a new focal point from which to carry out evaluations of justice. Sens objective has been to provide a normative framework enabling interpersonal comparisons of well-being. He attempts to establish an objective criterion with which to evaluate this concept. Other frameworks, such as subjective welfarism, consider all preferences as equally valuable. According to this criterion, someones preference for a cruise across the Caribbean and another persons preference for satisfying her hunger are equally relevant (see Sen 1979: 470-1, 1980: 146-8). Sen presents the capability framework as a specific space in which to evaluate justice. Sens criticism of Rawls notion of primary goods can help illustrate what is meant by capability. Primary goods are general-purpose means of which any rational person would prefer to have more than fewer, such as liberties, opportunities, income and the social bases of self-respect, which enable a person to carry out her plan of life.

According to Sen, these objective means are too rigid in regard to variations between individuals, i.e. Rawls primary goods do not vary according to individual needs or capacities. For example, a handicap that restricts a persons use of her liberties and opportunities of achieving higher income, would not be taken into account by the distributive arrangements of Rawls approach (see Arrow 1973, Sen 1980, 1985). This criticism is based on the existence of differences between individuals, which implies that the same quantity of means may result in different quantities of well-being, depending on each persons capabilities to transform these means into well-being. The concept of capability allows Sen to expand the space in which evaluations of equality are made. The ability to convert means into well-being varies substantially from one person to another. That difference is explained by the concept of capability (Sen 1980), i.e. it is because peoples capabilities differ from one another that equal means can be converted into different achievements. This implies that distributive policies should shift their focus from the emphasis on means such as primary goods or income, to what these represent to human beings Therefore, capability must be understood as alternative combinations of functionings (beings and doings) that are feasible for someone to achieve. Capability is thus a kind of freedom: the substantive freedom to achieve alternative functioning combinations (Sen 1999 a: 75). Functionings are constituent elements of a persons condition, and the evaluation of a persons well-being depends on how these elements are assessed. The notion of capability represents the various combinations of functionings that a person can develop. A persons capability reflects her freedom to lead one kind of life or another. This means that capability can be achieved through a set of functionings, but it is up to the individual whether her capabilities are or are not realized; a persons freedom, in this sense, lies at the level of that potentiality (see Sen 1992: 39-40, 1999 a: 75). As I said before, the influence that the capability approach has had on the debate about distributive justice has been enormous. It has become an important tool in the evaluation of issues such as poverty, development and the implementation of public policies. However, there are certain problems that demand further development of Sens proposal. One of the issues that is not clear enough is the role of institutional contexts or environments characterized by strong binding values. The lack of clarity here has led some authors to present complementary concepts (Evans 2002; Stewart 2005; Gore 1997) as necessary elements of any evaluation of justice within the capability 3

framework. Before looking into this matter, it is necessary to consider in detail the role that institutional environments play in public discussion, as well as to make explicit the intersubjectivist assumptions entailed by the capability approach.

2) Intersubjectivity and the development of capabilities

Social action, i. e., the way people act together when bound by common beliefs and values, strongly determines the extent to which the development of capabilities brings about the expansion of freedom. This can be perceived in situations in which interaction contexts are determined by certain social arrangements that provoke the expansion of freedom and individual capabilities. Such an exercise of individual freedom, which also implies a greater development of capabilities, not only impacts upon the life of the person in question, enabling her to achieve better outcomes, but also allows individual action to improve social arrangements. Thus, it can be said that a kind of virtuous circle exists between the improvement of social arrangements and the expansion of freedom and capabilities, through contexts of interaction. Therefore, public participation plays a central role in Sens perspective. It is the mechanism for evaluating whether it is necessary to modify, adjust or remove some social traditions. The capacity for making this decision lies in the affected people themselves. This makes it crucial for governmental agencies to ensure the material conditions for citizens participation, such as basic education, freedom of expression and mechanisms to allow decision-making. Sens formulation of freedom as the

primary end and the principal means to that end justifies these conditions to ensure its realization. Moreover, this position could be interpreted in a Kantian way because freedom, in its constitutive role -i.e. as a primary end- has some intrinsic worth, which founds human dignity and cannot possibly be postponed by any social arrangement that could eventually provide a greater benefit to society. (see Sen 1999 a: 36, Conill 2004: 190-8, Pereira 2006 a: 61) The constitutive role of freedom is specified by elementary capabilities like being able to avoid such deprivations as starvation, undernourishment, escapable morbidity and premature mortality, as well as the freedoms that are associated with being literate and numerate, enjoying political participation and uncensored speech and so on. (Sen 1999 a: 36) Hence, capabilities that have an intrinsic worth and determine the autonomy of a subject, could be specified as the set of capabilities that express the

constitutive role of freedom.1 Some of these elementary capabilities become evident through the possibility of public and political participation, and are highlighted by Sen, who maintains that even a rich person who is prevented from speaking freely, or from participating in public debates and decisions, is deprived of something that she has reason to value. (Sen 1999 a: 36) In addition, constitutive freedoms require means, or instrumental freedoms, that contribute to the development of a persons capabilities to live the life that she effectively wants. Five categories of instrumental freedoms are especially important: political freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees and protective security. In my opinion, there is an aspect of the constitutive role of freedom that requires greater conceptual accuracy. Sen has sustained that the enrichment of a human life is carried out by an expansion of the choice of lives one can lead. This requirement implies the constitutive role of freedom in improving the human condition, although it is not specific enough. If the State could guarantee the enrichment of life by making decisions counterfactually, expanding the affected peoples freedom without their participation, then we would be able to achieve the enlargement of opportunities by increasing what Sen has called effective freedom. Such a process coincides with the intentions of the capability approach. However, it should be particularly noted that although the exercise of the agency aspect of personhood can achieve the objectives of the agent through the action of others, the actions of those affected are of great importance in achieving these aims. Consequently, it can be said that a set of actions exists that is based not only on effective freedom but on control by the affected people. (see Sen 1992: 64-6) This is confirmed by the emphasis Sen places on real participation as a necessary condition to achieve the expansion of agency, which is especially important in strategies to overcome poverty and the subjugation of women (Sen 1999 a: 195-202). It should be made clear that Sens position does not require permanent participation in order to expand agency, but rather participation in those areas that are relevant and valuable to an individual. (Sen 1992: 57) Participation implies interaction with others, so there is a relational dimension that affects the expansion of agency.

See Nussbaums list of capabilities. (Nussbaum 2000: 78-80).

The active role adopted by the subject requires the introduction of a complementary concept to explain it. There is a dissonance between the requirement that freedom be defined in terms of intersubjectivity, and the assumption of an individualistic self. It is necessary to point out that in his work related to rational choice theory, Sen radically expands the standard conception of practical rationality, although without going beyond the individualistic assumption of the self. (Sen 2002: 33-7). However, in other works, Sens concept of identity specifically refers to contexts of intersubjectivity, where a person acquires her self-perception in relation to community, nationality, sex, class, race, etc. (Sen 2002: 245; 1999 b: 13-19). This special emphasis leads me to the introduction of an idea of self, in order to overcome the dissonance referred to above.2 The self I shall propose as a way of reconstructing the implicit assumption of Sens personhood, entails an idea of relational, intersubjective or recognitional autonomy. It can be presented as a version of autonomy that overcomes the individualist conceptions that have been at the core of liberal theories of social justice (see Rawls 1971, 1993; Dworkin 2000). Under this latter interpretation it is suggested that any constraints reduce an individuals autonomy, so the goal of creating a just society comes to be seen as allowing people to be as independent of others as possible. It implies that autonomy increases with wealth, but can be undermined by the membership of an unchosen community (Anderson and Honneth 2005: 128). This way of defining autonomy assumes an ideal subject that can clearly evaluate her circumstances, and choose the best course of action. A direct consequence of this definition is that the autonomous subject can avoid being influenced by her communitys values, due to her powers of deliberation and election (see Sandel: 1998). This liberal interpretation of autonomy assumes that individual freedom increases, at the cost of false assumptions about individuals being unaffected by their circumstances. Such a handicap can be illustrated by the blindness of liberal approaches in regards to the process of the genesis of certain preferences. One of the clearest examples of this is adaptive preferences. These consist of a particular kind of preferences that an individual develops as a consequence of a process in which peoples volitions are modified in order to adjust to their real possibilities of

I have presented the possible connection between the capabilities approach and the foundation program of discursive ethics as a way of improving the development of the former. (see Pereira 2006 b, 2010).

achievement.3 The generation of adaptive preferences happens in an unconscious way. They reflect the tendency to want to avoid the frustration experienced by desires that cannot be satisfied. Take the case of a person living in destitution, who decides not to send her children to school. By staying home, they can look after younger children, do simple domestic chores, etc. From this persons point of view, if her children went to school they would miss many of hours of domestic work, and would likely, in the long run, remain in the same economic situation as their parents. Moreover, our destitute person may decide not to look for a formal job apart from the work she already does e.g., recycling waste materials- because any attempt at doing something different has only led her, and the ones who share her environment, to remain in the same situation. Therefore, according to the circumstances of our protagonists life, not looking for formal employment and not sending her children to school are rational decisions, coherent with her system of beliefs. These choices are the product of a process of revision and re-adaptation. Such a process may be understood as a search for the reduction of frustration, or simply as a process of re-adaptation of beliefs, that optimizes the subjects life-plan. In both cases, the situation is intolerable from the perspective of justice, and some liberal perspectives attribution of responsibility to the subject for her outcomes, is questionable (Pereira 2004: 148). The demands of social justice require modifying the liberal idealization of a selfsufficient subject and assuming that individuals are vulnerable and needy. Once we recognize human vulnerability as a constitutional aspect of autonomy, it is necessary to assure access to resources and circumstances that enable an individual to lead the life she considers worthwhile. The liberal egalitarian project coincides with this perspective, though its assumption of basic human personhood is not sensitive enough to perceive phenomena like adaptive preferences. The intersubjective or recognitional version of autonomy enables us to present an idealization sensitive enough to neediness, vulnerability and interdependence of individuals. This version of autonomy has been presented by Honneth (1995) in direct continuity with the proposals of Hegel, Mead and Habermas. Honneth has constructed a powerful normative theory of recognition, and has recently initiated a path from his theory of recognition to a theory of social justice. I believe the most suitable theoretical

The problem has been presented paradigmatically by Elster (1982). Sen and Nussbaum have paid special attention to this problem (Sen 1992; Nussbaum 2000). The objective illusion discussed by Sen is an additional illustration of liberal limitations. (Sen 2002: 469-74).

program for his idealization of the subject is the capability approach. (Honneth 1995; Anderson and Honneth 2005) This connection would provide Honneths approach with a strengthened basis for his theory of social justice, and Sens approach with a more accurate subject idealization. Anderson and Honneth present full autonomy as the real effective capacity to develop and pursue ones own conception of a worthwhile life. This formulation is very close to Sens affirmation that the expansion of ones freedom implies the possibility of doing the things one has reason to value. Such connection is demonstrated by the fact that these authors affirm that the only way to achieve full autonomy, or expand capabilities, is under socially supportive conditions (Anderson and Honneth: 130; Sen 1999: 18). Anderson and Honneth affirm: It is an impressive accomplishment that, on the path from helpless infancy to mature autonomy, we come to be able to trust our own feelings and intuition, to stand up for what we believe in, and to consider our projects and accomplishments worthwhile. We cannot travel this path alone, and we are vulnerable at each step of the way to autonomy-undermining injustices not only to interference or material deprivation, but also to the disruptions in the social nexus that is necessary for autonomy. (130) The fact that ones autonomy could be vulnerable to disruptions in ones relationship to others requires situating agents social vulnerability in the ways in which being able to lead ones own life is dependent on ones being supported by relations of recognition. The central idea is that the agentic competencies that comprise autonomy require that one be able to sustain certain attitudes toward oneself (in particular, self-trust, self-respect, and self-esteem) and that these affectively laden self-conceptions () are dependent, in turn, on the sustaining attitudes of others. (12930) As has been already stated, Honneth situates himself in a tradition which has Hegel and Mead as central figures. Such heritage is the touchstone to explain recognitional autonomy, which is to be acquired and maintained through the recognition of those who one also recognizes. As a consequence of this assumption, self-trust, selfrespect and self-esteem are conceived as properties that emerge from a process in which individuals reach a sense of themselves as having certain status, for example by feeling they are an object of concern, or an agent that is responsible for, and can contribute to, a shared project. Honneth and Anderson emphatically maintain that the practical relationship with oneself is not a matter of a solitary ego reflecting on itself, but is the

result of an ongoing intersubjective process, in which ones attitude toward oneself emerges in ones encounter with an others attitude toward oneself. (Anderson and Honneth: 131) In this recognitional approach, if an individuals social environment is not adequately guaranteed, practices or institutions that express attitudes of humiliation, undermining ones sense of self-worth, could threaten their autonomy. These menaces put at risk ones agency, so it is necessary to remove them by guaranteeing relationships of mutual recognition. I believe this recognitional version of autonomy is very close to Sens assumptions about the self, in particular through his increasing emphasis on human agency. The connection with Honneths project could enable us to specify recognitional autonomy through the set of elementary capabilities mentioned by Sen, which reflects the constitutive role of freedom. In addition, instrumental freedom, considered as a means, would operate as a necessary condition of making possible this recognitional autonomy. An additional advantage lies in the fact that explaining the constitutive aspect of a persons freedom in terms of a recognitional basis allows for a better account of the intersubjectivity inherent in the instrumental freedoms presented by Sen.4 Thus, the dissonance between individualism and intersubjectivity could be overcome through the introduction of the assumption of a recognitional autonomy. This assumption allows for a better explanation of the constitutive and instrumental roles of freedom, and enables a theoretical projection of the approach in order to explain the contexts in which collective action occurs more suitably. This position leads me to propose that Sens theory implicitly assumes an intersubjectivist concept of agency, which shall enable us to explain the matter of collective agency in a better way.

3) Agency, well-being and intersubjectivity

In order to support an intersubjectivist interpretation of agency, I shall first refer to the assumption of a rational subject in Sens proposal. Its distinctive characteristic is the introduction of a moral dimension to rational behaviour, which is irreducible to the logic of means to ends, and enables Sen to break away from the standard economic standpoint that reduces rational behaviour to the pursuit of self-interested preferences.
This can be seen in Sens insistent emphasis on social deliberation and the influence -though not determination- of social identification in personal identity (Sen 1999 b: 23-4).

This moral dimension is called commitment. Commitment may be attached to rational behavior in which personal choice is not determined by welfare, providing an expanded definition of practical rationality. As a consequence of commitment, an agent might behave in a way he knows will provide her with a lower level of personal welfare than an alternative that is also available. This may be of particular relevance when one acts out of concern for duty, which if violated, could cause remorse. The action is chosen out of the sense of duty, rather than to avoid the pain resulting from the remorse that would occur if one were to act otherwise (Sen 1977: 327, 2002: 35-36). These two wings of Sens rational behaviour, in which on the one hand there is a logic of means to ends based on the identity between choice and welfare5, and on the other hand there is a logic grounded on what is valuable to the subject, are correlated with the distinction between agency and well-being. Hence, means-to-ends action that bases behaviour on the optimization of personal welfare seems to be the distinctive characteristic of the well-being aspect of a person, whereas action based on commitment appears to be the distinctive characteristic of the agency aspect. In accordance with this distinction between the well-being and agency aspects of a person, Sen differentiates well-being freedom and agency freedom. Well-being freedom is centred upon the things a person can achieve that are constitutive of her well-being. Agency freedom, on the other hand, is a wider concept of freedom and refers to what a person is free to do and achieve, in the pursuit of the goals she considers valuable. This idea of freedom is based on the agency aspect, and only makes sense in a framework determined by the persons conception of good that structures her goals and values (Sen 1985: 203-204). It can be said that under the well-being perspective a person is considered as a beneficiary whose interests and achievements should be taken into account, whereas from the agency perspective, a person is considered as someone who judges and acts. Hence, the well-being aspect of a person is more important in certain circumstances, for instance, in planning basic health coverage. In other circumstances, where the persons responsibility to the others is central, the agency aspect is more important, for instance in actions related to communitarian life. The relevance of such a distinction lies in the

Sen distinguishes three different aspects of the self-interested behaviour, which he calls: self-centered welfare, self-welfare goal and self-goal choice. These aspects explain accurately the complexities of the well-being aspect and they should be mentioned though it is not my intention to focus on them. (Sen, 2002 b: 213-216)



fact that the evaluation of different circumstances will determine which aspect should be prioritized in public policy design. However, the agency aspect of a person entails some difficulties. As its distinctive characteristic consists in being deliberative and responsible, this definition of agency is limited if what has been indicated about the presence of intersubjectivity in the constitutive and instrumental roles of freedom is taken into account. Therefore, the introduction of intersubjectivity is required in order to adequately explain the crucial role of the public sphere in the expansion of capabilities, as well as the constitutive role that Sen attributes to freedoms of political participation and dissent. (Sen 1999: 36). As stated above, the constitutive role of freedom can be explained by the characteristics of a subject with recognitional autonomy. This not only accounts for the distinctive traits of agency as presented by Sen, but also enables the elucidation of the influence that intersubjectivity has on instrumental freedoms. Such a subject with recognitional autonomy, in order to reach this condition, should have a proper development of elementary capabilities such as being well-nourished, avoiding premature death, as well as being part of a community, and should participate in the processes that allow for an expansion of their own freedom and the freedom of those around them. As the subject with recognitional autonomy demands intersubjectivity for her constitution, she provokes a movement of this intersubjectivity away from its possible instrumental role towards its constitutive role. Sen does not explicitly present this intersubjetivist interpretation, but I believe it can be reconstructed from his writings, thus improving his proposal. The central role that intersubjectivity has in the constitution of identity and in the decision-making process, impacts directly on the development of individual capabilities. This leads us to wonder whether those environments where intersubjectivity operates demand a conceptual specification to complement the capability approach in the evaluations of justice. The concept of irreducibly social goods introduced by Taylor aspires to fill that space.

4) Irreducibly social goods

The incorporation of intersubjectivity into the capability approach and, in particular, the emphasis Sen puts on social nets, requires the introduction of the concept


of irreducibly social goods as a way of enhancing the explanatory potential of this perspective. The introduction of this concept expresses my reconstructive purpose of explaining a feature of the capability approach suggested by Sen -although not fully developed- that seems to be based on the theoretical core of the approach. The distinctive feature of irreducibly social goods consists in being irreducible to individual terms. This concept supposes a common understanding that cannot be decomposed into individual features. Hence, individuals cannot possess these kinds of goods; they are features of societies. Irreducibly social goods provide a background that makes a certain common understanding between the people in a community possible, which is beyond what is individually understandable as us (Taylor 1990: 138-9). These common understandings determine the frame within which we consider one state of affairs as better than another. Therefore, these kinds of goods appear to have an intersubjective dimension that is alien, for example, to methodological individualism. At the same time they do not require that such intersubjectivity be ontologized, which could damage our individual identity. But it presupposes the community as an agent that forms its distinctive features through processes of integration (see Dworkin 2000: 222230). Those understandings, which challenge the strong assumption of rational collective choice, become evident in social norms (Sunstein 1997: 38-40). This is illustrated by the support some citizens lend to certain policies of cultural promotion that do not coincide with their own individual preferences. In this type of matter, there is a self-understanding as a collective that considers certain cultural activities valuable, by virtue of which those activities are supported by all citizens, including those who do not consume these kinds of cultural products. This is a clear example of a collective self-understanding that places the individual in a position different from the selfinterested evaluation (see Sunstein 1997: 25-28). Irreducibly social goods play a role in our self-understanding of the intersubjective relationships that we have as members of a society, and they impact the enhancement of individual capabilities. Some examples are the civic tradition of a society, the presence of social safety nets, institutional design, deliberation and public discussion. Hence, irreducibly social goods serve as a proper background for developing individual capabilities. On the other hand, the subjugation of women in some societies,


and respect for hierarchical values are also irreducible to individual terms but hinder the expansion of freedom (see Papanek 1990: 169-175). These special kinds of goods can be illustrated by the contexts that enable collective action, i.e., unions, political parties, civil society organizations or social nets that operate as a background for formulating shared values and preferences. The means that enable collective action are central to the expansion of individual freedom when understood as the development of elementary capabilities. In the case of the Indian State of Kerala, one of Sens favourite examples, encouraging debate and discussion, and providing social services, prevented behaviours that reproduced poverty. Social interaction has an intrinsic value, and not only provides welfare to the ones who take part in it, but is also central to the constitution and development of identity, and to shaping the values and goals that structure a persons life. Therefore, social interaction occupies a space beyond the measurement of individual utility. It is characterized by structuring our self-understanding as persons, in virtue of which it plays a central role in an individuals efforts to discover reflexively what they considers valuable in life. (Sen 1999 b: 15-19, 2002: 36) This characterization specifies what, in Sens perspective, is the constitutive role of freedom, enriching it with the instrumental value of freedoms such as transparency guarantees or protective security, as they expand the possibilities of collective action. This position coincides with what I have said about the reconstruction of the assumption of intersubjectivity in the capability approach. Intersubjectivity is constituted in terms of reciprocal recognition, and it allows for a concept of social goods irreducible to individual terms. The distinctive feature of these goods is that they allow the expansion of individual capabilities. This concept seems to enable the constitution of identity, and it is a central element in the deliberative formation of preferences. The idea of irreducibly social goods refers to a cultural background that is expressed in the behaviour of those who take part in institutional agreements as well as in the social norms. In consequence, whether institutions are fair or egalitarian depends on the self-understanding that determines, on the one hand, institutional design, and on the other hand, the personal behaviour of those who participate in them (Sunstein 1997: 38-41). Gerald Cohens (2001) ethical dimension of justice has expressed these requirements by presenting an egalitarian ethos as a way to reach the objective of pursuing a just society. Such a proposal can be reached by a democratic culture that possesses irreducibly social goods. (Carens 2003) 13

The cultural background referred to does not necessarily imply collective rights. As previously indicated, the concept of irreducibly social goods aims to avoid the risk of proposing an ontologized vision, which would involve this concept with an unitarian vision of the groups and the culture that reduces the perception of contradictions and conflicts. Benhabibs formulation of the concept of culture is very close to the meaning I want to support, because she understands human cultures as permanent creations, recreations and bargaining of the imaginary borders between us and the other. A concept of culture sensitive to differences and group restructuring will enable us to process much more accurate evaluations of justice due to the relevance that group selfunderstandings have on an individuals well-being. The example of the women of Kerala illustrates this usage of the concept; in this case there is not a homogenous culture, tradition or language. However, there is a minimal version of intersubjectivity, which through a new self-understanding, expands an individuals self-respect and increases their well-being (Benhabib 2002: 30-6, 100-10). In my reconstructive attempt to make explicit the intersubjectivist assumptions of the capability approach, I have introduced the concept of irreducibly social goods as a way to improve the evaluations of justice. However, it is necessary to point out that this intersubjectivist assumption challenges an interpretation in individual terms, which implies that evaluations of justice adopting that assumption cannot be made in aggregative terms. Cultural environments are considered valuable only because they are so for individuals. However, it is not possible to access the meaning of those environments for the individual exclusively in an individual way. In consequence, I consider it necessary to move towards an interpretative approach that allows us to access that meaning and to make evaluations of justice, integrating the qualitative dimensions of culture. In my opinion, philosophical hermeneutics is the best candidate for this job.

5) Hermeneutics and irreducibly social goods

The concept of irreducibly social goods has important consequences for the evaluations of justice. The reason for this is that because there are aspects of collective action that cannot be reduced to individual terms, they cannot be evaluated simply in aggregative terms. (Stewart 2005, Gore 1997) Therefore, it is necessary to find an evaluative framework with which to make comparisons between different societies and


across different temporal states. It must also take into account the weight that normative systems have, and their meaning to the members of collectives. In order to do this, it is necessary to distance oneself from all attempts at aggregative measurement, since the sum of individual well-beings does not incorporate the concept of irreducibly social goods. To carry out this task we have to utilize a methodology quite different from those found in economics. In my opinion, hermeneutics is the best approach. I believe justice should be evaluated by means of two complementary methodologies, each with inherent advantages. The aggregative techniques found in economics can provide accurate measurement, while philosophical hermeneutics allows for a broader conception of justice that includes irreducibly social goods.6 The tools that hermeneutics provide for this task can be summed up in the following concepts: fusion of horizons between tradition and present, the unity of understanding and application, and the inexhaustibility of the interpretandum. I shall briefly explain these concepts in the specific case of irreducibly social goods applied to culture or traditional customs in a society. It is necessary to point out that Sens positional objectivity has several characteristics in common with hermeneutics, such as taking into account the particular perspective of the affected people (Sen 2002: 466-468). However, hermeneutics can provide a wider and more comprehensive framework with which to evaluate justice, than can Sens positional objectivity. In the first place, in order to integrate the hermeneutic approach into our evaluation of justice, historicity must be assumed as a basic condition of reflection. This implies that historicity should not be regarded as a limitation from which we should distance ourselves for the sake of objectivity. On the contrary, it must be considered as a crucial element that enables interpretation. Such an assumption requires tradition, whose anonymous authority determines our condition as historical beings, hence its influence on our actions and behaviour (Gadamer 1990: 165). Tradition is basically conservation, and is always present in historical changes. This is due to the fact that in every historical change there is some conservation of the past that is integrated into the new object under a new form of validity. Tradition determines the position of the interpreter of the social reality not in absolute terms but in a position constituted by familiarity and strangeness, which is a
In Gadamers case it would not be accurate to speak of a methodology, but of an interpretive approach to the object that cannot be understood in the traditional terms of a method, because a method favours a distance disregarding history and the interpreters point of view, and intends to explain the interpretive object thoroughly.


kind of balance between belonging to a tradition and the objectivity of historical distance. The interpretive task supposes the understanding of tradition from the present situation of the interpreter. Because she is situated within that tradition, but in a position of distance, this enables her to make sense of the interpreted object in a way that is consonant with such tradition. In Gadamers words, conceiving the interpretive task in this way avoids perspectives based exclusively on either tradition or the present, favouring their fusion in a new horizon. This process is called fusion of horizons, and takes place in the domain of tradition. It is there where the old and the new grow together towards a new vital validity, in which one is not explicitly distinct from the other (see Gadamer 1990: 169). Gadamers interpretive process contains a distinctive strong assumption about the awareness of an effective history. He claims it is not possible to distance oneself from the interpreted object in an objective way. In the process of understanding, the interpreter is part of the interpretandum, as she is part of the tradition that is to be comprehended. As a consequence, no complete understanding can be achieved. However, this feature is not a flaw of interpretation, but one of our characteristics as historical beings (Gadamer 1990: 397). Two facts derive from this. The first one is the possibility to explain irreducibly social goods in terms of a fusion of horizons between tradition and the present, where the query made by the interpreter allows for a new understanding of the tradition in question. Understanding means applying a new sense to our situation and to our question. Hence, interpretation and applicability appear to be codetermined by the singular position of the interpreter that asks the question (see Gadamer 1990: 367). This situation leads us to the second fact inherent to this approach: the object of interpretation is inexhaustible. As no interpretation can exhaust the interpretandum, it is necessary to find a normative criterion to exclude certain interpretations in favour of others. In the case of irreducibly social goods, when traditional customs establish that women should remain at home doing exclusively domestic tasks, it may be possible to interpret this either as a conservative command, or as one that favours human flourishing. Both are equally possible, and both may be the product of a fusion of horizons. So, what should the criterion be to discriminate between these different interpretations? Which of them favours the expansion rather than the reduction of freedom, i.e. the individual capabilities of these women? The answer should consist of a normative guide to an interpretive approach. Sens elementary capabilities, -valuable in 16

and of themselves- could operate as a criterion for identifying which irreducibly social goods should be supported, depending on whether they expand or undermine these elementary capabilities. But the problem does not end here, because we can ask which of the elementary capabilities should count as an expansion of freedom and why they provoke such expansion. It is necessary to identify a normative criterion that guides the interpretive process.

6) A normative criterion to guide interpretation

In reference to a normative criterion, Sen discusses the expansion of the elementary capabilities that people have reason to value, but he is very reluctant to define precisely what these capabilities are. Some clearly morally objectionable behaviour could be defended as being within the bounds of freedom, such as murder or tax evasion. It is clear that Sen is not thinking of these behaviours as freedom, without a normative criterion to evaluate capabilities, the door is left open for this kind of argument. Sen deliberately avoids identifying the capabilities that he believes should be promoted, and emphasises that the evaluation of capabilities does not have to be based upon a particular comprehensive conception that orders ways of life. (Sen 1992: 83) However, a comprehensive conception is not the only way to identify the capabilities that should be promoted. The best answer to this difficulty can be built up from the kind of subject that is assumed by the capability approach. This would require the access to all the necessary conditions to achieve a recognitional autonomous subject. As has been presented, the normative model of recognition developed by Honneth would be the theoretical complement for the capabability approach, ensuring the normative criterion that will enable Sens proposal to answer questions as the ones indicated above. As discussed above, Honneth understands human autonomy in terms of recognition. Autonomy requires having certain attitudes to towards oneself: self-respect, self-trust and self-esteem. Self-respect is expressed by relations in which autonomy and dignity are respected universally, and are institutionalized in the legal corpus. Self-trust is expressed by relations of love and friendship. Self-esteem is expressed through nets of shared values and solidarity, according to which each members of a community is recognized as valuable.


Self-respect means someone can see herself as the author of her own life, which permits someone to have a self-understanding as a competent deliberator and a legitimate co-author of decisions. Self-trust means the confidence an agent has towards her feelings and emotions. Thus, whereas self-respect has to do with ones capacity for processing various considerations in deliberating about what to do, self-trust has to do with the affectively mediated perceptual capacities by which what is subjectively felt becomes material for deliberation in the first place. (Anderson and Honneth 2005: 133) Self-trust emerges in particular within intimate relationships, so being loved by others facilitates the courage to engage with ones own feelings in an open and critical way. In Honneth and Andersons words there is an internal connection between the openness and freedom of ones inner life and the openness and freedom of ones social context. (135) Finally, self-esteem can be explained as an extension of self-trust because the selfreflection required by autonomy demands not only an affective openness, but also certain semantic resources. These semantic resources frame a symbolic field that is appropriate to processes of reflection, determining at the same time the worth and meaning of someones activities. The counterparts of these ways of recognition that assure autonomy are different kinds of humiliation, which undermine self-respect, self-trust or self-esteem. Selfrespect can be undermined by marginalization and exclusion. Self-trust can be damaged by rape or torture. Self-esteem can be diminished by public derogative considerations of certain vital projects, such as being openly lesbian or a stay at home dad (Anderson and Honneth 2005: 136). Recognitional autonomy as a normative criterion for the capability approach provides us with a guide to promote specific elementary capabilities: those which promote self-respect, self-trust and self-esteem. In addition, the different ways of humiliation indicated could enable us to identify kinds of social suffering that express different ways of social shame. As stated by Sen, this perspective avoids the risks involved in taking a particular comprehensive conception as a normative guide. All individual comprehensive conceptions are respected, while still preserving its role as a guide on how to promote the expansion of freedom. So for our purposes, the normative criterion of recognitional autonomy can work as guide that enables us to identify which different interpretations would expand freedom and which would undermine it. Recognitional autonomy can be specified by Sens elementary capabilities, but it is necessary to point out that the capabililty 18

approach lacks a philosophical foundation that permits us to answer, from Sens proposal, the questions presented above. In addition, the capability approach converges with Honneths normative model of recognition, through the normative criterion introduced. This fact highlights the critical potential that the capability approach has to provide a guide for identifying not only the necessary circumstances for the flourishing of human beings, but the causes of human suffering, and the ways in which to struggle against them. Returning to hermeneutics, the advantage of this approach consists of enabling the access to irreducibly social goods through a fusion of horizons between present and tradition. In light of this approach, irreducibly social goods are regarded as irreducible to individual occurrences or aggregative measurements. Moreover, this access does not exhaust the object because the possibility of reinterpretation remains. Therefore, it is necessary to have a criterion for identifying what interpretations promote human flourishing better than others. To this end, Honneth and Andersons recognitional autonomy, specified by the set of Sens elementary capabilities, can operate as a normative criterion. In this way, it would be possible to discriminate between conservative and liberating interpretations. Thus, the interpretations enabling the modification of the self-understanding of certain groups could be given priority through certain public policies. Integrating tradition into interpretation allows the interpreter to overcome conservative group values and beliefs. Tradition becomes a platform from which to promote such contravention. Taking into account the local self-understanding allows for greater success in the implementation of public policies than if the policies were designed from a perspective alien to such tradition. The greater possibility of acceptance this route affords reduces the chance that the policy will fail. The experience of many Third World countries is a qualified witness of the failures of imported measures. Because these measures did not take into account the affected peoples values, they were rejected. Again, Sen allows for a proper framework for this interpretive task through his emphasis on the freedom to participate in public deliberation, guarantees of transparency and social protection. In that way the affected people become the makers of their own fate.


7) Conclusion
In this paper I have presented the theoretical relevance of the concept of irreducibly social goods as a way of explaining an aspect of the expansion of individual capabilities. My intention has been to provide a more accurate explanation of collective action as a crucial element in the expansion of individual freedom. This concept goes beyond the individualist theoretical assumptions of the dominant tradition in economics. The evaluation of justice allows identifying which collective actions favour the expansion of individual capabilities. This demands the introduction of the hermeneutic approach in order to guide the complementary work between philosophy and economics. The use of this concept does not necessitate excluding the measurement of well-being. On the contrary, the hermeneutic approach provides the social meaning and the relevance of self-understanding for the implementation of justice. This not only improves the results of measurement and evaluation, but also avoids the risks of fetishism inherent in contemporary economics. I reached this conclusion through the reconstruction of Sens assumption of personhood in intersubjectivist terms. This enables to go beyond a strictly individualist explanation of agency and to incorporate collective action as a component which provides the capability approach with a greater capacity to explain the expansion of freedom. Taylors concept of irreducibly social goods allows for better foundations to such expansion, on the one hand by explaining collective action and on the other hand by providing the capability approach with more accurate tools in order to carry out evaluations of justice. This expansion has an inevitable methodological consequence, which is that irreducibly social goods cannot be explained by aggregative methodologies; that is the reason why I have introduced hermeneutics as the most suitable approach to this aim. Finally, I have put forward the possibility of a theoretical connection between the capability approach and a normative model of recognition. The basis for that link is in the idealization of the subject that both perspectives share, distancing themselves from the liberal assumptions of a self-sufficient and a self-reliant subject. This point of contact enables us to take self-respect, self-trust and self-esteem -practical relations to oneself- as a normative guide with which to evaluate the results of interpretation as expanding or undermining individual freedom.


The points indicated above contribute to enhance the evaluations of justice for the following reasons: a) First, individualistic assumptions which have dominated the discussion on distributive justice were questioned. Reconsidering individualistic assumptions in intersubjectivist terms adds a new aspect that must be taken into account in the expansion of elementary capabilities and in the effective achievement of autonomy; considering social interaction and the relational dimension of human action provides greater precision not only in the process of evaluating justice but also in the design of public policies. In consequence, the main benefit of an intersubjectivist approach for processing evaluations of justice becomes evident in applied matters. Identifying which collective contexts expand the elementary capabilities and contribute to the realization of effective freedom, and which are conservative, will have the consequence of optimizing the allocation of resources by public institutions. This could lead to the design of public policies stimulating the relational contexts that expand freedom by means of elementary capabilities, and struggle against relational contexts which reduce the development of capabilities. b) Second, the introduction of intersubjectivity in evaluations of justice through the concept of irreducibly social goods demands a suitable method for accessing the meaning of said goods. Philosophical hermeneutics is the best candidate. It enables a connection between philosophy and economics that has not been covered by the dominant conceptual framework for processing evaluations of justice. The advantage of hermeneutics can be perceived through the concept of fusion of horizons. This concept demands that tradition be taken into account when evaluating a particular society. This requirement explains the limitations of the majority of recommendations given to developing countries by international organizations such as the World Bank or the IMF. The measures taken under those recommendations have systematically failed because they have ignored local traditions, i.e. the circumstances of application. An intersubjectivist approach that integrates philosophical hermeneutics would consider the local circumstances when evaluating the arrangements of justice and design the best policies to realize justice accordingly. This methodological perspective would be more precise in the evaluations of justice and bring greater focus to the design and application of public policies. Moreover, this perspective makes it possible to overcome regressive and conservative collective values and beliefs from the same tradition from which they arise. 21

c) Finally, this paper has provided a normative criterion with which to distinguish interpretations of social situations that expand freedom and autonomy from those that reduce them. Because of this criterion, it is possible to identify group or collective contexts that should be promoted. For instance, the collective action resulting from organizing residents of a neighborhood to work together to improve their houses clearly contributes to the expansion of individual freedom and autonomy, while the organization of young people in gangs produces the contrary effect. The influences of both of these kinds of collective action can be differentiated in virtue of a shared intuition that the freer and more autonomous a person is, the greater the possibility of leading a good life she has. However, my intention in this paper has been to provide an explicit normative criterion instead of an implicit one, and the autonomy of reciprocal recognition is the best way to conceptualize individual self-determination and the relational dimension of human action. An explicit normative criterion enables a public use of it, which contributes to the discussion about the best ways not only to evaluate justice, poverty and development, but also to expand effective freedom and autonomy.

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Biographical note
Gustavo Pereira is a Professor of Ethics in the Department of Philosophy of Praxis at Universidad de la Repblica (Uruguay). His current research interests are critical theory of justice and deliberative democracy. Recent books are Condenados a la desigualdad extrema?, (CEFPSVLT 2007), and Las voces de la igualdad, (Proteus 2010). e-mail: