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CHAPTER 1

PAUL RICOEUR

CAPABILITIES AND RIGHTS

INTRODUCTION My purpose in this chapter is to bridge the logical gap which separates the two basic concepts that our title puts side by side. The term capability belongs to philosophical anthropology; that of rights to the philosophy of law. My suggestion is to subordinate these two heterogeneous notions to an encompassing notion of which they would be partial components. The best candidate for this integration enterprise is, to my mind, that of recognition, understood as a dynamic process connecting a plurality of points of view as the distinctive steps of the same development. In a study that I am now devoting to the process of recognition, I start with the preliminary logical use of the term at stake, namely recognition, which I take to be identification of any item as being itself and not anything else. This first step in the process of recognition will not be superseded by the following ones: questions of identification will remain implied in the assignment of capabilities and rights at another stage. From this first logical step of the process I move to its use in a more existential context, that of the recognition of persons. The notion of capabilities belongs to a distinctive province of the recognition of persons, that of self-recognition, as I shall try to show. As to the concept of rights, it refers to a further step, that of mutual recognition, according to its juridical connotation. The first part of this study will be devoted to capabilities as the basic topic of self-recognition. The second part, to rights involved in mutual recognition. CAPABILITIES AND SELF-RECOGNITION Taken in its broader sense, the word capabilities belongs to the lexicon of human action. It designates the kind of power that we claim to be able to exercise. In its turn this claim expresses the kind of recognition pertaining to the assertion of selfhood at the reflexive level. This kind of self-recognition may be already detected in the most ancient literary documents of our western culture. In his book Shame and Necessity, Bernard Williams speaks in the most natural way of the recognition of responsibility which he detects in the behaviour of Homeric and tragic heroes, to y 17
S. Deneulin et al. ( .), Transforming Unjust Structures: The Capability Approach, 17-26. (eds © 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands.

I consider as a philosophical task the exploration of the main structures of what is held to be human capability. in a sense of the term that Aristotle will later elaborate systematically: the heroes keep comparing. The priority given to this capability may be vindicated from several points of view: the Homeric and tragic heroes keep speaking about their deeds. of knowledge. weighing. A whole phenomenology of certitude in its theoretical and practical use is required here. The first basic capability is the capacity to speak: I can speak. including factual assertions. to speak is “to do things with words”. preventing. The analysis of the performative component of any statement.18 PAUL RICOEUR the extent that they keep asking themselves what they intend to do. This confidence (attached to assertions introduced by the modal force of the expression “I can”) has not doubt as its contrary but suspicion. I want to underline the semantic proximity between self-recognition and attestation as concerns the kind of certitude and confidence attached to assertions introduced by the modal verb “I can”. the Greek heroes may be held to be “centres of decision”. In this way. forbidding. so and so. To the same phenomenological investigation belongs the reference of each assertion of capability to roles played by other people. proper names. the term “belief” used within this framework of attestation or self-recognition is distinct from its use in a theoretical context where it amounts to a weak form of theoretical thinking. the speaking subject is able to designate himself/herself by the use of specific linguistic devices. The contemporary pragmatics of discourse confirms this view: according to the famous motto of Austin’s philosophy of ordinary discourse. the transition from capabilities at large to rights at large. to the extent that speaking is itself a kind of action. such as helping. which can be refuted only by some reassurance of the same epistemic nature as the contested certitude. the simplest verbal . their verbal exchange is the substance of the epic or tragic poem. They practise deliberation. did it!” To follow Bernard Williams a little further. whatever interpretation may be given of their motivation. among them personal pronouns. action and speech go hand in hand. “I believe that I can” would be the basic assertion concerning capabilities. possessive adjectives. provides the expected precision. For the sake of our enquiry. From an epistemological point of view. etc. I want to underline the tight connection between self-designation and interlocution. They designate themselves as the “cause” or the “principle” of their action. Starting from these introductory remarks. or co-operating with the agent. This basic example related to a past culture allows us to propose a minimal definition of capability as the power to cause something to happen.1 The recognition of responsibility implies such questions as: “Who did what?” and answers of the form: “I. accordingly. This link between self-assertion and otherness or alterity will come to the forefront when we consider the connecting links within the anthropology of capabilities and the juridical sphere of rights. then choosing a course of action and facing the consequences. What I intend to do after these formal remarks is to describe a series of basic capabilities in a hierarchical order culminating in a specific capability: that which provides the transition from factual to normative capabilities and. it is this power that is liable to self-recognition. preferring one party to another.

in the specific meaning of being able to make events happen. Second. I am the one who did it. To a large extent. including oneself. interpersonal and social level. This connection between plot and character may be held to be the conceptual matrix of our modern notion of narrative identity. We may then say that the action belongs to the agent who appropriates it and calls it his own. some philosophers t borrow from the sphere of law and jurisprudence the concept of ascription. between sameness and selfhood. From the capability to speak. we move to the capacity to act. Such ascription of action to an agent is part of the meaning of action as a capacity. or liability. For modern thought this claim has lost all innocence. MacIntyre has given to the notion of narrative identity its full scope by proposing the notion of the . the categories of muthos. In Oneself as Another I propose the distinction r between idem and ipse. The adoption of this category has several implications which play a decisive role in discussions bearing on capabilities and rights. social and political relationships. First of all. as the capacity bridging the gap between descriptive and prescriptive notions. the causal connection to the assignment of free spontaneity to moral agents. and of mimesis. At the present stage of our presentation it is enough to lay the stress on our capacity to generate changes at the physical.2 It would be wrong to assign only ipse identity to persons. In this way. it is this dialectical constitution of personal identity which claims recognition at the level of juridical. what we call personal identity is linked to this capacity and may be characterised as narrative identity. it provides a temporal dimension to the very notion of identity. translated as “plot”. i. the characters themselves may be said to be emplotted and the notion of character becomes a narrative category. as distinct from questions inquiring into the what side of events as merely occurring. In this regard the branch of semiotics devoted to narrative structures under the label of narratology may be put in line with the categories forged by Aristotle in the Poetics. As we shall show later. at the cosmological level. we ascribe to them the capacity to designate themselves as the true authors of their deeds. The subject may recognise himself or herself as the “cause”. giving the form of a claim to the assertion: I did it. It characterises as “agency” this tight link between action and agent. it allows us to distinguish between the two kinds of identity. I now want to put in the third place the capacity to tell. the structure “question-answer” is paradigmatic as regards the correlation between elocution and interlocution. We shall later return to the basic concept of imputation. We may already anticipate the claim to be heard as a right to speak. This capacity makes us into agents in the strong sense. to tell stories about events and characters. We cannot help evoking the Kantian antinomy opposing. To underline the distinction between what and who. concerning the relation of the told action and its agent. Even constative assertions are in need of confirmation and approval on the part of the other. Narrative identity relies rather on the ongoing dialectic between idem and ipse identity. In the same way as we ascribe rights to individuals. imitation or representation of action. between sameness and selfhood.CAPABILITIES AND RIGHTS 19 expression requires an ear to receive it. filling the gap between description and prescription. agents capable of answering questions related to the who structure of action.e.

A threshold has been crossed: that of the subject of right. In fact. Among the implied consequences comes the compensation due for the harm done. This implication is particularly relevant to our further discussion. With imputability or accountability. some ethico-moral predicates. How does that transition occur? A new modality of self-designation gets attached to capabilities opened to objective description. “compte”. “Liability” could be held to be an appropriate equivalent as could “accountability”. follow the formulation of verbs of action. these agents are held to be capable of moral imputation.find a kind of culmination in the question: who is capable of imputation? (in German we speak of Zurechnungsfähigkeit). the capability to tell provides a structure to personal and collective memory. The frightening fragility of narrative identity brings us to our last cycle of considerations concerning personal capabilities. . as allowed or forbidden. which maintains a link with the concept of account. Such misuse of our capability to tell should not be ignored when we come to the topic of capabilities and rights. These predicates characterise the action in question as good or wrong. linked either to the idea of the Good or to that of obligation. we are confronted with a situation of conflict preventing any attempt to reconcile antagonistic groups of any kind. Such account makes the subject accountable before somebody else. The successive questions . but also the ability to suffer the pain of punishment.3 According to him this concept is able to support Aristotle’s concept of good life.20 PAUL RICOEUR narrative unity of a life. As concerns the action as such. “Rechnung”. When applied reflexively to the agents themselves. Narrative identities may claim recognition according to their differences but this claim calls for a kind of therapy as regards the so-called impulse to repeat and to hate foreign traditions built on narrative identities held as adversary. What does this new idea add to that of ascription evoked earlier? It adds the ability to bear the consequences of one’s own acts.who speaks to whom? Who acts with or against other agents? Who tells stories about himself or herself and about strangers held to be friends or enemies? . Collective memories are threatened with being swallowed by what Freud called the impulse to repeat instead of remembering. how could a subject of action assign an ethical qualification to his or her personal life if he or she were not able to gather this life in the terms of a narrative identity? One more remark concerning the capability to tell: thanks to narrative identity. If we take into account the encounter between competitive memories related to the same traumatic events. Psychoanalysis assigns to hidden resistances this pathology of memory which has its cultural and political expression in the claim of traditional accounts of past sufferings to shape collective memory in terms of war between narrative identities. the concept of capability reaches its peak in terms of selfdesignation. particularly those which are held to be harms inflicted on somebody else as the victim.

fulfilling step by step the need to be recognised. the confidence which goes with the assertion of any capability. The reversal. and we moved to the step of self-recognition. Used in the active voice. just before the publication of the famous Phenomenology of Spirit. The accountability of moral agents provides only the anthropological ground for the characterisation of human actions in terms of validity. as a dynamic process making its way through several stages. or a crime.4 These Hegelian works generated a rich heritage in the field of political philosophy especially among some followers of Habermas. to recognise implies a claim. The question then is to proceed from self-recognition to mutual recognition. At the same time the category of alterity or otherness assumes the form of reciprocity or mutuality which was lacking (or remained implicit) at the previous stage of self-recognition in terms of capabilities. to the stage of mutual recognition as it is used in ordinary language. or a debt. a benefit. I strongly believe that I can. But. which finds its grammatical support in the use of the verb in the passive voice. the author of . we went across the logical step of identifying something in general as being itself and not something else. in the concept of Anerkennung received from Hegel. How to bridge the logical gap implied by the title of this chapter: “Capabilities and rights”? Anticipating the present argument. to which we assigned the ascription of capabilities to a human being accountable for his/her actions. It is not enough to take advantage of the reference to the other as implied by each modality of the “I can”. but a long way has still to be covered. It appears for the first g time in the philosophical fragments belonging to the Iena period of the years 18021806. Our basic hypothesis concerning the breadth of the process of recognition needs the addition of a complementary hypothesis in order to allow the transition from self-recognition to mutual recognition. The idea of reciprocity was included in this consideration of alterity connected to the self-assertion of the subject of capabilities. implying the framework of institutions ruling the sphere of legality.CAPABILITIES AND RIGHTS CAPABILITIES AND MUTUAL RECOGNITION 21 As I have just said. “I can tell”. “I can hold myself as accountable”. a service or a gift. that of intellectual mastery over the field of meanings at stake in the conceptual situation. as when we speak of recognising. leading from the notion of imputability as a capability. acknowledging an authority as legitimate. a threshold has been crossed. In the above section. to that of rights. I have already underlined the difference between the anthropological concept of capabilities and the juridical context of rights. I propose to move one step further. Regarding self-recognition. be it “I can speak”. I did propose as a connecting link the concept of recognition. I do not want to hide my discovery of decisive support. This notion of need to be recognised will be henceforth our guiding thread. This complementary hypothesis relies on the reversal in the very use of the verb. we did notice the assurance. This need requires the mediation of institutions providing stability and durability to the process. at this stage of my inquiry. “I can do”. at the same time. such as Axel Honneth. a reversal from the active to the passive voice: to recognise. as Habermas would say. may be summarised in the following way: from the claim to recognise to the need to be recognised. of Gültigkeit.

I shall focus my attention on some traits of the post Hegelian Anerkennung-recognition which enables such new application. Honneth prepares us to take into account the conflicting g aspect of the dynamic process at stake and the role of a negative feeling such as contempt.5 which helped me to ground the link between capabilities and rights on the concept of Anerkennung as the leading g category in the field of mutual or reciprocal recognition. Hobbes’s theory of the state of nature may be held as the paradigm of all following social or political theory excluding moral motives from the constitution of the social bond: only the passions of rivalry. who was first among the German idealists to link the concept of freedom to that of inter-subjectivity. mutual recognition brings self-recognition to fruition. . The difficulty lies in the treatment of capability as implying some sort of need to be recognised and thus developing a right to accomplishment. Then. The realm of right can be equated with the “institutions of freedom”. Anerkennung as grounded on normative g motivation allows us to see conflicting interactions constitutive of the process of Anerkennung as the main key to the resulting enlargement and fulfilment of the g individual capabilities described in the first part of this chapter. as the condition not only of its implementation but also of its constitutive structure. defiance and glory are held as originary. my analysis in terms of recognition confirms the attempt of several contemporary enterprises aiming at a normative account of social relationships and using the concept of capability as the corner stone of their theory. the logical gap that I noticed at the beginning between the descriptive status of capability and the normative status of right would be bridged. fulfilment or flourishing. Before considering some contemporary attempts to co-ordinate capabilities and rights. At this stage. This basic presupposition finds in the last work of Hegel devoted to the subject – namely the Principles of the Philosophy of Right – its most elaborate expression: the t philosophical concept of right covers the whole range of institutions devoted to the historical actualisation of freedom. as both a machine and a mortal god. This is possible only if the notion of capability itself is held as the expression of some normative motivation not confined to empirical description. in a way compatible with Amartya Sen’s normative economy. They contain the war of everyone against everyone and the fear of violent death which leaves no other way out than the dispossession of each private claim to power in favour of the Leviathan. The first character common to a large spectrum of contemporary actualisation of the theory of recognition is to assume the quasi-axiomatic postulation of the concept of liberty received from Kant and channelled by Fichte. the concept of mutual recognition may assume this function to the extent that it leads from an initial stage of need to a terminal stage of fulfilment requiring the mediation of juridical institutions under the tutelage of the idea of right. which may be transcribed as a denial of recognition. The main advantage of an enquiry guided by the concept of Anerkennung is to g open the path for social theories grounded on normative motivation as a reply to any naturalistic anthropology such as that of Hobbes in the Leviathan. In this way.22 PAUL RICOEUR a book entitled Struggle for Recognition. By characterising Anerkennung as a struggle. But what allows us to deal with capability as the basic component of a normative social theory? To my mind.

the benefit of which lies in the ability to be alone. Hegel did not pay much attention to the field of commercial exchange and to the passions linked to the competitivity between partners at the economic level. or. and culminating in the State characterised by its constitutional structures. he considers the affective modalities of recognition and conflictuality. collective praxis. itself derived from the term Sitten. harms each partner at the prejuridical level of his or her “being-with” others. The same conflictual situation may be seen at work in the successive levels of institutions implying a personal participation and governed by rules embodying the historical heritage of shared values. Even in adulthood.CAPABILITIES AND RIGHTS 23 The second common character is the role assigned to negativity in this process of actualisation. in a word. we could define humiliation as the denial of recognition at that stage. and consequently to rely on one’s own capabilities. mores. At a prejuridical stage. felt as the denial of approbation. Humiliation. From this coupling of speculation and empirical analysis. although he was well aware of the preference given to the value of utility in that . proposes a “reactualisation” of the Hegelian argument in which he takes into account the empirical contribution of contemporary thinkers such as Herbert Mead. it is worth observing in early childhood already the first conflicting structures pertaining to the emotional relations between mother and child and aiming at overcoming the stage of dependency linked to fusional attachment. Now. love and friendship are confronted by the trial of separation. For the sake of our discussion I will not stay at this stage for long. one of the successors of Jürgen Habermas. Specific negative experiences and feelings are related to this first range of mutual exchange. nevertheless. to put it in other words. humiliation would be the specific form of contempt proper to the prejuridical stage. these institutions of freedom constitute the realm of Sittlichkeit. this capacity grows in proportion to the trust of partners in the permanence of the invisible bond that underlines the intermittent presence and absence. when we move to the juridical level of the fight for recognition. MUTUAL RECOGNITION AND RIGHTS We come closer to a field of reciprocal relations. If we may speak of contempt as the negative feeling corresponding to the harm done to individuals at each stage of the process of recognition. Altogether. its contrary being approbation. manners. such as those of family. where capabilities and rights could be connected. which means customs. Axel Honneth. each of which implies specific forms of creative conflictuality. where it is already possible to apply the famous Hegelian formulation: “to be oneself in a stranger”. the role of conflictuality as the spring of the dynamism of recognition. in the sense of concrete morality (some translators have chosen the term “ethicity” to preserve the intent of the German Sittlichkeit. he derives three paradigms of recognition. of social interacting. The readers of the Hegelian philosophical fragments belonging to the period of Iena keep in mind the famous fragment on crime (crimen) devoted to the rebellious behaviour of the individual denied the recognition of his singularity by the law at the stage of “abstract right” which proceeds from the practice of contractual relations in the exchange of goods.

Justice and the Bounds of Liberty: “What we call human dignity is nothing else than the recognised capacity to require a right. it may be taken from two different points of view. New forms of conflictual situations are at stake and new capabilities come to light in connection with the new normative requirements. The struggle for recognition related to this purely juridical sphere requires an equal attention to the normative constraints and the concrete situations within which persons exercise their abilities. anger and violence. Such conjunction between new rights and new capabilities proceeds from the struggle which gives a historical dimension to both processes. The second concerns the positive rights related to participation in activities linked to the formation of the public will. Axiological components are implied here in terms of shared values. The enlargement of the sphere of rights ascribed to persons goes hand in hand with the increase of the sphere of capabilities that the juridical subjects recognise in one another. To . The exclusion from access to elementary goods is particularly felt as a humiliation generating indignation. a negative motivation is a powerful factor in social change. political rights and social rights. The third one concerns the rights to receive a fair share in the distribution of basic goods. If we now move beyond the juridical stage of mutual recognition. This last category concerns directly one theme of discussion: citizens of all countries suffer from the striking contrast between the equal ascription of rights and the unequal distribution of primary goods. to which correspond new forms of denial of recognition. He laid the main stress on the claim to universality linked to the conquest of new rights at the level of juridical relationship at large: the juridical person is defined as the bearer of rights implying normative obligations as regards the other partner in this kind of relationship. As Joel Feinberg says in Rights. The first category includes the negative rights which protect the person as concerns her life. that of the enumeration of new subjective rights and that of the ascription of these rights to new categories of individuals or of groups. recognition in the juridical sense adds to the basic capabilities considered in our first part under the aegis of self-recognition the new capabilities proceeding from the conjunction between the universal validity of the norm and the singularity of the persons.24 PAUL RICOEUR field. Here too. her property against the encroachments of the State. In this regard. we should distinguish between civil rights. But other important factors interfere with the diversity of the social mediations involved.” 6 To this capability of higher order recognition corresponds the positive feeling of pride. At the same time the concept of respect elaborated by Kant needs to take account of the history of rights which provides each time an appropriate new content for this unhistorical moral concept of respect. under the condition of a parallel increase of self-respect and of the will to play a role in the enlargement of the sphere of subjective rights. With respect to the first perspective. Recognition at that level amounts to the identification of each person as free and equal to any other in terms of rights. of contempt. As to the enlargement of the normative sphere of rights. the problem is not only the emergence of new rights but the extension of their sphere of application. This contrast finds its subjective counterpart in the quest for new capabilities at the personal level. her freedom of movement. we encounter new normative requirements which have more to do with social esteem than with equality in terms of rights.

We have here to do more often with arguments than with physical violence. as a model for the establishing of a typology of social esteem. At the same time. These enable individual agents to develop a new capability: that of judging the system of values prevailing in the limited world where a place is assigned to him or her.CAPABILITIES AND RIGHTS 25 this variety of social mediations corresponds a variety of social roles which call for distinct kinds of social esteem. These two authors have tried. the Department of Philosophy. new negative feelings come to the foreground concerning specific forms of injustice linked to the tests to be passed so as to satisfy the expectations of those in charge of the evaluation of performances of a certain type. somebody else as the head of an industrial company. What concerns us in this regard is the competitive behaviour thanks to which individual agents fight for recognition in one or another of these “cities”. and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. People argue for their place and their role. Some other kinds of dispute appear in connection with the plurality of the systems of evaluations governing that of the “worlds” composing the “économies de la grandeur. in connection with the capability to understand another world than his/her own. They have to do with social and political forms of discrimination concerning cultural minorities of different kinds. I propose here. Some other forms of struggles for recognition could be evoked besides these specifically social ones.8 to reduce to a limited number of “worlds” or “cities” the variety of evaluations governing such an “economy of greatness”. the expected benefit can be nothing other than an increase of self-esteem tightly linked to that of social esteem. artistic. Such are some of the ways of connecting capabilities and rights under the guidance of the concept of recognition followed from the stage of self-recognition to that of mutual recognition. Our authors call justification these strategies to get recognition for the rank that they occupy in the order of greatness at stake in their case.”7 The idea is that individuals may be held to be “great” or “small” according to the evaluations ruling specific categories of social activities. the work of the French scholars Boltansky and Thévenot devoted to what they call “économies de la grandeur. This capability may be compared to that of learning a foreign language and of translating a message from one language into another. in a way comparable to Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice. A new dimension of the person is revealed in that way. Charles Taylor has devoted to this dispute confronting “difference” and “democracy” an interesting volume which he himself puts under the title of “politics of recognition. . Whatever name is given to the aims of these kinds of struggles for recognition. domestic. A “politics of recognition” is at the same time a “politics of difference”.” What is at stake here are the criteria of greatness in use in a given segment of the social structure. The late Paul Ricoeur was the John Nuveen Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School. The discussions which have to do with multiculturalism are well-known.”9 What needs recognition is the collective identity of the minorities at stake. You may be “great” as a musician. A typology of critiques addressed from one “city” to another may be established. industrial or other. This competition constitutes a new component in the fight for recognition which is one of the leading concepts in my study.

Justice. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press Honneth. and L. J. Princeton. 3 McIntyre. REFERENCES Boltansky.J. 9 Taylor. De la Justification: Les Economies de la Grandeur. 1992: chapters 5-7. N. L. (1980). Princeton: Princeton University Press Walzer. Ricoeur. 1804-5: Logic and Metaphysics. Axel (1996). 1986. 4 Hegel. 1992. 1980. Multiculturalism and “The Politics of Recognition”. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Taylor. G. Bernard (1993). Spheres of Justice: A Defence of Pluralism and Equality. (1986). Paul (1992). 5 Honneth.26 PAUL RICOEUR NOTES 1 2 Williams. Charles (1992).: MIT Press McIntyre. Shame and Necessity. and the Bounds of Liberty: Essays in Social Philosophy. (1981). Oneself as Another. Cambridge.Thévenot (1991).F. Mass. 1991. A. 1992. 1993. Ricoeur. London: Duckworth Ricoeur. The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. New York: Basic Books Williams. Michael (1983). Rights. 1983. 7 Boltansky and Thévenot. Berkeley: University of California Press . Paris: Gallimard Feinberg. A Study in Moral Theory. After Virtue. Princeton University Press Hegel. 6 Feinberg. 1996. 1981: chapter 15.W. The Jena System. 8 Walzer.