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Environmental Values

The Capabilities Approach and Environmental Sustainability: The Case for Functioning Constraints

Wouter Peeters, Jo Dirix and Sigrid Sterckx

Environmental Values 24 (2015): 367-389. doi: 10.3197/096327115X14273714154575


The capabilities approach of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum has become an influential viewpoint for addressing issues of social justice and human development. It has not yet, however, given adequate theoretical consideration to the requirements of environmental sustainability. Sen has focussed on the instrumental importance of human development for achieving sustainability, but has failed to consider the limits of this account, especially with respect to consumption-reduction. Nussbaum has criticised constraining material consumption for its paternalistic prescription of one particular conception of the good life, without considering it as an imperative of justice. We discuss two possible extensions of the capabilities approach. First, the concept of capability ceilings contains several attractive elements, but it also suffers from some shortcomings. Therefore, second, we advocate constraining people's combinations of functionings in accordance with a personal budget which consists of a fair share of environmental resources.


Capabilities approach, environmental sustainability, political liberalism, sustainable consumption

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

DISCUSSION: On Wilfred Beckerman's Critique of Sustainable Development. Herman Daly

Sovereign Citizens and Constrained Consumers: Why Sustainability Requires Limits on Choice. Susanne Menzel and Tom L. Green

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Editorial: Democratic and Practical Engagements with Environmental Values. Alex Loftus

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