Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Creating Capabilities’ explores the human development approach which seeks to bring our attention to the most important elements of people’s quality of life such as bodily integrity, education and health. In deepening this inquiry, Nussbaum asks ‘what is each person able to do and to be?’ it is on the basis of this question that this blog article will investigate the extent to which people are granted opportunities to maximize their self-definition, self-realization, self-knowledge and self-confidence to become a 21st century citizen.
When people are marginalized they cannot participate in imagining their capabilities because they are concerned about basic access to basic decencies; socio-economic welfare and dignity. As such, the more people find themselves under severe poverty conditions the lesser they are able to access their abilities to express and expand on their inherent human capabilities. For this reason, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides for the protection and promotion of ‘Human Dignity’ as a legal point in which to allude to the imperative role of expanding human capabilities and opening up to the expansive need for our efforts to create a contemporary society that is equal, free and in harmony.
Imaginative capabilities combine personal abilities and political willingness argues Nussbaum. In other words, Nussbaum brings forth an argument that our intelligence, emotional capacities, our internalized learning and skills of perception and movement are influenced by our interaction with the social, economic and political environment. Given this point of view, it is valid to support this argument and further assert that public policy should be targeted at developing our internal capacities; through effective resourced allocation to basic decency needs namely the support towards enhanced physical and emotional health, support for family care and love. Dr Mamphela Ramphele, calls for South Africans to tackle the legacy of shame, guilt and anger by focusing on creating a societal environment in which the dignity of all is restored and celebrated.
If people are not provided with the opportunities for educative imaginative capabilities they become ‘deformed in an essential part of the character of human nature’. It is thus vital to advocate for education as social entitlement equally afforded to everyone given availability of public resources. This will move our society towards living conditions worthy of the human dignity of each individual. A focus on human dignity should dictate policy choices and drive the urgency for people’s ability to pursue dignified and flourishing lives. What does a life worthy of human dignity require? Nourishment, education, employability and living in a secular society that recognizes basic justice as fundamental to all. Constructively leading a worthwhile human life is a collective responsibility enriched by the choice each of us makes in any situation.
‘The adoption of values-based civic education in schools, churches and workplaces will assist in establishing a new ethos that prioritizes human dignity and equality at the centrality of 21st century social relationships and economic development’ argues Dr Ramphele. She further goes on to stipulate that ‘the foundation of the transformation of our socio-economic system should be a well-planned, integrated high-quality education and training system that stops the wastage of talent of our youthful population’.