Abstract: Despite the proliferation of scholarly work on the capability approach, and its wide endorsement as a theoretical framework in a variety of applications, there are very few sufficiently detailed accounts of what the capability approach exactly is. This is unfortunate, since a more robust understanding of what the capability approach is, and what it is not, would be beneficial for both the applied and empirical work, as well as a more solid foundation for advanced philosophical analysis. This paper presents an account of the capability approach that provides that basis: the concentric circles account. The concentric circles account allows us to distinguish what belongs to the core of the capability approach and what does not. It also allows us to see that there is a huge range of capabilitarian theories and applications possible, given that the core commitments can be combined with various (and diverse) additional normative and ontological claims in the outer circles. The concentric circles account also enables us to see why the Martha Nussbaum’s description of the capability approach, which is at present the only sufficiently specific account of the capability approach, is biased and misleading.
Keywords: capability approach, ethics, theories of justice, well-being, Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum.