Seminar: Ilse Oosterlaken, "The capability approach, technology and neutrality towards the good life"

Past Event

21 February 2012, 3:00pm - 4:30pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

This seminar is hosted by the Institute for Science and Ethics and the Future of Humanity Institute

Speaker: Ilse Oosterlaken, PhD Candidate, Delft University of Technology

Respondent: David Rhys Birks

Abstract: The capability approach of Sen and Nussbaum - so some prominent capability scholars claim - stands in the tradition of political liberalism, as it would be neutral towards the very different ideas that people may have about the good life. Two important arguments are the ‘multiple realizability’ of capabilities and the distinction made between capabilities and functionings. This claim of neutrality has, however, been contested by other authors. This paper sides with those critics by highlighting a new dimension in this discussion: technology. Technical artifacts can be a very effective means for expanding human capabilities. Indeed, many of of the things that people can actually do and be have somehow be made possible by technology. A dominant, although often implicit, view of technology is that it concerns merely neutral means towards ends that users choose. Yet most contemporary philosophers of technology reject this instrumentalism and hold that technology is value-laden and not neutral with respect to the good life. Sometimes technological artifacts, like seat belts that beep annoyingly when not put on, ‘nudge’ us into certain behavior. And cars not only expand our capabilities to move about, they also transform society in such a way that there is less opportunity for solitary hikes in nature and we have no choice but to spend hours in traffic jams while commuting. Although the argument of ‘multiple realizability makes sense, the practical effectiveness of the distinction between capabilities and functionings can thus be challenged. It is therefore necessary, so this paper argues, to explicitly and publicly deliberate about good life questions when considering to expand human capabilities with the help of technology.

Biography: Ilse Oosterlaken is a PhD candidate at Delft University of Technology / 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology. She plans to defend her doctoral dissertation on the capability approach of Sen and Nussbaum & technology/design in August or September 2012. Her doctoral research has led to publications for several audiences, including designers, capability scholars and philosophers. With Jeroen van den Hoven she co-edited a volume titled 'The Capability Approach, Technology and Design', which is forthcoming with Springer in April this year.