Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Amartya Sen

As I mentioned yesterday, from Peter Singer to Amartya Sen...

Sadly I was sat right at the back of the Sheldonian and Sen's voice in particular didn't carry well (particularly when he went 'off script' to make jokes), so I found it a bit hard to follow in places. The topic was about theories of justice, and predictably plugged the capabilities approach and his general view that incompleteness need not be a problem. He argued that if the same conclusion can be justified by different theories, then we don't need to worry any more.

He did, however, present an interesting case involving three children claiming a flute - one on grounds only they can play it (possibly some kind of Walzer-ian style claim internal to the nature or social meaning of the thing, possibly merely a form of efficiency argument), one on grounds that they have no other toys to play with (a point based in welfare - equality or priority), and one on grounds she made it (a libertarian entitlement). Any of those claims, presented in itself, may seem a sufficient claim, but while they may coincide in this case that don't, and while each can accept the others' grounds, it isn't clear who should get the flute.

The more fundamental point of the lectures was to argue that a theory of justice should not only present an ideal but allow us to make comparative judgements about whether X is more just than Y and be impartial between all people (i.e. a form of global justice, rather than impartiality only between 'insiders' to a contract).

Colin Farrelly also has a report, here.

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