Amartya Sen’s Idea of Justice by Ishita Dutta @LEXCLIQ

Amartya Sen, the Indian economist and philosopher proposed the concept of justice in his book, the Idea of Justice which critiqued the work of Rawl’s basic ideas of theory of justice. Do we need a theory of justice at all? If the answer is yes, how should we develop such a theory that could help people to move towards a more just world? These questions were Sen’s main concern in his book. In his book, Sen diverges from the dominant theories of justice associated with thinkers like Locke, Rousseau and Kant.

The first objection which Sen raises is that the ‘original position’ which Rawls is talking about, creates a hypothetical situation, in practicality it may never be able to incorporate multifaceted, diverse, variegated, conflicting but very genuine and cogent demands of a large plurality. Sen beautifully exemplifies his point with the help of the example of the illustration of three children and a flute. With resources being limited we may not be able to meet the plurality of genuine voices airing their genuine demands. Anne, Bob and Clara are all well raising their genuine arguments and these genuine demands cannot be brushed aside by giving a superficial argument of being foundation less which is based on the pursuit of human fulfilment, or removal of poverty, or entitlement to enjoy the products of one’s own labor. So in a way transcendental theories of justice do not resort to comparative assessment between pair of alternatives, what Prof. Sen wants to propose is that concept of justice should not be indifferent to the lives of people which they are actually living?

Sen argues in his principles of justice that there is a contradiction present in Rawl’s liberty principle. Liberty is the sacrosanct principle which people will not compromise even if it is related to better distribution of wealth or even if it facilitates the furtherance of wealth. .e., the concept of liberty cannot be reduced to the level of a mere facility, but if we see when Rawls deals with the ‘primary goods’ then it includes things such as rights, liberties and opportunities, income and wealth, and the social bases of self-respect. We can see that liberty though has entered but just in from of a mere facility. One can see that the concept of liberty is being treated like a king and a slave simultaneously. Again, why such kind of unrestrained priority is being given to liberty, aren’t hunger, starvation and medical neglect etc. less important than personal liberty?

Professor Sen took cue of the early Indian jurisprudence to shed light on the different concepts of justice, ‘Niti’ and the ‘Nyaya’. The idea of Niti relates to organizational propriety as well as behavioral correctness, whereas the latter, nyaya, is concerned with what emerges and how, and in particular the lives that people are actually able to lead. In other words it is necessary to assess the roles of institutions on the basis of fact that how much inclusiveness is reflected in them i.e., in the broader perspective of nyaya, which pertains to the world that actually emerges and not just constricted to the institutions that we possess.

Sen gives an example to show the difference between Niti and nyaya. Ferdinand I, roman emperor in the sixteenth century claimed: ‘Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus’, which can be translated as ‘Let justice be done, though the world perish’. This is an example of a very austere form of Niti which advocates even bringing of catastrophe, but without considering the fact that how justice will be done if world will perish?

According to Sen, a realization- focused perspective also makes it easier to understand the importance of the prevention of manifest injustice in the world, rather than seeking the perfectly just. He further gave an example that the agitation against slavery in the eighteenth and the nineteenth century was not successful because they were laboring under the belief that abolition of slavery will lead to a perfectly just society. It was intolerably nauseating injustice that made abolition of slavery a priority. Even though the arrangement – centered perspective of Niti is often interpreted in ways that make the presence of appropriate institutions themselves adequate to satisfy the demands of justice, the broader perspective of nyaya would indicate the necessity of examining what social realizations are actually generated through that institutional base.

Such a system can help to incorporate and accommodate divergent points of view. Sen also visualizes a set of principles for justice for the modern world that will avoid parochialism and address the vital questions of global injustice. Sen acknowledges the fact that institutions play a very important role in sharpening our ability to scrutinize the values and priorities that we can consider, especially through public discussions and democracy is such an institution, which is assessed in terms of public reasoning , an institution of democracy should be judged on the touchstone of the extent, as to how different voices from diverse sections are able to put forth their voice and their voice actually been heard and not just about the formal existence of the institution, because a democratic institution, if fails to provide representation to the people, fails to provide the much needed opportunity to put forth their voice then the institution is insipid.

Sen’s work though criticizes the notion of perfect justice and rather advocates removal of injustice, but this very idea can be debated. The search for perfect justice aspires to an unachievable completeness but the problem is that many plausible cases of injustice are much more complicated. If we look into the complex question of gender inequality, we may get conflicting opinion regarding what really is unjust as our conception may differ regarding what should be considered as injustice pertaining to gender. Today questions are coming before society that whether men should also be given incentives on the line of women as a men also involves his labor in child rearing and domestic care, should there be a concept of paternity leave? Some people think that in order to ensure equality in opportunity between men and women, legal barrier must be lifted. These questions are very difficult to answer both men and women may reason that injustice is being done to them. The point is that there are times when a person cannot figure out what constitutes a move to a superior, more just position without reflecting upon and working out her own conception of what “perfect” justice entails.

However, both Rawls and Amartya Sen are traversing on the same path and they have similar opinion in this regard that utilitarianism or a conception of system which only promotes welfare of majority or happiness of greatest number is not correct. Sen Uses an analogy of old Hindu jurisprudence regarding the Matsyanyaya or the judgements of the fishes, where big fish devoured small fish, is somewhat identical to the utilitarian principle that exists today, and cannot be said to be chink free. It is hard to conclude that whether Rawls’s ‘Concept of Justice’ is better or Sen’s ‘Idea of justice’ and this would not be a good point to discuss about. However, it can be to put forth that Sen’s ‘Idea of Justice’ in a way completes and moves forward Rawls’s ‘Concept of Justice’. So, Sen’s effort should be seen as fulfilling the grooves of Rawls’s concept and not an alternate view.



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