Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts, the whole of which is an article by Martha Nussbaum. The article, entitled "Women’s Bodies: Violence, Security, Capabilities," appeared in the Journal of Human Development (Vol. 6, No. 2, July 2005). Comments are encouraged on parts or on the whole.
One might grant all these facts and their importance without being persuaded that there is any need for a capability-based approach in order to analyze them and make recommendations for progress. So, why capabilities? If we compare the capability approach to previously dominant approaches to development, the answer seems obvious. Thinking of development as the increase in Gross National Product per capita not only does not reach these problems, it positively distracts attention from them (see Nussbaum, 2003b). Approaches that conceive of development’s goal as the satisfaction of existing preferences do considerably better, since violence and the fear of violence inflict enormous pain and suffering. But they, too, fall short, for five reasons. First, because they aggregate the diverse elements of a person’s good, they are unable to give separate salience to the issue of violence; nor can they draw sufficient attention to the way in which it affects many diverse and heterogeneous components of a woman’s life. Second, because such approaches also aggregate across persons, they typically do not give enough salience to the special vulnerabilities certain groups and people face because of who they are; the problem of violence against women becomes simply a part of the whole calculus of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Third, without importing some independent moral factors, preference-based approaches have no way of excluding from the social calculus the very considerable pleasure and profit men have always derived from using women in these ways. The pain suffered by men at the introduction of laws against marital rape, sexual harassment, and date rape is very intense, as debates in many nation show. A true Utilitarian will have to count it (see Nussbaum, 2000, ch. 2). (John Stuart Mill’s  failure even to mention this factor in The Subjection of Women is the clearest sign of his apostasy from Benthamite Utilitarianism, although one rarely mentioned by interpreters.) Fourth, as John Stuart Mill and Amartya Sen have both pointed out, women often exhibit ‘adaptive preferences’, preferences that adjust to their second-class status (Mill, 1869; Sen, 1995; and many other publications). Thus, even if they experience some pain at physical violence, they may not experience the additional pain of thinking that their rights have been violated; and some kinds of violence, sexual harassment for example, may not feel like violence at all to someone who has been thoroughly taught that this is women’s lot. Finally, an approach that takes the goal of development to be satisfaction shortchanges the element of agency that is so crucial in thinking about what violence takes away from women. What is wrong with rape is not just the pain and suffering it inflicts, it is the way in which it puts the whole capacity of practical reason and choice in disarray, requiring, as philosopher Susan Brison has memorably written in her book Aftermath, about her own rape and its consequence, the “remaking of a self” (Brison, 2002).