Amartya Sen The Idea Of Justice Review Philosophy Essay

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1st Jan 1970 Philosophy Reference this

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Justice is the quality of being just or fair. Justice can also be looked upon as the judgment involved in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards and punishments. Justice can also be “the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity” (Princeton Web 2010). Individuals may look at justice many different ways, but what factors play into deciding what truly is justice? Must you look at fairness in order to be just, must you look at rationality, or even equality and liberty? There will always be debates about how to achieve justice. But due to so many factors being involved, we may never understand what justice truly is. I believe that in order for one to be just, or even to make a just decision on a matter that factors such as rationality, fairness, human rights, and the well being of all parties involved must be taken into account. But this is just my opinion & many of today’s philosophers often argue what it means to be just or even to achieve a completely just state in our society, along with the decisions we make on a daily basis. To call attention to a specific philosopher, Amartya Sen undoubtedly makes a solid stance on what justice truly means.

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The Idea of Justice is Amartya Sen’s assessment of political philosophy. He explores what justice really means and has come up with alternatives to the existing model. Sen’s philosophic arguments are shown by an exceptional set of stories drawn from literature, history, and current events occurring in our society today. There are not many main thoughts of the book, but the thoughts presented are revisited throughout each chapter, to help the reader see the bigger picture. You must be able to examine each idea Sen presents in his text, as they all come together, when being able to achieve complete justice. Although justice may never fully be reached entirely in any society, Sen does an amazing job giving examples and putting each of his arguments in basic text, so that it is easy for the reader to understand what he is talking about. The specific philosophic arguments of the book are highly important when it comes to the ideas of justice. “The Idea of Justice” is divided into four main parts.

Part one contains several of Sen’s most important thoughts throughout the book. They include, reason & objectivity, institutions & persons, voice & social choice, impartiality & objectivity, and closed & open impartiality. In part two, forms of Reasoning, Sen discusses a number of themes including rationality, plurality of impartial reasons, and rationality & other people. Part three contains information on the capabilities approach, lives, freedoms & capabilities, and equality & liberty. The final part of Sen’s text speaks to public reasoning & democracy, including sections on justice & the world, human rights & global imperatives, the practice of democracy, and democracy as public reason. Throughout each of these main sections Sen’s argues very strong points, I will try to give you a summary of the main points throughout each chapter of Sen’s book along with where he stands on certain topics and how I can relate and feel about what he believes.

To call your attention to the preface/introduction, Sen specifically states that what he is presenting here, is a theory of justice which “aims to clarify how we can proceed to address questions of enhancing justice and removing injustice, rather than to offer resolutions of questions about the nature of perfect justice” (Sen IX). The Introduction elaborates on two approaches to justice, which include the comparativist framework & the social contract framework. The comparativist framework is presented using the realization comparison approach. The realization approach prioritizes the social understanding of advancing justice and removing injustice in real societies with their existing institutions. The social contract framework is presented using the transcendental institutionalism approach which was led by the works of Thomas Hobbes. The transcendental institutionalism approach concentrates on perfect justice and the institutions that would be recognized in such a perfectly just society. There are two distinct problems indentified here which Sen engages. First “it concentrates its attention on what it identifies as perfect justice, rather than on relative comparisons of justice & injustice” (Sen 6).

Sen goes on to explain that this approach tries to only identify social characteristics that cannot be transcended in terms of justice, and its focus is thus not on comparing feasible societies, all of which may fall short of the ideals of perfection. Also it is intended to identify the nature of the just, rather than finding an alternative being less unjust than another. The second major issue with this approach is described by Sen Saying that in searching for perfection, transcendental institutionalism concentrates primarily on getting the institutions right, and it is not directly focused on the actual societies that would ultimately emerge. We need to focus on how change within the actual society is going to be completed, not by getting institutions perfect to the point that they are just institutions. This would do nothing for emerging societies & we need to look at society as whole in order to achieve perfect justice by not having only perfectly just institutions. People are still going to act how they choose as well as behave how they choose, so we must focus on society as whole. “The nature of the society that would result from any given set of institutions must, of course, depend also on non-institutional features, such as actual behaviors of people and their social interactions” (Sen 6). I do agree with Sen in this theory of justice, it should first and foremost, serve as a basis for practical reasoning.

Chapter one is to defend a notion of objectivity in our average thoughts of justice.  Sen argues for the idea that we should understand reason as the final judge of our ethical beliefs. One must be able to justify and understand his reasoning by critically evaluating reasoning for ethical beliefs. The necessity of relying heavily on reason is important as Sen describes in his work. Sen says, “the case for reasoned scrutiny lies not in any sure-fire way of getting things exactly right (no such way may exist), but on being objective as we reasonably can” (Sen 40). Sen believes that one must be able to rely on reason in order to fully justify and decide on our ethical beliefs. I must agree with Sen on this point, when he argues that this approach is not going to be one that will allow and individual to get things exactly right, but allow us to be as objective as we possibly can. By scrutinizing your own reasoning, it is highly probable that you will arrive at the best possible ethical decision. We should not get caught up in being overconfident in the decisions of our own reasoning, as this could add flaws to our decisions. “The remedy for bad reasoning lies in better reasoning, and it is indeed the job of reasoned scrutiny to move from the former to the latter” (Sen 49). This quote explains it all, it is imperative that one must critically scrutinize his/her own reasoning for a decision, and that without this scrutiny there’s great chance for bad reasoning. To avoid this, one must critically scrutinize his/her reasoning of choice or decision. Moving to another argument from Sen, I share the following quote.

“Justice is rooted in fairness and fairness can be broadly be seen as a demand for impartiality” (Sen 54). In order for one to be completely just, the decision must be rational and fair, if a decision is not looked upon as being fair for all parties, you arrive at issues of impartiality. Sens gives his example of three children and a flute, all children having a rational reason as to why they deserve the flute. But if there is not a common vested interest on one solid set of principals between all parties, we run into an issue of what the true just decision is. Institutionally, we cannot address such issues as these. Individuals still have their own morals and values & and going to make their own decisions regardless of what is taught. One of the most difficult things is to change an individual’s moral values and beliefs, institutionally this cannot be done. Values as these are usually learned at the home-base from parents and guardians and are instilled in us from a very young age. It is imperative that we do not look at what truly is a just society in order to achieve a just society. As actions such as these will get our society nowhere

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Sen looks at the social choice theory as an approach to justice as well. Social choice theory is concerned with the relationships between people, their preferences & social choice. For example a group of individuals such as a committee making a decision in a voting process, individuals in the group may have different preferences over options that are available to them. This approach deals with the principles of aggregations of preference. Aggregation of social choice may be impossible if the process of choice is to satisfy a set of reasonable conditions. With such reasonable conditions, this could alter the general consensus of a social choice being made by such a committee or group. “Even some very mild conditions of reasonable sensitivity of social decision to what the members of society want cannot be simultaneously satisfied by any social choice procedure that can be described as rational and democratic” (Sen 93). We can however, become more informally sensitive, if we choose to just try and do better rather than to meet the criteria of being fully rational or just. One may use social choice theory as a framework for reasoning, rather than to try and use it completely to achieve justice.

Position of observation and knowledge is another important approach Sen discusses in his work. What we observe depends on our position by means of the things that we observe. What individuals decide to believe is based on what we view. How one decides to act relates to his/her beliefs on a particular subject. Observations, beliefs, and actions are vital to understanding and arriving at sensible reasoning. To Sen, “Objectivity is a position-dependent phenomenon” (Sen 157). “This issue [positionality] is quite important for the formulation of a theory of justice and, more specifically, for exploring a theory that gives a special role to public reasoning in the understanding of the demands of justice” (Sen 167). It is important here to understand that there is no single way to master a way of making sense of the world or our experience in it. No decision made could ever be rationalized in every single persons mind, something such as this is physically not possible. There are just too many different people in our society today for that to be able to happen. There will always be a flaw in certain reasoning in some persons view. There is just no way, that every single person in the world would be satisfied with a decision, because we all observe, understand, and put reason into different perspectives. Some placing more weight on rational choice, critical scrutiny, positional objectivity, reasonable behaviors & sustainable reason when it comes to making a decision. There are just too many approaches for everyone to be able to agree. So we must take into account all perspectives of others when it comes to justice and just decision making, as Sen states, “we must be sensitive to others” (206). Respect of others views is exceedingly important here.

To move forward, the capabilities approach is also a major theme within the work. “The capabilities approach focuses on human lives, and not just on the resources people have, in the form of owning – or having use of – objects of convenience that a person may possess” (Sen 253). The approach emphasizes purposeful capabilities & substantive freedoms, such as the ability to engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities. Poverty is understood as capability deficiency in Sen’s view. The emphasis is not only on how human beings actually operate but also on their having the capability to do so, which is a practical choice, to operate in important ways if that’s what they choose to do. Someone could be stripped of such capabilities in many ways. Ignorance, government oppression, lack of financial resources, and false comprehension, are ways in which one may be stripped of such capabilities. Possession of capabilities strongly implies a responsibility for making use of them to help others when possible, especially when it comes to the less fortunate. “If someone has the power to make a difference that he or she can see will reduce injustice in the world, then there is a strong and reasoned argument for doing just that” (Sen 271). If you can see that your capabilities go beyond that of the less fortunate by any means, and that they can be used in any positive manner weather be financial or emotional, I believe that there is no doubt that one should be obligated to reduce injustice in some way shape or form if at all possible.

Again this only being an approach, this is not the end all-be all in deciding justice, but undoubtedly can make a difference, and I would have to agree. In basic terms, if you are capable, than you should do something to reduce injustice. I don’t feel that you are obligated to do so, but any reduce in injustice, is a step in the right direction. Sen goes on to support the idea that democracy is a universal value, he differentiates between the “institutional structure of the contemporary practice of democracy,” which is “largely the product of European and American experience over the last few centuries” (Sen 322-323). In my opinion, one should not assume that because a particular type of institutional structure is up and running, such as elections, voting being counted properly, and etc, that a satisfactory level of democracy has been achieved. Sen believes that having too much institutional focus on democracy has caused particular trouble at the global level. Sen believes that, an uncontrolled media is important to the operation of democratic societies. Sen explains in the text that this contributes to human security by giving a voice to the defenseless and deprived by subjecting the government to criticism from such individuals. I believe this power is key I giving people courage, power, and the ability to express feelings towards actions that are being taken. We sort of put power in the hands of individuals who are not as capable as other, which I do agree with also, because this is a simple way in which we can empower individuals to voice opinions in a manner which may not fall on death ears as usual.

We can place emphasis on individual’s human rights here, which an important factor concerning human rights is to protect individual’s freedoms, thus freedom of speech & freedom of press being highly important. Sen says that human rights are moral rights, “strong ethical pronouncements as to what should be done” (357). According to Sen, reasoning concerning justice should not be restricted to one state or population, but rather be global. “If the importance of public reasoning has been one of the major concerns of this book, so has been the need to accept the plurality of reasons that may be sensibly accommodated in an exercise of evaluation” (Sen 394). We must look at every possible angle that the book discusses in order to find an answer to the idea of what justice truly is. If you cannot effectively rationalize all aspects of the idea of what justice is, it will be difficult for you to be able to ever understand what justice is. As Sen states “the reasons may sometimes compete with each other in persuading us in one direction or another in a particular assessment, and when they yield conflicting judgments, there is an important challenge in determining what credible conclusions can be derived, after considering all argument” (Sen 394). Which I most certainly agree with, it would in fact be a difficult task to determine a credible solution, but it is imperative that you must consider all of the arguments at hand.

Justice is the quality of being just or fair. Justice can also be looked upon as the judgment involved in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards and punishments. Justice can also be “the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity” (Princeton Web 2010). Individuals may look at justice many different ways, but what factors play into deciding what truly is justice? Must you look at fairness in order to be just, must you look at rationality, or even equality and liberty? There will always be debates about how to achieve justice. But due to so many factors being involved, we may never understand what justice truly is. I believe that in order for one to be just, or even to make a just decision on a matter that factors such as rationality, fairness, human rights, and the well being of all parties involved must be taken into account. But this is just my opinion & many of today’s philosophers often argue what it means to be just or even to achieve a completely just state in our society, along with the decisions we make on a daily basis. To call attention to a specific philosopher, Amartya Sen undoubtedly makes a solid stance on what justice truly means.

The Idea of Justice is Amartya Sen’s assessment of political philosophy. He explores what justice really means and has come up with alternatives to the existing model. Sen’s philosophic arguments are shown by an exceptional set of stories drawn from literature, history, and current events occurring in our society today. There are not many main thoughts of the book, but the thoughts presented are revisited throughout each chapter, to help the reader see the bigger picture. You must be able to examine each idea Sen presents in his text, as they all come together, when being able to achieve complete justice. Although justice may never fully be reached entirely in any society, Sen does an amazing job giving examples and putting each of his arguments in basic text, so that it is easy for the reader to understand what he is talking about. The specific philosophic arguments of the book are highly important when it comes to the ideas of justice. “The Idea of Justice” is divided into four main parts.

Part one contains several of Sen’s most important thoughts throughout the book. They include, reason & objectivity, institutions & persons, voice & social choice, impartiality & objectivity, and closed & open impartiality. In part two, forms of Reasoning, Sen discusses a number of themes including rationality, plurality of impartial reasons, and rationality & other people. Part three contains information on the capabilities approach, lives, freedoms & capabilities, and equality & liberty. The final part of Sen’s text speaks to public reasoning & democracy, including sections on justice & the world, human rights & global imperatives, the practice of democracy, and democracy as public reason. Throughout each of these main sections Sen’s argues very strong points, I will try to give you a summary of the main points throughout each chapter of Sen’s book along with where he stands on certain topics and how I can relate and feel about what he believes.

To call your attention to the preface/introduction, Sen specifically states that what he is presenting here, is a theory of justice which “aims to clarify how we can proceed to address questions of enhancing justice and removing injustice, rather than to offer resolutions of questions about the nature of perfect justice” (Sen IX). The Introduction elaborates on two approaches to justice, which include the comparativist framework & the social contract framework. The comparativist framework is presented using the realization comparison approach. The realization approach prioritizes the social understanding of advancing justice and removing injustice in real societies with their existing institutions. The social contract framework is presented using the transcendental institutionalism approach which was led by the works of Thomas Hobbes. The transcendental institutionalism approach concentrates on perfect justice and the institutions that would be recognized in such a perfectly just society. There are two distinct problems indentified here which Sen engages. First “it concentrates its attention on what it identifies as perfect justice, rather than on relative comparisons of justice & injustice” (Sen 6).

Sen goes on to explain that this approach tries to only identify social characteristics that cannot be transcended in terms of justice, and its focus is thus not on comparing feasible societies, all of which may fall short of the ideals of perfection. Also it is intended to identify the nature of the just, rather than finding an alternative being less unjust than another. The second major issue with this approach is described by Sen Saying that in searching for perfection, transcendental institutionalism concentrates primarily on getting the institutions right, and it is not directly focused on the actual societies that would ultimately emerge. We need to focus on how change within the actual society is going to be completed, not by getting institutions perfect to the point that they are just institutions. This would do nothing for emerging societies & we need to look at society as whole in order to achieve perfect justice by not having only perfectly just institutions. People are still going to act how they choose as well as behave how they choose, so we must focus on society as whole. “The nature of the society that would result from any given set of institutions must, of course, depend also on non-institutional features, such as actual behaviors of people and their social interactions” (Sen 6). I do agree with Sen in this theory of justice, it should first and foremost, serve as a basis for practical reasoning.

Chapter one is to defend a notion of objectivity in our average thoughts of justice.  Sen argues for the idea that we should understand reason as the final judge of our ethical beliefs. One must be able to justify and understand his reasoning by critically evaluating reasoning for ethical beliefs. The necessity of relying heavily on reason is important as Sen describes in his work. Sen says, “the case for reasoned scrutiny lies not in any sure-fire way of getting things exactly right (no such way may exist), but on being objective as we reasonably can” (Sen 40). Sen believes that one must be able to rely on reason in order to fully justify and decide on our ethical beliefs. I must agree with Sen on this point, when he argues that this approach is not going to be one that will allow and individual to get things exactly right, but allow us to be as objective as we possibly can. By scrutinizing your own reasoning, it is highly probable that you will arrive at the best possible ethical decision. We should not get caught up in being overconfident in the decisions of our own reasoning, as this could add flaws to our decisions. “The remedy for bad reasoning lies in better reasoning, and it is indeed the job of reasoned scrutiny to move from the former to the latter” (Sen 49). This quote explains it all, it is imperative that one must critically scrutinize his/her own reasoning for a decision, and that without this scrutiny there’s great chance for bad reasoning. To avoid this, one must critically scrutinize his/her reasoning of choice or decision. Moving to another argument from Sen, I share the following quote.

“Justice is rooted in fairness and fairness can be broadly be seen as a demand for impartiality” (Sen 54). In order for one to be completely just, the decision must be rational and fair, if a decision is not looked upon as being fair for all parties, you arrive at issues of impartiality. Sens gives his example of three children and a flute, all children having a rational reason as to why they deserve the flute. But if there is not a common vested interest on one solid set of principals between all parties, we run into an issue of what the true just decision is. Institutionally, we cannot address such issues as these. Individuals still have their own morals and values & and going to make their own decisions regardless of what is taught. One of the most difficult things is to change an individual’s moral values and beliefs, institutionally this cannot be done. Values as these are usually learned at the home-base from parents and guardians and are instilled in us from a very young age. It is imperative that we do not look at what truly is a just society in order to achieve a just society. As actions such as these will get our society nowhere

Sen looks at the social choice theory as an approach to justice as well. Social choice theory is concerned with the relationships between people, their preferences & social choice. For example a group of individuals such as a committee making a decision in a voting process, individuals in the group may have different preferences over options that are available to them. This approach deals with the principles of aggregations of preference. Aggregation of social choice may be impossible if the process of choice is to satisfy a set of reasonable conditions. With such reasonable conditions, this could alter the general consensus of a social choice being made by such a committee or group. “Even some very mild conditions of reasonable sensitivity of social decision to what the members of society want cannot be simultaneously satisfied by any social choice procedure that can be described as rational and democratic” (Sen 93). We can however, become more informally sensitive, if we choose to just try and do better rather than to meet the criteria of being fully rational or just. One may use social choice theory as a framework for reasoning, rather than to try and use it completely to achieve justice.

Position of observation and knowledge is another important approach Sen discusses in his work. What we observe depends on our position by means of the things that we observe. What individuals decide to believe is based on what we view. How one decides to act relates to his/her beliefs on a particular subject. Observations, beliefs, and actions are vital to understanding and arriving at sensible reasoning. To Sen, “Objectivity is a position-dependent phenomenon” (Sen 157). “This issue [positionality] is quite important for the formulation of a theory of justice and, more specifically, for exploring a theory that gives a special role to public reasoning in the understanding of the demands of justice” (Sen 167). It is important here to understand that there is no single way to master a way of making sense of the world or our experience in it. No decision made could ever be rationalized in every single persons mind, something such as this is physically not possible. There are just too many different people in our society today for that to be able to happen. There will always be a flaw in certain reasoning in some persons view. There is just no way, that every single person in the world would be satisfied with a decision, because we all observe, understand, and put reason into different perspectives. Some placing more weight on rational choice, critical scrutiny, positional objectivity, reasonable behaviors & sustainable reason when it comes to making a decision. There are just too many approaches for everyone to be able to agree. So we must take into account all perspectives of others when it comes to justice and just decision making, as Sen states, “we must be sensitive to others” (206). Respect of others views is exceedingly important here.

To move forward, the capabilities approach is also a major theme within the work. “The capabilities approach focuses on human lives, and not just on the resources people have, in the form of owning – or having use of – objects of convenience that a person may possess” (Sen 253). The approach emphasizes purposeful capabilities & substantive freedoms, such as the ability to engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities. Poverty is understood as capability deficiency in Sen’s view. The emphasis is not only on how human beings actually operate but also on their having the capability to do so, which is a practical choice, to operate in important ways if that’s what they choose to do. Someone could be stripped of such capabilities in many ways. Ignorance, government oppression, lack of financial resources, and false comprehension, are ways in which one may be stripped of such capabilities. Possession of capabilities strongly implies a responsibility for making use of them to help others when possible, especially when it comes to the less fortunate. “If someone has the power to make a difference that he or she can see will reduce injustice in the world, then there is a strong and reasoned argument for doing just that” (Sen 271). If you can see that your capabilities go beyond that of the less fortunate by any means, and that they can be used in any positive manner weather be financial or emotional, I believe that there is no doubt that one should be obligated to reduce injustice in some way shape or form if at all possible.

Again this only being an approach, this is not the end all-be all in deciding justice, but undoubtedly can make a difference, and I would have to agree. In basic terms, if you are capable, than you should do something to reduce injustice. I don’t feel that you are obligated to do so, but any reduce in injustice, is a step in the right direction. Sen goes on to support the idea that democracy is a universal value, he differentiates between the “institutional structure of the contemporary practice of democracy,” which is “largely the product of European and American experience over the last few centuries” (Sen 322-323). In my opinion, one should not assume that because a particular type of institutional structure is up and running, such as elections, voting being counted properly, and etc, that a satisfactory level of democracy has been achieved. Sen believes that having too much institutional focus on democracy has caused particular trouble at the global level. Sen believes that, an uncontrolled media is important to the operation of democratic societies. Sen explains in the text that this contributes to human security by giving a voice to the defenseless and deprived by subjecting the government to criticism from such individuals. I believe this power is key I giving people courage, power, and the ability to express feelings towards actions that are being taken. We sort of put power in the hands of individuals who are not as capable as other, which I do agree with also, because this is a simple way in which we can empower individuals to voice opinions in a manner which may not fall on death ears as usual.

We can place emphasis on individual’s human rights here, which an important factor concerning human rights is to protect individual’s freedoms, thus freedom of speech & freedom of press being highly important. Sen says that human rights are moral rights, “strong ethical pronouncements as to what should be done” (357). According to Sen, reasoning concerning justice should not be restricted to one state or population, but rather be global. “If the importance of public reasoning has been one of the major concerns of this book, so has been the need to accept the plurality of reasons that may be sensibly accommodated in an exercise of evaluation” (Sen 394). We must look at every possible angle that the book discusses in order to find an answer to the idea of what justice truly is. If you cannot effectively rationalize all aspects of the idea of what justice is, it will be difficult for you to be able to ever understand what justice is. As Sen states “the reasons may sometimes compete with each other in persuading us in one direction or another in a particular assessment, and when they yield conflicting judgments, there is an important challenge in determining what credible conclusions can be derived, after considering all argument” (Sen 394). Which I most certainly agree with, it would in fact be a difficult task to determine a credible solution, but it is imperative that you must consider all of the arguments at hand.

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