The idea of justice

Amartya Sen. La idea de la justicia. Madrid: Taurus, 2010

It is not very common for a Nobel Prizewinner in Economic Sciences to write about philosophy. This author has been challenging the predominant economic model for many years. While this model considers self-interest to be the essential factor in human motivation, Amartya Sen emphasizes the values of humanity. This economist showed that hunger is not a consequence of the lack of food, but instead of inequalities in its distribution mechanisms. He was the driving force behind the development of the Human Development Index at the United Nations. He was the creator of the concept of 'capability'. In other words, a government must be judged on the basis of the specific capabilities of its citizens. The fact that the citizens of a country have the constitutional right to vote means nothing if all the conditions for citizens to exercise their capability to vote are not met, including access to education and the means of transport to polling stations. Only when these barriers have been overcome is it possible to say that citizens can exercise their own personal choice.

With this new book, Amartya Sen's contribution to one of the fields which contains the most interesting works by philosophers of our age is nothing less than a milestone in this discipline. The classic theory of justice (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Rawls) asked what form the most perfect possible institution should take, and reached the disappointing conclusion that "we will never be able to obtain (at) this ideal of justice, so there is nothing that can be done about it". Sen believes in placing the individual at the centre of his theories, and assumes that as social beings, we recognize that the injustices that surround us also affect us. He turns to the best of Adam Smith, Marx and Stuart Mill to ask how we should foster justice, how we can resolve the most flagrant injustices, how we can make the world a little more just, or to be precise, a little less unjust. It seems incredible that no author had ever succeeded in applying the theory of social choice to the benefit of other social sciences in such an effective way. Incredible, but true. And the practical consequences of this way of considering justice and injustice in order to improve the world are potentially infinite.