Homo capabilitiensis: a paradigm inspired by Amartya Sen’s thought walking through Aristotle and Smith’s path

Présentation de Valentina Erasmo (Università degli Study G. d’Annunzio Chieti-Pescara, Italie)


Valentina Erasmo

In this paper, I will present you homo capabilitiensis, namely an anthropological paradigm I have elaborated: this is inspired by Amartya Sen’s thought, walking through Aristotle and Smith’s path. This paradigm represents an alternative to the consequent reductionism of homo oeconomicus which has distinguished and isolated economic domain from that of other fields of human existence and has assigned an autonomous life to economics. This reductionism has led to serious difficulties, for example, about the possibility to establish if can exist and if is possible to find an individual with these characteristics, as well as the urgent concern for the ethical individualism related to the adoption of such position. This paper may be divided in two ideal parts: from one hand, the reasons and the main elements of homo capabilitiensis; from the other hand, an overview on Aristotle and Adam Smith’s contribution on Sen’s thought compared to the elements I employed for this elaboration.
The reasons why I have chosen Sen as theoretical inspiration for elaborating a new paradigm are the following: §2.1 the importance he assigned to the dialogue between ethics and economics, as this latter had his origin in the former (Sen, 1987a); § 2.2 the coming back to the dimension of values in economics (Putnam, 2002), (Walsh, 2003); § 2.3 the understanding of capabilities as relationship, for example, in intrapersonal, interpersonal and extrapersonal dimension. Once having described these reasons, I will expose you a comparative reading among the main differences between homo oeconomicus and homo capabilitiensis, developing the elements arisen since the reasons previous analyzed, such as: § 3.1 rationality and rational motivations in decision-making with particular attention to sympathy, commitment and incompleteness in Sen’s thought (1977, 1985, 1992); § 3.2 the role of values in decision-making, especially, Sen’s preference over action (Sen, 1997) ; § 3.3 the role of relationships for the building of personal identity (Sen, 1999, 2000, 2006). Afterwards, I will show you Aristotle and Smith’s contribution on those elements of Sen’s thought I employed for elaborating this new paradigm: about the former, it concern, in particular, concepts as kalokagathia, sympheron/kalon, phronesis and eudaimonia; while, for the latter, it may be found, instead, in concepts as sympathy and commitment, as well as reciprocity and the dynamical reaching of human fulfillment.
The main conclusions of this paper are the following: from one the hand, to offer an alternative paradigm not only to homo oeconomicus, but to Genovesi’s homo reciprocans, combining descriptive and normative effectiveness. From the other hand, this reading of Sen’s thought and this new paradigm represent both an overcoming of the misunderstanding of Smith (as homo oeconomicus’ prophet) and a ‘rehabilitation’ of Aristotle in economics.

Keywords: commitment; facts/values; homo capabilitiensis; homo oeconomicus; rationality; relationships; self-interest; sympathy.