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Nobel Laureate Symposium by Dr. Amartya Sen (Professor, Harvard University)

Jan 20, 2006

On October 27 the Ritsumeikan Center for Asia Pacific Studies (RCAPS), with the cooperation of Ritsumeikan University, sponsored a "Nobel Laureate Symposium". Nobel Laureate in Economics, Dr. Amartya Sen (Professor, Harvard University) was invited.

The symposium on "Reason, Discourse and Capability – Significance for the Asia Pacific" consisted of a keynote lecture by Dr. Sen followed by a panel discussion and questions from the floor. The venue, Millennium Hall (capacity of 730 people) was overflowing with students eager to hear the lecture by the world renowned economist.


Dr. Sen began by elaborating on his "Capability Approach" theory saying that, "capacity does not take account of income or purchasing power. For example, it can be said that people who are fasting have higher "capability" than the victims of famine. This is because people who are fasting may eat if they decide to do so. This argument focuses on how much freedom a person has, despite individual conditions, to make achievable choices and hints that, while expanding capability is the aim of human development, at the same time, it is also synonymous with the increase of freedom."

Following this, a comparison was made between the average life expectancy of China and India. "Increasing life expectancy also leads to an increase in capability. China's average life expectancy after the revolution in the 1940's became 15 years longer than India's. However, in the last 25 years the gap between life expectancy in the two countries has decreased to half that figure. The decrease in the average life expectancy in China can be attributed to the conversion of the free health insurance system to a private one. However, it should be noted that there was nearly no opposition to the dictatorship's policy change." Dr Sen also stated that the deprivation of democratic rights can also deprive people of their capability.



Finally, Dr. Sen mentioned that when the role and the importance of capability is discussed, public discussion and two-way assessment is required. This is because the "Capability approach" is only one viewpoint.

Dr. Sen's lecture was followed by a panel discussion which included Prof. MATSUI Noriatsu (Yamaguchi University), Prof. GOTO Reiko (Ritsumeikan University) and Professors from APU who expressed their opinions and questions to Dr. Sen from a number of different angles. Students also asked Dr. Sen questions regarding capability and overcoming poverty.




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