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The Idea of Justice [Hardcover]

Amartya Sen
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 July 2009
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. 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; 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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (30 July 2009)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1846141478
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141478
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 16.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 407,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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 -- Philippe Van Parijs, Professor of Economic and Social Ethics, Louvain

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 -- Hilary Putnam, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy, Harvard

In lucid and vigorous prose, THE IDEA OF JUSTICE gives us a political philosophy that is dedicated to the reduction of injustice on Earth -- G.A. Cohen, Professor of Social and Political Theory Emeritus, Oxford

Sen is one of the great thinkers of our era ... if a public intellectual is defined by his or her capacity to bridge the worlds of pure ideas and the most far-reaching policies, Sen has few rivals -- The Times, July 4th 2009, David Aaronovitch


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

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts on Sen's Idea of Justice 31 Dec 2010
By Drnik68
One of my achievements of this summer (also got flooring done in hall cupboard!) was reading Amartyn Sen's "Idea of Justice". This big chunk of thoughts covers almost all elements of human thought through the prism of struggling with what the concept of Justice means in our contemporary society.
Although ostensibly an economist, Sen has won the Nobel Prize, his style is very broad both in the disciplines which he covers but also in his breadth of sources notably drawing on Eastern writings which are more than often overlooked in Western writings particularly on economics, philosophy and law.
His work, which I have never read any of, mainly deals in social choice theory which looks at the economics underpinning human behavior and the choices people make. Sen seeks to counter the presumption, which is fairly prevalent in capitalist thinking, that faced with a choice people always look after their own interests in a selfish way. Indeed, as he points out, choice theory has become synonymous with this.
This work is partially an attempt to integrate his work in this field into the area of legal theory. Indeed it also works as a comprehensive summary of all of his work to this date with a substantial and impressive referencing system and bibliography as part of the work.
The sweep of the work is one of its most impressive features from discussing the nature of freedom, to exploring the economic and political roots of famines to dissecting the writing of proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. You get a real sense of the breadth and depth of Sen's knowledge but also of his enthusiasm for all aspects of learning and knowledge. I would add though that some of the roots of the weaker elements of the work lie here as well.
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66 of 82 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An undefined and unworkable idea of justice 19 Aug 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amartya Sen has one idea in this book. He claims that John Rawls' theory of justice relies on just institutions working with a social contract towards a transcendental (ie unachievable?) vision of a perfectly just society. Sen critiques this for ignoring real actual achievable outcomes, excluding wider interests and failing to address behaviour. He proposes instead that justice should operate by comparing actual outcomes through a process of `unrestricted'(page 44) public reasoning. He offers one example, of whether a flute should belong to a child who can play it, a child who has no other toys, or the child who made it (although he frequently but vaguely refers to meta-examples of slavery and women's rights).

Had he stated this single idea and single example clearly once and then proceeded to analyse each thoroughly we might have a more succinct book on justice. Instead the text is repetitive and long, and strays into vast themes with weak linkage to justice. Sen is ever keen to tell us who he knows - there are 9 pages of acknowledgements which include a vast panoply of the intellectual great and good. He frequently name drops his friendship and/or working relationship with everyone from Isaiah Berlin to W V Quine. There are long sections on welfare economics, rational decision making and happiness which are Sen's Nobel Prize specialisms but are of vague if any connectivity to his theme of justice.
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment 29 Sep 2009
I found this much-hyped book a great disappointment. It is mostly waffle. True, Sen's heart is in the right place, and he makes (or repeats) some valid criticisms of Rawls' theory of justice, and of Pareto-optimality as a standard of the right. But the book is very long (and repetitive) and contains insufficient substance to fill more than a fraction of its pages. By and large the intellectual pressure is pretty low.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 11 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having greatly enjoyed Mr Sen's lectures at university 25 years ago, I was disappointed by this. Maybe it's because I now consider myself a 'lay' reader out of practice with the extreme theoretical tone of many philosphical papers.

It would assist his view, with which I concur, that just outcomes are more likley after wide public scrutiny of ideas, if the book was more publicly accessible. He spends too long countering a wide variety of other philosophers' ideas, rather than in seeking to illustrate how the application of his own theories would lead to different actual practical recommendations.

He is rightly critical of approaches that rely on a perfect 'transcendental' idea of just institutions and says we need to focus on actual outcomes. To me the book is at its best when he uses real examples of dilemnas. How much more powerful would it be to set out examples of many more real ethical dilemnas and suggest how the recommendations he believes would emerge from his approaches would differ from competing theories of justice.

Overall, it comes across as a long theoretical discussion of topics related to justice rather than a coherent theory in its own right.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Why write something in 40 pages when you can do it in 400?
This is the first book by Amartya Sen I have read. I respect the guy hugely as an intellectual, but as an engaging writer not at all. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Patrick
1.0 out of 5 stars Relevancy problems.
There is a lot of breadth to the actual knowledge on display in the book. This is, ironically, the book's greatest weakness since the knowledge is rarely explicitly linked back to... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Dave
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable book.
'I believe that Amartya Sen's The Idea of Justice is the most important contribution to the subject since John Rawls' A Theory of Justice' - Hilary Putnam. Read more
Published on 9 Sep 2011 by G-man
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing!
Sen seeks to develop an alternative theory of justice based on "comparative justice". An extremely poor book and quite disappointing in many respects. Read more
Published on 24 Dec 2010 by Chola Mukanga
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic
Yes it is quite repetitive, Sen really wants you to actually understand his ideas, so repeats his key messages quite a lot. Perhaps too often. Read more
Published on 17 Sep 2010 by J. PORTER
4.0 out of 5 stars the Idea of justice
I have not yet finished reading the book.However, I can say without any hesitation that it is the most informative and intellectual book on the subject of justice I have come... Read more
Published on 16 Aug 2010 by Mr. Pashupati Mittal
5.0 out of 5 stars The idea of Justice
Excellent book. Sen has a very wide view of philosophy that, with his illustrations from Asian history, should help we Westerners feel less smug about our superiority in the field... Read more
Published on 30 July 2010 by WF
2.0 out of 5 stars Might have made a good article
This book is disappointly: too discursive, repetitive and long - the critique of Rawls could have been put succinctly in 5 to 10 pages. Read more
Published on 29 Nov 2009 by M Everest-phillips
5.0 out of 5 stars Now
Now that I've read this book, I think I can start to ask some more detailed questions, and direct them into the locations I want. Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2009 by Jaie Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars thanks
The item arrived quickly and in good condition. The most important factor in selecting which dealer to use is how fast the item is dispatched
Published on 21 Sep 2009 by Book fan
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