Six Classes of Results Supporting the Measurability of Human Functioning and Capability

Another example of high-level analysis that suffers from a lack of input from state of the art measurement arises in Nussbaum (1997, p. 1205), where the author remarks that it is now a matter of course, in development economics, “to recognize distinct domains of human functioning and capability that are not commensurable along a single metric, and with regard to which choice and liberty of agency play a fundamental structuring role.” Though Nussbaum (2011, pp. 58-62) has lately given a more nuanced account of the challenges of measurement relative to human capabilities, appreciation of the power and flexibility of contemporary measurement models, methods, and instruments remains lacking. For a detailed example of the complexities and challenges that must be addressed in the context of global human development, which is Nussbaum’s area of interest, see Fisher (2011).

Though there are indeed domains of human functioning and capability that are not commensurable along a single metric, they are not the ones referred to by Nussbaum or the texts she cites. On the contrary, six different approaches to establishing the measurability of human functioning and capability have been explored and proven as providing, especially in their composite aggregate, a substantial basis for theory and practice (modified from Fisher, 2009, pp. 1279-1281). These six classes of results speak to the abstract, mathematical side of the paradox noted by Ricoeur (see previous post here) concerning the need to simultaneously accept roles for abstract ideal global universals and concrete local historical contexts in strategic planning and thinking. The six classes of results are:

  1. Mathematical proofs of the necessity and sufficiency of test and survey scores for invariant measurement in the context of Rasch’s probabilistic models (Andersen, 1977, 1999; Fischer, 1981; Newby, Conner, Grant, and Bunderson, 2009; van der Linden, 1992).
  2. Reproduction of physical units of measurement (centimeters, grams, etc.) from ordinal observations (Choi, 1997; Moulton, 1993; Pelton and Bunderson, 2003; Stephanou and Fisher, 2013).
  3. The common mathematical form of the laws of nature and Rasch models (Rasch, 1960, pp. 110-115; Fisher, 2010; Fisher and Stenner, 2013).
  4. Multiple independent studies of the same constructs on different (and common) samples using different (and the same) instruments intended to measure the same thing converge on common units, defining the same objects, substantiating theory, and supporting the viability of standardized metrics (Fisher, 1997a, 1997b, 1999, etc.).
  5. Thousands of peer-reviewed publications in hundreds of scientific journals provide a wide-ranging and diverse array of supporting evidence and theory.
  6. Analogous causal attributions and theoretical explanatory power can be created in both natural and social science contexts (Stenner, Fisher, Stone, and Burdick, 2013).

What we have here, in sum, is a combination of Greek axiomatic and Babylonian empirical algorithms, in accord with Toulmin’s (1961, pp. 28-33) sense of the contrasting principled bases for scientific advancement. Feynman (1965, p. 46) called for less of a focus on the Greek chain of reasoning approach, as it is only as strong as its weakest link, whereas the Babylonian algorithms are akin to a platform with enough supporting legs that one or more might fail without compromising its overall stability. The variations in theory and evidence under these six headings provide ample support for the conceptual and practical viability of metrological systems of measurement in education, health care, human resource management, sociology, natural resource management, social services, and many other fields. The philosophical critique of any type of economics will inevitably be wide of the mark if uninformed about these accomplishments in the theory and practice of measurement.


Andersen, E. B. (1977). Sufficient statistics and latent trait models. Psychometrika, 42(1), 69-81.

Andersen, E. B. (1999). Sufficient statistics in educational measurement. In G. N. Masters & J. P. Keeves (Eds.), Advances in measurement in educational research and assessment (pp. 122-125). New York: Pergamon.

Choi, S. E. (1997). Rasch invents “ounces.” Rasch Measurement Transactions, 11(2), 557 [].

Feynman, R. (1965). The character of physical law. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Fischer, G. H. (1981). On the existence and uniqueness of maximum-likelihood estimates in the Rasch model. Psychometrika, 46(1), 59-77.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997). Physical disability construct convergence across instruments: Towards a universal metric. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 1(2), 87-113.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997). What scale-free measurement means to health outcomes research. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation State of the Art Reviews, 11(2), 357-373.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1999). Foundations for health status metrology: The stability of MOS SF-36 PF-10 calibrations across samples. Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society, 151(11), 566-578.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement, 42(9), 1278-1287.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010). The standard model in the history of the natural sciences, econometrics, and the social sciences. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 238(1),

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011). Measuring genuine progress by scaling economic indicators to think global & act local: An example from the UN Millennium Development Goals project. Retrieved 18 January 2011, from Social Science Research Network:

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2013). On the potential for improved measurement in the human and social sciences. In Q. Zhang & H. Yang (Eds.), Pacific Rim Objective Measurement Symposium 2012 Conference Proceedings (pp. 1-11). Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Moulton, M. (1993). Probabilistic mapping. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 7(1), 268 [].

Newby, V. A., Conner, G. R., Grant, C. P., & Bunderson, C. V. (2009). The Rasch model and additive conjoint measurement. Journal of Applied Measurement, 107(4), 348-354.

Nussbaum, M. (1997). Flawed foundations: The philosophical critique of (a particular type of) economics. University of Chicago Law Review, 64, 1197-1214.

Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating capabilities: The human development approach. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.

Pelton, T., & Bunderson, V. (2003). The recovery of the density scale using a stochastic quasi-realization of additive conjoint measurement. Journal of Applied Measurement, 4(3), 269-281.

Rasch, G. (1960). Probabilistic models for some intelligence and attainment tests (Reprint, with Foreword and Afterword by B. D. Wright, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). Copenhagen, Denmark: Danmarks Paedogogiske Institut.

Rasch, G. (1977). On specific objectivity: An attempt at formalizing the request for generality and validity of scientific statements. Danish Yearbook of Philosophy, 14, 58-94.

Stenner, A. J., Fisher, W. P., Jr., Stone, M. H., & Burdick, D. S. (2013). Causal Rasch models. Frontiers in Psychology: Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, 4(536), 1-14.

Stephanou, A., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). From concrete to abstract in the measurement of length. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 459,

Toulmin, S. E. (1961). Foresight and understanding: An enquiry into the aims of science. London, England: Hutchinson.

van der Linden, W. J. (1992). Sufficient and necessary statistics. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 6(3), 231 [].



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