Last modified on 13 November 2014, at 06:25

Amartya Sen

Democracy has to be judged not just by the institutions that formally exist but by the extent to which different voices from diverse sections of the people can actually be heard.

Amartya Kumar Sen (born 3 November 1933) is an Indian economist and the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for economics.


  • People's identities as Indians, as Asians, or as members of the human race seemed to give way — quite suddenly — to sectarian identification with Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh communities.
    • Reason before Identitiy (1998)
  • The exchange between different cultures can not possibly be seen as a threat, when it is friendly. But I believe that the dissatisfaction with the overall architecture often depends on the quality of leadership.
    • Interview by Mario Baudino, Amartya Sen: "Think a West tolerant intolerance against Muslims is wrong and dangerous,", La Stampa, 30 January 2003
  • There are Muslims of all kinds. The idea of closing them into a single identity is wrong.
    • Interview by Mario Baudino, Amartya Sen: "Think a West tolerant intolerance against Muslims is wrong and dangerous,", La Stampa, 30 January 2003
  • Opponents of globalisation may see it as a new folly, but it is neither particularly new, nor, in general, a folly.

The Idea of JusticeEdit

  • What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just – which few of us expect – but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate.
    • Preface
  • ...a theory of justice that can serve as the basis of practical reasoning must include ways of judging how to reduce injustice and advance justice, rather than aiming only at the characterization of perfectly just societies – an exercise that is such a dominant feature of many theories of justice in political philosophy today.
    • Preface
  • Even though in the approach presented here principles of justice will not be defined in terms of institutions, but rather in terms of the lives and freedoms of the people involved, institutions cannot but play a significant instrumental role in the pursuit of justice.
    • Preface
  • Democracy has to be judged not just by the institutions that formally exist but by the extent to which different voices from diverse sections of the people can actually be heard.
    • Preface
  • To what extent reasoning can provide a reliable basis for a theory of justice is, of course, itself an issue that has been subject to controversy.
    • Preface
  • Hugely engaging as this longing is for hope and history to rhyme together, the justice of transcendental institutionalism has little room for that engagement. This limitation provides one illustration of the need for a substantial departure in the prevailing theories of justice. That is the subject matter of this book.
    • Introduction
  • Being smarter may help the understanding not only of one’s self-interest, but also how the lives of others can be strongly affected by one’s own actions.
    • Ch. 1 Reason and Objectivity
  • Reasoning is a robust source of hope and confidence in a world darkened by murky deeds – past and present. It is not hard to see why this is so. Even when we find something immediately upsetting, we can question that response and ask whether it is an appropriate reaction and whether we should really be guided by it. Reasoning can be concerned with the right way of viewing and treating other people, other cultures, other claims, and with examining different grounds for respect and tolerance.
    • Ch. 1. Reason and Objectivity
  • No less importantly, intellectual probing is needed to identify deeds that are not intended to be injurious, but which have that effect...
    • Ch. 1. Reason and Objectivity
  • Rawls’s analysis of fairness, justice, institutions and behaviour has illuminated our understanding of justice very profoundly and has played – and is still playing – a hugely constructive part in the development of the theory of justice. But we cannot make the Rawlsian mode of thinking on justice into an intellectual ‘stand-still’. We have to benefit from the richness of the ideas we have got from Rawls – and then move on, rather than taking a ‘vacation’. We do need ‘justitia’, not ‘justitium’.
    • Ch. 2. Rawls and Beyond
  • To ask how things are going and whether they can be improved is a constant and inescapable part of the pursuit of justice.
    • Ch. 3. Institutions and Persons
  • Rather, it is the firmly ‘open’ outlook, which Smith’s ‘impartial spec tator’ invokes, that may be in some need of reassertion today. It can make a substantial difference to our understanding of the demands of impartiality in moral and political philosophy in the interconnected world in which we live.
    • Ch. 6. Closed and Open Impartiality
  • The force of a claim for a human right would indeed be seriously undermined if it were possible to show that it is unlikely to survive open public scrutiny. However, contrary to a commonly offered reason for scepticism and rejection of the idea of human rights, the case for it cannot be discarded simply by pointing to the fact – a much-invoked fact – that in repressive regimes across the globe, which do not allow open public discussion, or do not permit free access to information about the world outside the country, many of these human rights do not acquire serious public standing.
    • Ch. 17. Human Rights and Global Imperatives
  • When we try to determine how justice can be advanced, there is a basic need for public reasoning, involving arguments coming from different quarters and divergent perspectives. An engagement with contrary arguments does not, however, imply that we must expect to be able to settle the conflicting reasons in all cases and arrive at agreed position on all issues. Complete resolution is neither a requirement of a person’s own rationality, nor is it a condition of reasonable social choice, including a reason-based theory of justice.
    • Ch. 18. Justice and the World
  • When Hobbes referred to the dire state of human beings in having ‘nasty, brutish and short’ lives, he also pointed, in the same sentence, to the disturbing adversity of being ‘solitary’. Escape from isolation may not only be important for the quality of human life, it can also contribute powerfully to understanding and responding to the other deprivations from which human beings suffer. There is surely a basic strength here which is complementary to the engagement in which theories of justice are involved.
    • Ch. 18. Justice and the World

Individual Freedom as a Social CommitmentEdit

  • Indeed, in the terrible history of famines world is hard to find a case where there has been famine in a country having a free press and active opposition within a democratic institutional framework. [...] The negative freedom of the press and opposition parties to criticize, write and organize the protest can be extremely effective in safeguarding freedom positive elementary population more vulnerable. (Chapter 1.3, pp. 15-16)
  • The freedom to conduct different types of life is reflected in all the alternative combinations of functionings from which a person can choose, this can be called the 'capacity' of a person. The ability of a person depends on a variety of factors, including personal and social arrangements. A social commitment to individual liberty must be that it attaches importance to the objective of increasing the capacity that many people actually possess, and the choice between different social arrangements should be influenced by their ability to promote human capabilities. A full account of individual freedom must go beyond the capabilities related to privacy, and must pay attention to other objectives of the person, such as certain social purposes not directly related to the individual's life, increase human capacity must be a part importance of promoting individual freedom. (Ch. 1.5, p. 25)
  • Although the socialist economies, including those led by communist parties in various parts of the world, have been beset by economic and political problems (including oppression), the aims and objectives that have previously attracted people towards socialism remain still important as they were fifty years ago. The concepts of social justice are also constantly re-emerged after they were weakened by the difficulties encountered in implementing various projects. (Ch. 2.5, p. 51)
  • Although capitalism is, in principle, strongly individualistic, it has contributed in practice to reinforce the trend to integration, because it has made our lives more and more interdependent. Moreover, the economic well-being unprecedented in modern economies that have produced meant that they could be accepted social obligations that previously no one could 'afford'. (Ch. 2.7, p. 53)

Identity and ViolenceEdit

  • When the prospects for good relations between different human beings are seen (as happens more often) mainly in terms of "friendship among civilizations" or "dialogue between religious groups 'or' friendly relations between different communities" (ignoring the many other ways in which individuals relate to each other), projects for peace are subject to an approach that "miniature" human beings. (Prologue: p. IX)
  • The high and noble purpose to pursue the friendship between people, when it is seen in a perspective of friendship between civilizations suddenly reduces the many facets of human beings to one dimension only, placing the muzzle to the variety of ties that, for many centuries, have provided fertile ground for transnational interactions and varied, in fields like mathematics, games, politics and other spheres of common interest to humans. [...] Focus only on religious classification, however, in addition to neglect other important ideas and interests that motivate people's actions, also has the effect of amplifying, in general, the voice of religious authority. [...] The main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies rather in the plurality of our identities, which intertwine with each other and are resistant to drastic divisions along lines impassable border that you can not resist . The nature of human beings that we contradidstingue is severely tested when our differences are reduced to an artificial system of classification and predominantly single. (Chapter: p. 14 ff.)
  • Consider a person firmly wedged into a subsidiary, and only one, cancel the complex interweaving of multiple groups and multiple loyalty by replacing the full richness of human life circumscribed by a formula that insists that every person is "located" only in a single compartment staff. (Chapter II: p. 23)
  • Religion is not and can not be all encompassing identity of an individual. (Chapter IV, p. 83)
  • Living in a market economy is not very different from speaking in prose. It is not easy to do without it, but much depends on what we choose to use prose. (Ch. VII, p. 139)
  • Reductionism solitary human identity has far-reaching consequences. Evoked an illusion to divide individuals into categories extraordinarily rigid can be used to instigate clashes between groups. (Chapter IX, p. 180)

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