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If a country's Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? If we rely on conventional economic indicators, can we ever grasp how the world's billions of individuals are really managing? In this powerful critique, Martha Nussbau If a country's Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? If we rely on conventional economic indicators, can we ever grasp how the world's billions of individuals are really managing? In this powerful critique, Martha Nussbaum argues that our dominant theories of development have given us policies that ignore our most basic human needs for dignity and self-respect. For the past twenty-five years, Nussbaum has been working on an alternate model to assess human development: the Capabilities Approach. She and her colleagues begin with the simplest of questions: What is each person actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities are available to them? The Capabilities Approach to human progress has until now been expounded only in specialized works. Creating Capabilities, however, affords anyone interested in issues of human development a wonderfully lucid account of the structure and practical implications of an alternate model.


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If a country's Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? If we rely on conventional economic indicators, can we ever grasp how the world's billions of individuals are really managing? In this powerful critique, Martha Nussbau If a country's Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? If we rely on conventional economic indicators, can we ever grasp how the world's billions of individuals are really managing? In this powerful critique, Martha Nussbaum argues that our dominant theories of development have given us policies that ignore our most basic human needs for dignity and self-respect. For the past twenty-five years, Nussbaum has been working on an alternate model to assess human development: the Capabilities Approach. She and her colleagues begin with the simplest of questions: What is each person actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities are available to them? The Capabilities Approach to human progress has until now been expounded only in specialized works. Creating Capabilities, however, affords anyone interested in issues of human development a wonderfully lucid account of the structure and practical implications of an alternate model.

30 review for Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Mebert

    makes intelligent suggestions on the theory of capabilities. but unnecessarily detailed without saying much new. An entire book that should have remained a shortened journal publication or published love letter to ex-boyfriend Sen.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brad Nelson

    This book is a difficult to read introduction to the liberal/progressive approach to solving sociopolitical issues in developing nations. My experiences in poverty and developing nations leads me to disagree with her assumptions and suggested solutions. Without going into great depth, my disagreements with Nussbaum on the topic is fundamental and philosophical. Nussbaum's approach to problems are generally to pursue larger government involvement in personal lives and affairs, and in particular wi This book is a difficult to read introduction to the liberal/progressive approach to solving sociopolitical issues in developing nations. My experiences in poverty and developing nations leads me to disagree with her assumptions and suggested solutions. Without going into great depth, my disagreements with Nussbaum on the topic is fundamental and philosophical. Nussbaum's approach to problems are generally to pursue larger government involvement in personal lives and affairs, and in particular with government passing values to its people. The logic is quite dizzying and unconvincing in its attempts to dissuade the reader from seeing her suggestions as unethical social engineering. In some cases she blatantly applies liberal Western social values to judge cultures with quite different roots, while at the same time trying to make the case that her value system is neutral and globally applicable. I do not believe that it is a sustainable venture for government to mandate values onto its people. So while I did enjoy the book to the extent that it does a decent job of exposing holes in the state of a people, I find her solutions not only poorly explained, but sociologically dangerous to implement. A people must find their own path, with their own set of guiding principles, and their own metrics of social valuation rather than blindly receiving subtly injected values from a strong, centralized, social engineering government. Do some countries judge and rank other countries in terms of GDP per capita? Yes. Do some countries judge and rank themselves in terms of GDP per capita? Yes. Is that wrong? It can, but it can also be completely benign. Let each decide their own condition.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Nussbaum has a cutting mind and is on the forefront of modern ethics. This book is a fine example of her well-contextualized, practical, thinking.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Morris

    I came to this book looking for context on human rights: theoretical bases, and how have have been developed since the Universal Declaration of Human rights was drafted in 1947-48. It's not quite the primary purpose of this book -- which is more to describe the capabilities approach to human development that Nussbaum developed with Amartya Sen, and in some ways Sen feels like a ghost co-author to the book since he's mentioned so many times. Nevertheless did not disappoint. To really explain her/S I came to this book looking for context on human rights: theoretical bases, and how have have been developed since the Universal Declaration of Human rights was drafted in 1947-48. It's not quite the primary purpose of this book -- which is more to describe the capabilities approach to human development that Nussbaum developed with Amartya Sen, and in some ways Sen feels like a ghost co-author to the book since he's mentioned so many times. Nevertheless did not disappoint. To really explain her/Sen's capabilities approach, Nussbaum has to briefly explain everything about human rights. Unlike many academic philosophers, she is good at explaining briefly. She describes the Aristotelian, utilitarian, and Indian (Ashoka primarily) origins for human rights (and others), and then the intersections with Kantian/Rawlian notions of justice in the 19th/20th century. She also summarizes the capabilities approach to human rights (Nussbaum and Sen) as a sort of late 20th century development, which seems to be mostly an effort to make human rights (as declared in the UDHR and various subsequent treaties and national constitutions) more developed and grounded, and to give it a sense of internationalization and universality, and to make a slight shift from "rights" language towards the development of capabilities of individuals, and dealing with the weeds of, for example, how to address the development of women when that seems to clash with religious beliefs. Two key concepts I got from this book about human rights, which I did not have before, are: (1) They are primarily a political construct, not a philosophical one. There are ways to construct human rights philosophically, but that's not the only way in. (2) As a political construct, human rights can be an "overlapping consensus", as a conclusion that can be arrived at as an Aristotelian classicist, a Mill-style utilitarian, from various religious traditions, as a Marxist, et cetera. This is a product of looting the concept of human rights (in the process of drafting the declaration) into Rawls's "original position"/ "overlapping consensus" frameworks, which seems to me is a better application of Rawls ideas to historical reality then he managed himself. The additional brilliance of this book is in the editing. It's short, and tells you enough about many/most of the philosophical aspects of human rights to get the general idea of where they came from and where they are going. Nussbaum has an academic's sense of attribution and leaves trails off in all directions that an interested reader could follow. And while I'm sure she has an academic's sense of how to explain something exhaustively, she knows how to shut it off (unlike, say, Chomsky or Rawls who both seem to have trouble explaining anything in less than total detail), which she does here. If you are looking for a book to teach a course on human rights with a strong sense of history and theoretical bases, you could definitely do worse than this. It does of course have a lot of emphasis on the Nussbaum-and-Sen ideas, more than a pure summary ever would, but the Capabilities Approach seems, you know, worth learning about as a major thread of 21st century human rights thought. The other kind of . . . not omission, really, but bit that gets a shorter shrift here is human rights in developed countries. Nussbaum and Sen both have a primary interest in India. And the overall professional frame for the Capabilities Approach is international development; a sort of UNDP/USAID state of mind. So there is not a lot of emphasis on the United States. In particular I would have been curious to read some history on the divergence between the EU and the USA on human rights, and how they became such a core part of EU thought and political life but not the United States.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Z. J. Pandolfino

    Martha Nussbaum is one of the twenty-first century’s most influential ethicists, feminists, and political philosophers. Her capabilities approach to human development, first championed by Amartya Sen, another prominent economist and philosopher, provided the theoretical foundation for the United Nations’ Human Development Index, which accounts for non-monetary developmental factors like life expectancy, education, and adult literacy, in addition to per-capita income. Ultimately, Nussbaum, like m Martha Nussbaum is one of the twenty-first century’s most influential ethicists, feminists, and political philosophers. Her capabilities approach to human development, first championed by Amartya Sen, another prominent economist and philosopher, provided the theoretical foundation for the United Nations’ Human Development Index, which accounts for non-monetary developmental factors like life expectancy, education, and adult literacy, in addition to per-capita income. Ultimately, Nussbaum, like many ethicists and economists, is frustrated with conventional economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product that simply fail to tell the whole story when it comes to human development. The capabilities approach, Nussbaum asserts, offers a much more colorful, and helpful, picture, as it assesses a broad spectrum of “substantive freedoms”—rather than, say, basic needs, happiness, or income—that all human persons should possess. Nussbaum outlines ten “central capabilities,” which include: life, bodily health, bodily integrity, senses, imagination, and thought, emotions, practical reason, affiliation, the ability to live with other species, play, and control over one’s environment. Deprivation of any one of these capabilities, which cover numerous qualitative and quantitative aspects of individuals’ lives, thereby constitutes poverty. Creating Capabilities, then, is a primer for laypersons interested in the human development debate and welfare economics. As an introductory text, with its clear prose and concise justifications, it undoubtedly succeeds. Nussbaum not only familiarizes readers with the capabilities approach, but also outlines the pitfalls of other human development approaches rooted in utilitarianism and the aforementioned Gross Domestic Product. She also traces the philosophical history of the approach, and helpfully introduces readers to Aristotle, Stoicism, Bentham’s utilitarianism, and Rawls’s political philosophy. In the end, I only find fault with the fact that Nussbaum fails to make a persuasive case for the capabilities approach’s practicality as a tool for measurement, especially in individual countries. While the human development index has no doubt been successful, it cannot simply replace the Official Poverty Measure in the United States, for example, without modification. On the other hand, while the Supplemental Poverty Measure accounts for many of the capabilities Nussbaum is concerned with, it too falls short as an adequate measure of capabilities. Nevertheless, simply because there may be difficulty in transforming the capabilities approach into an operational poverty measure does not mean that it cannot or should not be done. I am confident that more work on the approach by Nussbaum, Sen, and others will yield more effective ways of empirically measuring those qualitative capabilities that thus far have proven difficult to evaluate.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kony

    On my second read I found less to love, more to question -- because, between reads, I've lived more life and witnessed more lofty theories mooted by messy realities. Nussbaum's well-intended ideas have pushed research in promising directions. BUT. Many devilish details occupy the space between her idealized policy goals and their actual implementation in diverse contexts. Thus her proposals are less practically helpful, and less globally exportable, than she lets on. (Originally read in June 2012 On my second read I found less to love, more to question -- because, between reads, I've lived more life and witnessed more lofty theories mooted by messy realities. Nussbaum's well-intended ideas have pushed research in promising directions. BUT. Many devilish details occupy the space between her idealized policy goals and their actual implementation in diverse contexts. Thus her proposals are less practically helpful, and less globally exportable, than she lets on. (Originally read in June 2012.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris Emmerson

    Excellent summary of Nussbaum's conception of the capabilities approach, clearly set out for the general reader, but with careful attention to how the approach in general relates to other theories of welfare (historic and contemporary) and how her version aligns or differs with those of other scholars, particularly Amartya Sen. This context alone makes it essential for anyone with an interest in this area, but there is also a very clear summary of her work, an honest evaluation of its current li Excellent summary of Nussbaum's conception of the capabilities approach, clearly set out for the general reader, but with careful attention to how the approach in general relates to other theories of welfare (historic and contemporary) and how her version aligns or differs with those of other scholars, particularly Amartya Sen. This context alone makes it essential for anyone with an interest in this area, but there is also a very clear summary of her work, an honest evaluation of its current limitations and indications of what research and practice now needs to be prioritised. Compelling.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Arthur Davis

    An interesting account of fundamental rights, and a good effort to outline a solid list of them from a single starting point. Nussbaum takes a lot of inspiration from Rawls and Mill, and it shows in her analysis. One noticeable flaw is her reluctance to take her ideas to their logical conclusion, which seem to point up and out from the standard boundaries of the liberal democratic tradition. It's definitely a good work to read to establish a baseline idea of human rights, but that hesitation ult An interesting account of fundamental rights, and a good effort to outline a solid list of them from a single starting point. Nussbaum takes a lot of inspiration from Rawls and Mill, and it shows in her analysis. One noticeable flaw is her reluctance to take her ideas to their logical conclusion, which seem to point up and out from the standard boundaries of the liberal democratic tradition. It's definitely a good work to read to establish a baseline idea of human rights, but that hesitation ultimately makes it feel incomplete.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Considering I read this for a module at university, it was actually really interesting. Nussbaum makes some great points and I found myself agreeing with her a lot. It is also written for the general reader so the language is not too technical and it is easy to understand. This is a great book for all those interested in learning a bit more about the human development approach in developmental theories.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Spadafora

    A little dry in some places ( not uncommon in philosophy) and there are some points I disagree with, but her central claim of what rights people should have protected, what duties this implies on behalf of the state and institutions, and that all humans ( and non- human animals) deserve divinity is solid. Also she is very clear in her writing ( somewhat uncommon in philosophy) - this makes her work accessible to even a lay audience.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I appreciate this way of thinking about the world, and had hoped this would be a short, accessible way to share them with my friends, but the conversation here is too internal. Look for other Nussbaum books to get a better view of what she is arguing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ietrio

    The moronic thoughts of a successful governmental bureaucrat. Take the blurb: > If a country's Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? The GDP includes the military spending of the elites. It includes the ever increasing wages of the parasitic class of which Nussbaum is a proud representative. It includes every Pharaonic project started by equally The moronic thoughts of a successful governmental bureaucrat. Take the blurb: > If a country's Gross Domestic Product increases each year, but so does the percentage of its people deprived of basic education, health care, and other opportunities, is that country really making progress? The GDP includes the military spending of the elites. It includes the ever increasing wages of the parasitic class of which Nussbaum is a proud representative. It includes every Pharaonic project started by equally moronic politicians. In short: it has nothing to do with the Economy or the life standards of the population. Basic education. Sweet. What is basic? A few centuries ago, the enlightened Europe thought basic education means knowing who Jesus was. Only a century ago it meant being able to spell your name so you could sign a contract. Today, for leeches like Nussbaum it means having a high school diploma so you could sign your soul for the certificates sold by the Factories that employ people like Nussbaum. In shit: basic education means nothing. It's an emotional term that vaguely relates with the hopes of the speaker. Deprived of health care? The illegal migrants that are denied access to basic services by the Governments supported by rich white voters like Nussbaum have still access to health care the King of England could not hope for a century and a half ago. But Nussbaum is acting as a politician and this is his means of gathering more political clout. So the people deprived are an imaginary category that has all the right papers and licenses and are still so poor they live like peasantry in a Medieval Europe. Other opportunities? Because Nussbaum is a competent politician, not a thinker, here's the catch all. You, dear reader, fill in the whatever issues you might have found, and know that Nussbaum thought of them before.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Scanlon

    Nussbaum succinctly argues for the human development approach of economic theory. This approach finds its center in human capabilities and its commitment in the equal dignity of all human beings regardless of race, class, religion, gender, nation, or caste. It's central belief is that all lives are capable of equal human dignity. By offering a focus on quality of life and social justice that is also grounded in political neoliberal roots, Nussbaum believes to have remedied major deficiencies in Nussbaum succinctly argues for the human development approach of economic theory. This approach finds its center in human capabilities and its commitment in the equal dignity of all human beings regardless of race, class, religion, gender, nation, or caste. It's central belief is that all lives are capable of equal human dignity. By offering a focus on quality of life and social justice that is also grounded in political neoliberal roots, Nussbaum believes to have remedied major deficiencies in other economic approaches rooted in similar theoretical commitments. A good read for those wishing to better understand economic theory and world poverty.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julia Smith-brake

    3.5 and it was a solid 4 for the first 5 chapters, but then gets a little tedious. Overall an good overview of the philosophy, history, and usefulness of the capability approach. In her own words, as I couldn’t put it better myself, the approach is a contribution to debate, not dogma, as “Our world needs more critical thinking and more respectful argument. The distressing common practice of arguing by sound bite urgently needs to be replaced by a mode of public discourse that is itself more resp 3.5 and it was a solid 4 for the first 5 chapters, but then gets a little tedious. Overall an good overview of the philosophy, history, and usefulness of the capability approach. In her own words, as I couldn’t put it better myself, the approach is a contribution to debate, not dogma, as “Our world needs more critical thinking and more respectful argument. The distressing common practice of arguing by sound bite urgently needs to be replaced by a mode of public discourse that is itself more respectful of our equal human dignity.”

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul Crider

    Nussbaum's exposition of the capabilities approach is clear and approachable. Much of the work compares her own political philosophy/political liberalism version of the capabilities approach with Sen's economic development view of capabilities, providing the reader with a wider perspective. The book seems addressed to readers unfamiliar with capabilities as an introduction, and so there isn't too much new for the advanced reader. Nussbaum's exposition of the capabilities approach is clear and approachable. Much of the work compares her own political philosophy/political liberalism version of the capabilities approach with Sen's economic development view of capabilities, providing the reader with a wider perspective. The book seems addressed to readers unfamiliar with capabilities as an introduction, and so there isn't too much new for the advanced reader.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Micah

    A good example of the hubris of Man: although social programs can make us use our capabilities for better or worse (Nussbaum is at her best here), the capabilities themselves are God-given—the desire to "create" new capabilities is a sign of the evil desire to use science and technology to recreate humanity! Job 35:7 A good example of the hubris of Man: although social programs can make us use our capabilities for better or worse (Nussbaum is at her best here), the capabilities themselves are God-given—the desire to "create" new capabilities is a sign of the evil desire to use science and technology to recreate humanity! Job 35:7

  17. 4 out of 5

    Qingyang

    I read this as the prescribed text in my philosophy course. As part of the IB curriculum, it offers practical solutions to real human problems and a humanist approach much different from the intellectual philosophy we have been studying. As a philosophy book in its own right, it is detailed, inspiring, and makes me question our political system and the purpose of the government.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caleb

    Nussbaum provides a far-reaching critique of economic theory and in doing so defends a version of the capability approach developed by Sen. The clarity of the author's writing, makes this book especially suitable for students of the social sciences without a strong philosophical background Nussbaum provides a far-reaching critique of economic theory and in doing so defends a version of the capability approach developed by Sen. The clarity of the author's writing, makes this book especially suitable for students of the social sciences without a strong philosophical background

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mason Davis

    Martha Nussbaum attempts to ground her political science in a neoliberal framework that fails to take seriously the deep convictions of religion, politics, and ethical implications. This is another cosmopolitan take on basic human development ideas.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gordon D

    Sometimes unwarrantedly critical of Rawls; some of those critiques miss the mark. But still provides some crucial insights. Excellent challenge to other egalitarian theories. Superior to most, if not all.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Keerthi Vikas

    My review :- https://keerthivikasmylearinings.word... My review :- https://keerthivikasmylearinings.word...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    I definitely didn't agree with everything said in this book but I do like a lot of the ideas. I definitely didn't agree with everything said in this book but I do like a lot of the ideas.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennie

    Needs more development with how well a capabilities approach can't work within a capitalistic society. Needs more development with how well a capabilities approach can't work within a capitalistic society.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Serge

    Really a defense of the Capabilities Approach against charges that it promotes social welfare state writ large, cosmopolitanism, value imperialism, strict Kantian deontology. Nussbaum extends Sen's framework and places the focus squarely on persons and content rather than satisfaction or economic growth. Really a defense of the Capabilities Approach against charges that it promotes social welfare state writ large, cosmopolitanism, value imperialism, strict Kantian deontology. Nussbaum extends Sen's framework and places the focus squarely on persons and content rather than satisfaction or economic growth.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Billie Pritchett

    Martha Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities is a powerful statement on ways in which societies can promote justice through encouraging the development of certain capacities that are essential to what it means to be a human being. Nussbaum gives a list of what she calls the "Central Capabilities," capabilities without which people cannot flourish in a decent society and which would make for necessary conditions for the society to be called just. She writes that societies should grant their citizens t Martha Nussbaum's Creating Capabilities is a powerful statement on ways in which societies can promote justice through encouraging the development of certain capacities that are essential to what it means to be a human being. Nussbaum gives a list of what she calls the "Central Capabilities," capabilities without which people cannot flourish in a decent society and which would make for necessary conditions for the society to be called just. She writes that societies should grant their citizens the right to a complete life, health care, freedom of thought, emotion, and play or leisure, control over one's body, permission to associate with whom one pleases, permission to form one's own conception of a flourishing life, a respect for nature and other species, and some sort of control over one's material and political environment. Nussbaum says that this list might not be exhaustive and for its realization perhaps some citizens would find reason to restrict or expand work in any of these areas, but she nevertheless argues that these are necessary components for what would make a society just.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eugene Kernes

    This book tries to expand on how we evaluate countries. Rather than just a single number, like GDP, the Capabilities Approaches takes into account more factors which impact everyday life. Economies are dynamic, this book has done a good job at looking at more than just a few indicators for explaining an economies strength and weaknesses. An entire chapter was dedicated to other approaches and where they fail in a country evaluation. As the author does credit other evaluations, a confirmation bia This book tries to expand on how we evaluate countries. Rather than just a single number, like GDP, the Capabilities Approaches takes into account more factors which impact everyday life. Economies are dynamic, this book has done a good job at looking at more than just a few indicators for explaining an economies strength and weaknesses. An entire chapter was dedicated to other approaches and where they fail in a country evaluation. As the author does credit other evaluations, a confirmation bias is created by simplifying the other approaches and not discussing major limitations of the Capabilities Approach. For example, utilitarianism ask for what works best and creates the most happiness, simplifying that to make it seem wrong actually weakens the capabilities approach for if the capabilities approach does provide the greatest happiness than it is also a utilitarian approach. Through out the majority of the book, the author defends the Capabilities Approach leaving very little room for explaining them. Not such a difficult book to read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    If you know nothing about the capabilities approach or, indeed, development then this is the book for you. It's a straightforward (if sometimes longwinded) argument for the capabilities approach; a defined set of 'capabilities' which we are all (as humans) entitled to and which a government should strive to provide every citizen under their care. I thought the best thing about the book was the succinct manner in which Nussbaum debunks other development approaches; she really sums up the limits to If you know nothing about the capabilities approach or, indeed, development then this is the book for you. It's a straightforward (if sometimes longwinded) argument for the capabilities approach; a defined set of 'capabilities' which we are all (as humans) entitled to and which a government should strive to provide every citizen under their care. I thought the best thing about the book was the succinct manner in which Nussbaum debunks other development approaches; she really sums up the limits to GDP; HDI and utilitarianism well. It is one of the most straightforward philosophical works I have read. I did have some issues with it, however, I couldn't embrace her support of animal rights (they were too encompassing for me) and I am disappointed with her lack of suitable policies (her basic premise was governing is complicated, we shouldn't try and make it too simple). All in all though a very good read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Madhuri

    The author seems to touch on interesting points but the suggested solutions to these lofty problems are weak, and moreover, poorly explained. The book does offer a decent introduction to development economics.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Brennan

    Really solid introductory text on the Capabilities Approach as its examined in Economics, Law, and Philosophy. Nussbaum synthesizes the trans-disciplinary material in a solid way so that the non-expert can understand the moving parts, but without some foundation you might miss some of the broader connections.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is a fairly concise introduction to the capabilities approach to theories of justice, though I'm not quite sure who the book is aimed at. It gets pretty in the weeds with the various flavors of utilitarianism and competing theories for the general reader, but lacks the footnotes and other editorial apparatus an academic audience would expect. This is a fairly concise introduction to the capabilities approach to theories of justice, though I'm not quite sure who the book is aimed at. It gets pretty in the weeds with the various flavors of utilitarianism and competing theories for the general reader, but lacks the footnotes and other editorial apparatus an academic audience would expect.

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