This episode was a conversation with University of Chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum. She and EconTalk host Russ Roberts discussed her work on the capabilities approach, the limits of GDP, stoicism, and the value of philosophy.

As always, our goal is to broaden the conversation, by using the prompts below.


Check Your Knowledge:

1. What is the “capabilities approach,” according to Nussbaum, and how would it compare (favorably or not) to GDP as a measure of well-being?

2. About halfway through the episode, Nussbaum alludes to “reasonable pluralism.” What does she mean by this, and how does this principle guide Nussbaum in determining the purview of the state?

Going Deeper:

3. In discussing her differences with Amartya Sen, Nussbaum poses an interesting question. Is capability always good, but can be used badly, or are there bad capabilities distinct from the good? How would you answer this question?

4. At about the forty minute mark, Roberts says he is making a philosophical, not an practical point, when he asserts that the government doesn’t truly represent the individual. To what extent do you agree with Roberts’s assertion, and what kind of point is it– practical or philosophical? Explain.

Extra Credit:

5. Nussbaum notes her admiration for development economics, in part because it involves “working with real people and their lives.” Roberts has interviewed several development economists in previous episodes. Describe how you think Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly would feel about using the capabilities approach to measure the effectiveness of international aid.