Author: Amartya Sen
ISBN/UPC (if available): 9781846141478
Is justice an ideal, forever beyond our grasp, or something that may actually guide our practical decisions and enhance our lives? In this wide-ranging book, Amartya Sen presents an alternative approach to mainstream theories of justice which, despite their many specific achievements have taken us, he argues, in the wrong direction in general.
One of the principal difference between Sen and the dominant contemporary theorists of justice is that they have been concerned primarily, sometimes wholly, with identifying what perfectly just social arrangements might be, rather than clarifying how different realizations of justice might be compared and evaluated. While most of the mainstream theorists follow one of the two major traditions of Enlightenment thinking, that of a hypothetical ‘social contract’ pursued by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant and in our own time by the leading contemporary political philosopher John Rawls, Sen’s analysis significantly advances the other Enlightenment tradition of reducing injustice pursued in different ways by Smith, Condorcet, Wollstonecraft, Bentham, Mill and Marx.
At the heart of Sen's argument is his insistence on the role of public reason in establishing what can make societies less unjust. But it is in the nature of reasoning about justice, argues Sen that it does not allow all questions to be settled even in theory; there are choices to be faced between alternative assessments of what is reasonable; and, several different and competing positions can each be well-defended. Far from rejecting such pluralities or trying to reduce them beyond the limits of reasoning, we should make use of them to construct a theory of justice that can absorb divergent points of view. Sen also shows how concern about the principles of justice in the modern world must avoid parochialism, and further, address questions of global injustice.
The breadth of vision, intellectual acuity and striking humanity of one of the world's leading public intellectuals have never been more clearly shown than in this remarkable book.
‘I believe that Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice is the most important contribution to the subject since John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice appeared in 1971. The approach of that book was to try to devise an account of an ideally just nation-state. While fully acknowledging the path-breaking nature of Rawls’s work, Sen, who is a Nobel laureate in economics and social choice theory as well as a profound social philosopher, points out grave problems with this “transcendental” approach, and argues that what we urgently need in our troubled world is not a theory of an ideally just state, but a theory that can yield judgments as to comparative justice, judgments that tell us when and why we are moving closer to or farther away from realizing justice in the present globalized world. Sen draws on his mastery of all the fields I mention to provide the basic ideas for such a theory. In addition, he discusses, in illuminating (and historically and cross-culturally informed) detail, fundamental issues concerning democracy, human rights, economic development, and the nature and limits of ethical objectivity. This is a book that deserves the widest possible readership’.
- Hilary Putnam, Cogan University Professor Emeritus in Philosophy, Harvard University, and former Present of the American Philosophical Association.
‘In lucid and vigorous prose, The Idea of Justice gives us a political philosophy that is dedicated to the reduction of injustice on Earth rather than to the creation of ideally just castles in the air. Amartya Sen applies his formidable skills of argument, and his deep and unbounded erudition, to the task of bringing political philosophy face to face with human aspiration and human deprivation in the real world, to whose improvement he has devoted his intellectual life’.
- G.A. Cohen, Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory Emeritus in the University of Oxford
‘In view of his intellectual depth and breadth, it is not surprising that Sen’s analysis of the concept of justice is a major critical analysis and synthesis. The variety of viewpoints precisely reflects his inclusive approach, transcending the many important scholars and viewpoints that he analytic capability, and we are presented with a set of considerations on justice of importance to both the academic community and the world of policy formation’
- Kenneth Arrow, Joan Kenney Professor of Economic and Professor of Operations Research Emeritus at Stanford University.
‘Few contemporary thinkers have had as much direct impact on world affairs as Amartya Sen. This wonderfully lucid presentation of his approach to justice will be an invaluable compass for all those who fight injustice around the world’.
- Philippe Van Parijs, Hoover of Economic and Social Ethics, Louvain University
Introduction An Approach to Justice
THE DEMANDS OF JUSTICE
1. Reason and Objectivity
2. Rawls and Beyond
3. Institutions and Persons
4. Voice and Social Choice
5. Impartiality and Objectivity
6. Closed and Open Impartiality
FORMS OF REASONING
7. Position, Relevance and Illusion
8. Rationality and Other People
9. Plurality of Impartial Reasons
10. Realizations, Consequences and Agency
THE MATERIALS OF JUSTIC
11. Lives, Freedoms and Capabilities
12. Capabilities and Resources
13. Happiness, Well-being and Capabilities
14. Equality and Liberty
PUBLIC REASONING AND DEMOCRACY
15. Democracy as Public Reason
16. The Practice of Democracy
17. Human Rights and Global Imperatives
18. Justice and the World