Substantial Freedom and Capabilities: the role of education in the Capability Approach Theory


  • Elisa Tona


The idea of human development as an increase of capabilities, which is moved away from the utilitarian paradigm, has been introduced, within the framework of a theory of justice, by the theorists of the capability approach Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. This theoretical-normative framework criticizes the
utilitarian model for its idea of quantitative human development and focuses on what the individuals are capable to be and to do to have a decent life following their values. The capability approach looks at the real conditions of the individuals in the society and asks itself what the democratic institutions can do to realize a just society. What should be redistributed? Surely not enough, as Rawls asserts, that the institutions redistribute primary goods because they don’t show how people really live or how much freedom they can exercise. Sen and Nussbaum propose a new theory of justice that it is based on the combined capabilities development. A just society respects the right of every individual to choose and express their choice of the life they want to lead. The framework of capabilities allows us to examine the real capabilities of the individuals to choose and grab the real opportunity to realize their substantial freedom to be
and to do something. The education of substantial freedom is necessary to realize at the institutional and also social level the new horizon of sense proposed by the capability approach. Development needs to be a development of capabilities that can ensure that everyone is able to grasp real opportunities to express one’s substantial freedom. The school environment will then be the fertile ground on which one can build and implement an idea of democratic society and citizenship based on a sense of horizon that end human
dignity and social justice. In this article, we will therefore seek to understand how education is necessarily linked to justice and how they can structure a pedagogical road at a theoretical and applicative level capable of achieving equally freedom to do and be for all individuals depending on their Needs and values in view of more just democratic societies.



How to Cite

Tona, E. (2017). Substantial Freedom and Capabilities: the role of education in the Capability Approach Theory. Formazione & Insegnamento, 15(2 Suppl.), 185–192. Retrieved from