Nobel Laureate and Author Amartya Sen has launched his latest book, The idea of justice. The book with the existing theory of justice, which he calls ‘transcendental institutionalism’. Speaking to CNBC-TV18’s Anuradha Sengupta on the show Beautiful People on perhaps his most challenging work to date, Sen said one can think of it as a utopian institutional approach to justice. “It is primarily a book in philosophy with lots of relevance to practical problems, not just economic but social, cultural and other issues,” he added.
Q: Your latest book The idea of justice I must admit that I was pretty intimidated by it. Is it fair to say that it is a lifetime study that we see in this book and perhaps your most challenging work to date?
A: I don’t know. It’s difficult to say. They are different kind of works. It’s primarily a book in philosophy with lots of relevance to practical problems, not just economic problems that too but social, cultural and other issues. Perhaps it’s certainly probably the longest book I have written in terms of time and also in length as to what it emerged.
Q: In this book, The idea of justice, you have questioned or challenged existing idea of justice which is transcendental institutionalism and according to this theory prescribes perfect justice and therefore institutions that foster it and expects people to comply. Could you very simply illustrate what this is and why it doesn’t work for you because you say that comparative justice and real life justice is what is important?
A: I think the first thing you recognise calling by that complicated name, you can think of it more simply perhaps, slightly inaccurately but accurately enough as utopian institutional approach to justice. But that is the dominant approach to justice, and that’s the first thing to recognise. Some of your audience may not be aware how important it is in philosophy because it hasn’t had much application in real life and that’s part of the problem; it doesn’t have much application because it begins with asking the question what would a perfectly just society look like?
First, there could be differences of views on that as to how much focus to put on priority of liberty as opposed to the priority of economic equality. That’s one concern and there are many other disputes. We could still agree that children being undernourished or not receiving medical care for which medicine and care are known but they cannot afford the medicine or the doctor and the doctors don’t exist in public service that would be seen as unjust. You could agree on that but you need not still agree on a perfectly just society. We need an idea of justice which has some connection with real life problems and therefore it has maybe a concern with removing injustice which we could agree after some reasoning would enhance justice.