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Nussbaum's Ten Central Human Functional Capabilities


Explanations > Needs > Nussbaum's Ten Central Human Functional Capabilities

Life | Bodily Health | Bodily Integrity | Senses, Imagination and Thought | Emotion | Practical Reason | Affiliation | Other Species | Play | Control Over One's EnvironmentSo what?


Martha Nussbaum identified an Aristotelian set of ten universal, normative capabilities that act as freedoms that are generally protected by law. These may be viewed as needs, although they are also related to values.


Being able to live a complete and satisfying life into old age. Not having life cut short or being made such that it hardly seems worth living.

Not everyone has a good life. People scrape by in humdrum and dismal situations. They may be regularly threatened and may have their life cut short unnecessarily.

Bodily Health

Living with good health, and not in a state where ill health seriously affects the quality of life. Having access to medical help as needed. To have good food and be able to exercise in ways that sustain health.

Bodily Integrity

Being able to go where you want to go. Being free from attack and abuse of any kind. Being able to satisfy healthy bodily needs.

Senses, Imagination and Thought

Being able to use all of one's senses. Being free to imagine, think and reason. Having the education that enables this to be done in a civilized, human way. Having access to cultural experiences, literature, art and so on and being able to produce one's own expressive work. Having freedom of expression, including political and religious.


Being able to become attached to other things and people outside of ourselves, loving and caring for them. Experiencing grief, longing, gratitude and justified anger. Not being subject to fear and anxiety or blighted by trauma or neglect.

Practical Reason

Being able to consider and develop understanding of good and evil, and to think critically about the world and one's own place in it. Being able to live with one's conscience.


Being able to associate with others, living with them and acting for them. Showing concern for people in general and interacting with others. Having sympathy and compassion, acting to help people. Seeking justice and making things right. Protecting others and the rights of people, including freedom of speech and freedom from fear.

Other Species

Being able to live with the full range of creatures and plants that inhabit the world around us. To be able to enjoy nature and appreciate its beauty.


Being able to laugh, play games and generally have fun. Not having one's enjoyment and recreation criticized or prevented.

Control Over One's Environment

Being able to participate in political activities, making free choice and joining with others to promote political views. Being able to own property and goods on the same basis that others do so. Being able to seek and accept work, and to be treated reasonably at work. Being free from unwarranted search and seizure. 

So what?

When planning and living your life, do appreciate these things if they are available to you. Not everyone has these freedoms and rights. When they seem threatened, take positive action to preserve them, engaging with others as needed.

See also

Values, Narayan's Six Dimensions of Well-Being

Nussbaum, M. (1988). Nature, function and capability: Aristotle on political distribution. Oxford studies in ancient philosophy, supplementary volume (Vol. 6), 145–184. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


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