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The Idea of Justice by [Sen, Amartya]
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The Idea of Justice Kindle Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Review

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

Review

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

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3903 KB
  • Print Length: 487 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 1st Edition edition (1 July 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046ZRYXQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #137,583 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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3.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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. I think you could sum up what he says in this book in 4 pages, and detail it enough in 40 pages - but he writes it in 400 pages. He rambles - a lot - gets caught up in minor technicalities and repeats himself over and over. On top of that, his writing is so full of Sahara-dry academic terms that you can read some sentences 20 or 25 times and still not get any meaning out of them. In his defence, it seems he knows personally most of the people whose theories he criticises, so, nice guy that he is, he treats them with kid gloves, first praising their work and then gently saying what's wrong with it.

This is a book by an academic for academics, not for interested lay readers. I think someone else will come along and write an accessible coverage of Sen's work which will be much more readable.

(Sorry for not covering the content of the book, but other reviewers have done that.)
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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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