Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: Is ‘being alive’ a capability or a functioning? Part 3

In my earlier 2 posts related to the Capabilities approach I tried to interpret ‘normal’ in the phrasing of the first capability:

Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length;

Martha Nussbaum in Capabilities as fundamental entitlements: Sen and social justice

First using statistical/demographic concepts as ‘average’ or ‘typical’ in

Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 1 

then tried ‘acceptable’ in

Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 2

and I’ve failed spectacularly in all 3 attempts. So I tend this as a criticism as it seems something is not kosher with the first capability concerning lifespan.

 Today I step back and ask a fundamental question about life and lifespan (the concerns of the ‘first capability’) related to the basic concepts of this approach. These 2 concepts are ‘capabilities’ and ‘functionings’.

Bear with me to reach to the point (in a subsequent post) to show how Open Lifespan can be framed with the toolset of this approach as well.

Capabilities and functionings

Capabilities

are the answers to the question, “What is this person able to do and tend to be?” In other words, they are what Sen calls “substantial freedoms,” a set of (usually interrelated) opportunities to choose and to act.”

Creating Capabilities, Chapter 2: Central Capabilities, Martha Nussbaum

Note the fundamentally modal, ‘potential’ nature of capabilities. Functionings are the actualised, achieved, singled out capabilities.

Functionings are ‘beings and doings’, that is, various states of human beings and activities that a person can undertake. Examples of the former (the ‘beings’) are being well-nourished, being undernourished, being housed in a pleasantly warm but not excessively hot house, being educated, being illiterate, being part of a supportive social network, being part of a criminal network, and being depressed. Examples of the second group of functionings (the ‘doings’) are travelling, caring for a child, voting in an election, taking part in a debate, taking drugs, killing animals, eating animals, consuming lots of fuel in order to heat one’s house, and donating money to charity.

SEP, The Capability Approach, 2.1 Functionings and capabilities

Is ‘being alive’ a capability or a functioning?

So far so good. But what if we check our being, our existence, our ‘being aliveness’ through the lens of these concepts? Is our being a capability or a functioning, and if the latter, is our being a being- or doing- kind of functioning? Let’s have some conceptual fun, I feel like one of those linguistic enthusiasts in Oxford in the early fifties.

First of all, a surface reading would suggest that ‘being alive’ is a capability as ‘life’ occupies the super-posh first position on the list of Nussbaum’s suggested 10 capabilities.

But the term ‘being alive’ linguistically looks like one of the ‘beings’ kind of functionings that can be achieved. If that’s so, what would be the corresponding capability, the capability of being alive?

If we say that the capability of  ‘being alive’ leads to the corresponding functioning of ‘actually being alive now’ the only thing we do is to add a temporal indexical, the ‘now’ (and some spatially inclined might say to add the spatial indexical ‘here’, or some physics educated suggest to add the spatiotemporally situated ‘here and now’ double indexicals).

For people actually living it is not a capability, but a functioning. For dead people it is a past functioning, now a lost opportunity. For people not born yet, it is a future opportunity. For the living dead … well it’s a stuff of comic books and recreational series. It looks like the difference is all boiled down where (in the phrase, not spatial where) we put those temporal indices. Now this looks like a fun game with temporal and modal logic, my job here is not to engage in that. So go back to looking into ‘being alive’ as a functioning.

But if it is a functioning though, for us, the living, isn’t it kinda like a doing rather than a being? Isn’t it more like active travelling rather than completed and passive ‘being well-nourished’?

Luckily I don’t have to throw more stones into the pond of ‘being alive’ as the first capability is not actually talking about ‘being alive’ (well besides starting with the enigmatic ‘Life’) but it is talking about ‘Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length’.

Is being alive for a particular length a capability?

And here the conceptual clouds are clearing up a bit as ‘being alive for a particular length’ is hardly a functioning in the sense of a state of ‘being well-nourished’ or the doing of ‘travelling’. Well, maybe it could be a ‘doing’ if the particular length is minuscule and within arms reach, say a minute, so one can be thought of actually working (doing) on living into the next minute. But this scenario does not excite us as our focus here is to live up to years and decades and eventually more. So let’s just settle on years and decades ahead here where thinking about a particular length, slice of life lived.

It can be said though that it requires a lot of agency on one’s part to stay alive for another decade of life. It requires substantial freedoms and opportunities (even if in the negative sense of not living in a civil war zone or near to an epidemiological centre of a deadly viral disease) to be alive for another decade. And it requires a lot of efforts to reach the upper side of average life expectancy, and the majority of the people are not going to make it as we analysed it descriptive statistically on part 1 of our mini-series.

‘I’m going to stay alive for the next 20 years against all the hard circumstances’ sounds like a statement on what a person is capable of doing.

Let’s conclude here by now, we have what we need in order to proceed towards putting Open Lifespan to play.

Besides, I want to go to the bath and study further a marvellous book (by Julian Havil) on the Gamma function, known otherwise as Euler’s constant, the harmonic series minus ln x. And this difference of 2 divergent series can be rewritten as an infinite number of convergent Zeta series. Crazy, utterly exciting and still don’t know who killed divergence here.

Daily Effort: When it comes to healthy longevity we are all poor and devoid of many years to come

A quick memo for today: you, who are reading this, you are poor. I, the one writing this, I am poor. We are poor as with the help of biomedical technology we could live much longer, healthier lives but at the current state of affairs we won’t. Most think … well they don’t think about it in the first place. Some think it is not within our reach. Wrong. Some think they are so rich in other respects,  they cannot even be poor in any other respect. Their domain of rich is so poor they don’t recognise the domain, the playground itself has no obvious limits. How poor is that?

Before am getting too rhetorical, emotional, political here (why not?) let’s hash out this fundamental poorness conceptually a bit.

Continue reading “Daily Effort: When it comes to healthy longevity we are all poor and devoid of many years to come”

Open Lifespan is not an enhancement as the dead don’t compete

In my last 2 posts I have argued on why healthy longevity technologies (Open Healthspan providing the limit, an indefinitely long health life called Open Lifespan) cannot be considered enhancements.

In The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting the case was made that Open Lifespan as a capacity cannot be used for demonstrative and performative purposes, as opposed to poster child superpowers like memory enhancements, and hence it cannot be used to single out individuals in a competitive situation.

In Superpower enhancements are pro-inequality, Open Lifespan is pro-equal-opportunity I made the case for a philosophically (morally, politically) more relevant way to separate, isolate, detach Open Lifespan from poster child transhumanist enhancements based on the tendency behind Open Lifespan to increase equal opportunities as opposed to being pro-inequality like some transhumanist enhancement dreams are.

Today I look into yet another aspect to separate Open Lifespan from transhumanist enhancements and this is the original argument I wanted to frame. It is along the lines of what kind of ‘intrinsic’ fundamental benefit does Open Lifespan provides and what kind of positional, competitive benefit it does not provide as opposed to transhumanist dreamhancements like potential cognitive enhancers.

Continue reading “Open Lifespan is not an enhancement as the dead don’t compete”

Superpower enhancements are pro-inequality, Open Lifespan is pro-equal-opportunity

Here am continuing my investigations to widen the gap between enhancements and healthy longevity efforts, Open Lifespan being the possible upper limit of those efforts.

In The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting the case was made that Open Lifespan as a capacity cannot be used for demonstrative and performative purposes, as opposed to poster child superpowers like memory enhancements, and hence it cannot be used to single out individuals in a competitive situation.

Today we will look at another aspect of this comparison/conceptual difference using a very similar pub chat setup as last time. But this time we are invoking the heavyweight concepts of political philosophy: equality/inequality.

Continue reading “Superpower enhancements are pro-inequality, Open Lifespan is pro-equal-opportunity”

The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting

What is your superpower? What is your secret superpower that makes you stand out, that makes you unlike anybody else? 

These kinds of questions – surprisingly to me – are frequent parts of everyday conversations and the internet is full with dubious quizzes that help one find their own superpowers in case they feel underrated.

So imagine a bunch of superheroes and the odd one out talking in a pub about the super strength or power they have and trying to compete with each other to establish which one is the coolest, the best, the most attractive?

A: I can see through walls with a super-developed thermal vision. (Demonstrates it by telling how many people are in the pub’s toilet.)

B: I have an I.Q. off the roof, it cannot be measured with any standardised tests. (Demonstrates it by asking others to give them (singular ‘they’) 3 100 digit numbers to multiply.)

C: I am invisible if I want to. (Demonstrates it by disappearing from plain sight and then re-appearing at another pub table.)

D: I’m 500 years old. I can live indefinitely long healthily…

A, B, C become visibly bored.

D finishes the sentence: … cause I have access to this cool technology called Open Healthspan, you interested?

Which is the odd one out? Which capability would you like to have? Continue reading “The superpower enhancement test: Open Lifespan is not for boasting”

Healthy Longevity in a slightly European context

This is a good, easily digestible overview video into the issues around biological aging. Press Conference at Davos last week with participating scientists and politicians. My competence is in science and in philosophy including political theory, so I like the multiple angles presented.

Here’s the link, sorry could not embed it.

Daily Effort: Open Lifespan, a political aim with impersonal and personal standpoints in sync; applying Thomas Nagel

This is a Daily Effort, which is a quicker, shorter piece, grown out of usually a same-day thought, reading, see earlier efforts.

According to Thomas Nagel the central ethical question of political theory is to work out and then synchronise together the impersonal standpoint human individuals are capable of and the personal standpoints they actually have.

In Chapter 4 of his Equality and Partiality, called The Problem of Utopianism Nagel concludes that

Justification in political theory must address itself to people twice: first as occupants of the impersonal standpoint and second as occupants of particular roles within an impersonally acceptable system. This is not capitulation of human badness or weakness, but a necessary acknowledgement of human complexity. To ignore the second task is to risk utopianism in the bad sense.

p30, Equality and Partiality, Thomas Nagel

Let’s apply this method and principle to Open Lifespan. Continue reading “Daily Effort: Open Lifespan, a political aim with impersonal and personal standpoints in sync; applying Thomas Nagel”

Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 2

Earlier, in Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 1 I believe I have provided enough reason to doubt the thinking behind the current phrasing of the first capability related to a human life of normal length. I showed that understanding the ‘normal’ in ‘the end of a human life of normal length’ in a descriptive, statistical and quantitative manner either as ‘average life expectancy’ or ‘typical modal age of death’ makes it impossible to enforce such a policy to all humans in a society.

Today we will think through another interpretation of ‘normal’.

Normal as ‘minimally acceptable’ or ‘ok acceptable’

Continue reading “Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 2”

Open Lifespan Research Proposal for The Long Now Foundation

I have just applied to become a Research Fellow at The Long Now Foundation with the following proposal below. Regular readers might have read most of the material already but it is good to have a high-level summary every once in a while as I try to turn this independent, very low-budget research project into a credited, more professional endeavour. And there’s always something new as thoughts are self-developing. Here’s the proposal.

At the heart of the philosophical tradition is counterfactual thinking about different what-if scenarios or possible worlds. The task of philosophy is to thought experiment with relevant possible worlds, especially with what can be called limiting possible worlds and establish the network topology, accessibility of the worlds from each other and from the actual world. The proposed project thought experiments with the upper limit possible world of Open Lifespan, where people live indefinitely long healthy lives (think 10,000 year old selves, say) with the help of advanced biomedical technology.

Continue reading “Open Lifespan Research Proposal for The Long Now Foundation”

Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 1

The Capability Approach is one of the strongest theoretical contender out there within the broadly defined liberal political and moral philosophy tradition trying to re-state the problems of social justice but also joining it with considerations of individual human well-beings or qualities of life. The main philosopher protagonist of the approach is Martha Nussbaum, and the main economist is Amaryta Sen, who used capabilities to work out an interdisciplinary ‘human developmental approach’ which is in a position to advice institutions on global policy.

I find the central idea behind the capability theory flexible and plausible. It is using a modal concept (capabilities) – borrowing Nussbaum’s wording – to ‘construct a normative conception of social justice’ and it shows that this concept as a primitive can potentially serve to provide an account on human rights as well.  

I recommend two accessible texts from Nussbaum that deals with the capabilities approach: Capabilities as fundamental entitlements: Sen and social justice

and Human Capabilities, Female Human Beings, First published in Women, Culture and Development: A Study of Human Capabilities, ed. Martha C. Nussbaum and Jonathan (3/over (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 61—104.

Martha Nussbaum formulated a top 10 specific list for the central capabilities. I found most of them well formulated, except the first one which is

Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living.

Martha Nussbaum in Capabilities as fundamental entitlements: Sen and social justice

From now on I will be solely focusing on the expression ‘Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length’ Continue reading “Martha Nussbaum’s problematic first capability: what is ‘the end of a human life of normal length’? Part 1”