The Idea of Justice

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The Idea of Justice
By Amartya Sen
Belknap Press, 2009
496 pp. $29.95
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Political philosophers since Aristotle have wrestled with the concept of justice; although justice is universally desired, it is difficult to agree on exactly what it is. In this book, the Nobel Prize-winning Harvard economist and philosopher Sen departs from much of the recent philosophical discourse on this vast subject, usefully drawing not only on Western philosophy but also on the wisdom of ancient Asian thinkers. Sen rejects the social-contract approach to justice in favor of a results-based one that relies on an understanding of generally acknowledged injustices -- without attempting to design a perfectly just society, as the social-contract approach typically does. Also, he accepts that there may be different but equally legitimate views of what is just or unjust in particular cases. Instead of trying to adjudicate definitively among them, Sen encourages reasoned discourse about the different ethical principles involved. This discourse becomes an important element in moving toward a more just society.