On the Possibility of Measuring Freedom: A Kantian Perspective

OPHI Working Papers

More than three decades after Sen’s first formulation of the so-called “capability approach”, practitioners have yet to measure a capability set. This raises fundamental questions about the empirical viability of Sen’s approach. In this paper, we argue that Kantian philosophy may offer valuable insights into how to deal with this problem, as the methodological difficulty which has hampered the full operationalisation of the capability approach lies at the heart of Kant’s philosophical system. In particular, we will argue that the Kantian notion of autonomy freedom may offer a viable alternative to Sen’s notion of opportunity freedom for the operationalisation of an internally coherent normative framework that is compatible with Sen’s representation of human nature. This allows us to propose an operationalisation strategy that focuses (1) on the normative content of choices, and (2) on the process of decision-making, rather than on the measurement of unobservable and counterfactual opportunities.

Citation: Silva-Leander, S. (2011). 'On the possibility of measuring freedom: A Kantian perspective', OPHI Working Papers 49, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

Scientific methodology, Kant, Capability approach, Operationalisation strategy


Sebastian Silva-Leander

Series Name
OPHI Working Papers
Publication date
JEL Codes
B16, C18, D60
Publication Number
WP 49