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The Idea of Justice

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,434 ratings  ·  95 reviews
Social justice: an ideal, forever beyond our grasp; or one of many practical possibilities? More than a matter of intellectual discourse, the idea of justice plays a real role in how--and how well--people live. And in this book the distinguished scholar Amartya Sen offers a powerful critique of the theory of social justice that, in its grip on social and political thinking ...more
Paperback, 467 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Belknap Press (first published 2009)
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3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,434 ratings  ·  95 reviews

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Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nobels, nonfiction
A Nobel Laureate in Economics, for a change.

It has taken me quite some time to finish "The Idea of Justice". I just saw that I marked it as Currently-Reading a year ago. Usually, this would be a sign that I struggle with the content or writing style, but that is not the case at all. I enjoyed every minute of it. The reason it took me so long is rather that I needed time for Amartya Sen's thoughts to settle in my mind, and I frequently had to go back to reading primary sources of which I had only
The Idea of Justice is a developmental economist's look at a very abstract idea of political philosophy. At first glance, it is difficult to reconcile the hard pragmatism of social needs and humanitarian work with the theoretical debates of what is 'justice' or 'fairness'.

The title of the book is a case of understated irony: Sen turns away from understanding the Platonic idea of what 'justice' is, instead asking what actions are less unjust, and how to better implement them. The book is also a
When an author as distinguished as Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in economics and acclaimed polymath and thinker, writes on the issue of justice, one expects great insight into an aspect central to human life and democracy. With more than 400 dense pages of text and footnotes, over 30 pages of notes, and a long preface, Sen's book tries to take the reader through a labyrinth of ideas and literature from ancient times to modern days. Indeed, in proposing an approach that is philosophically and mora ...more
Jan 29, 2018 marked it as not-to-read  ·  review of another edition
متاسفانه با اینکه قلم آمارتیا سن پیچیدگی زیادی ندارد، ترجمه آقای وحید محمودی ترجمه ای تحت اللفظی و در برخی موارد اشتباه و گمراه کننده است. نقش آقای هرمز همایون پور فقید در این ترجمه مشخص نشده است. اما جای تعجب دارد که مترجم حتی در ترجمه ترکیبهای قاعده مندی مانند
if... that... then...
هم دچار اشتباه شده است و عجیب تر آنکه عبارتهایی که کمی سخت بوده اند اصلا ترجمه نشده اند. به علاوه آقای محمودی مقدمه ای هم از خودشان در ابتدای کتاب نوشته اند و به زعم خود تلاش کرده اند تا نظریه سن را در بستر سایر نظریه
Billie Pritchett
Amartya Sen's proposal for justice is pretty commonsensical. Reading it reminded me of that moment when someone says something so self-evident, you smack your forehead and wonder why you didn't think of it. The thesis is this: Instead of focusing on ideal notions of justice, which by definition can't be realized in the real world anyway, one should think of justice as a continuum, in which some societies are more or less just relative to certain issues. The scope of these issues concerns people' ...more
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a most impressive achievement. Though it is lovingly dedicated to the memory of John Rawls I believe it to be far better than the overrated Rawls' Theory Of Justice. I had long longed for a book on justice that starts from behavior on earth rather than airy abstractions in the air and Sen delivers my wishes. Might become a classic.
Randal Samstag
Oct 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, economics
Amartya Sen’s 2009 book, The Idea of Justice, will, I think, come to be seen as summing up the intellectual legacy of this remarkable man. The book references hundreds of books, papers, and talks by this Nobel Prize-winning economist with a lifelong weakness for philosophy. Ideas from Sen’s long career starting with his early education at Tagore’s school in Bengal, Santiniketan, to his long years of teaching at Harvard make an appearance in this book. His subject is justice and the book is a com ...more
Adnan Fakir
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sharing an older review of the book I had written for a newspaper when the book was launched. The ideas still recur to me from time to time, hence the post:

Within the past month I was lucky enough to be able to meet with Amartya Sen thrice; at a conference, at a discussion and signing of his new book "The Idea of Justice," and at a dinner where I was honored to be able to hold a long discussion with him. Here I will draw on my understanding of him and his subject to give a brief review of his ne
Chris Nagel
In this fairly repetitive, fairly uninspiring, fairly superficial book, Sen tells us he is here developing a practical and comparative alternative to "transcendental" theories of justice. The reason for doing this, according to Sen, is that philosophical theories of justice are always too unidimensional and too interested in absolute justice to be of any use for what you might call the dirty work of justice: responding to injustice, finding reasons to prefer one imperfect state of justice over a ...more
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must say very few people are able to understand the truth inside the truth of the book. Their are two layers of book. One that is sufficient to explain the summary of the book and second that explains insight of the author in the book and believe not everyone has that talent. All the critics never penetrated the second layer and those who penetrated say....this book is not for everyone. To practice whether you are among those readers or not simple practice an example where justice is against w ...more
Oct 31, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think the central idea of this book raises an interesting challenge for the role ideal theory (and consequently a big swathe of political philosophy)could play in policy recommendations. Do we need a theory of justice when we can rely on our intuitions in particular cases? However, Sen doesn't really argue for his thesis in this book, he covers too much but argues too little. It could have been heavily edited into a third of its current size. Nonetheless, it is worth reading at least the first ...more
May 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Interesting and important take on the subject of justice. More people should read this book to widen their horizons!
Silash Ruparell
Sep 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: silash-reviews
This review also appears on my blog

My one liner: Nobel Prize winning economist. A comprehensive survey of the great theorists' competing notions of justice, concluding that a system based on Social Realism (or taking society as it is) is preferable to constructing institutions of justice in a vacuum (“Transcendental Justice”).

Framing the debate on the nature of justice, Amartya Sen provides a practical illustration, which he calls Three Children and a Flute, in the Introd
I had high expectations of this book when I first heard of it. Amartya Sen has some serious academic achievements, he's regarded as one of the worlds leading experts on famines, and the book had high ambitions. The Idea of Justice, not even Rothbard could've come up with a more powerful and impressive name for a book. Understandably, I expected a philosophical treatise on, well, the idea of justice. Boy, was I in for a ride. I really wanted to like this book, if not as something that I could agr ...more
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I agree with Sen's argument that justice is best considered with respect to what actually happens in the world as opposed to some idealized conception of justice on a chalk board in an ivory tower.

I tried reading The Theory of Justice by John Rawls a while back but I couldn't really connect with it quite as much as I did with this book. Rawls' argument (or at least the gist of it from what I was able to absorb) seems to be that justice is fairness and in a perfect world each person would be equ
Britt Andie
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, social-theory
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Harold Carter
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Readable and well argued, but ultimately just a little disappointing because it seems to me that his core criteria don't really help us to make hard choices on moral issues. If most people agree that something is an evil, of course it is good that they should get together to remove it; but probably they don't need an elaborate theory of justice to do so. Really, a theory is most needed when it comes to making precisely the sort of difficult choices that Sen's notion of agreed partial rankings ex ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This a deeply complex philosophical tome on the concept of justice. In order to fully grasp the significance of his arguments, one has to be conversant with dozens of other philosophers both past and present. Herein lies my greatest critique of the book. While I gleaned many good insights and ideas from this book, I found myself listening in (figuratively speaking) to many side conversations and debates with other writers and philosophers, which took away from the clarity of Sen's argument. Argu ...more
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
The rating is from a layman's point of view. Dr. Sen goes into rigorous discussion about every topic and most of the times a layman reader concludes wrongly that there are no rights or wrongs whereas the original method points to an iterative process of arriving at wrongs vs right. Going becomes tough as the chapters progress, still Dr. sen is able to bring back the readers to the start of thinking process with each new chapter. Again this book appears to be written for the people having some fa ...more
I read this book over a long period of time. It is certainly not riveting or easy to read. The genius of Amartya Sen is clear in this summation of what is justice. Despite my limited knowledge and tools to approach this work, I deeply appreciated how I learned to identify and articulate how I thought of justice or did not think of justice. I know I will return to its descriptions and principles in the future.
Mar 27, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

I gave up halfway through
Manahil Algarni
فكرة العدالة
دراسة فلسفية
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: avi-s
deeply insightful & thought provoking.. my idea of social justice & political science changed a hell lot after reading this masterpiece :-)
Aug 05, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
maaauuuu bgt baca.....
Vivek Anandh
Though, like any other person, my mental image of Amartya Sen has always had the element of awe associated with it. Not in the least because of the Nobel prize that he was awarded. In all my attempts at reading his works there arose a consistent feeling of warmth, in part due to the genteel manner with which he address even the scathing criticisms levelled against him and in part due to the overwhelming presence of a uniform train of thought that concerns itself for the betterment of humanity. B ...more
Drew  Eichholtz
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2000s
Very well written book about what a theory of justice should involve and responses to past theories of justice, mainly John Rawl’s Justice as Fairness principle. Does a good job of introducing the reader to these theories, but I would suggest reading more of the preceding works on this topic such as Rawls’s “A Theory of Justice” as Sen is in direct conversation with these works.
Sen always does a great job of including vast swaths of the globe in his analysis. He mentions famines in the Far East
Milind Dhobe
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Sen is one of my favorite philosopher, economists and thinker. His ideas are rooted in finding the truth about various human behaviours and suggesting most appropriate goals for humanity. He has repeatedly shown a path for philosophers, academecians and politicians to welfare of all.

This book is compilation of thoughts around ideas of justice from early thinkers to moderns ones including Dr. Sen's ideas. I am enriched by reading this book in my understanding about workings of most important
Atul Verma
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The importance of reasoning and objectivity in establiahing justice plays a key role in a democracy. It empowers us to deal in challenging scenarios rather than being in a state of obdurate inaction..

The author gave a nice example of famine in which increasing food supply cannot be the excuse of inaction and letting thousands of people killed. A smart reasoning like providing the food to emergency site can prevent deaths certainly. As the author believes 5% to 10% are in critically affected by
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable read, I will certainly return to a number of times. He elaborates on his thoughts quite a lot, putting them in context and returning to them in different ways. His central ideas (e.g. of comparative rather than a perfect single justice or the importance of an impartial view) are appealing but require time and reflection before they become compelling
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is Sen's 'Justice'. A delightful introspection.
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Amartya Kumar Sen is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, and for his interest in the problems of society’s poorest members.

Sen was best known for his work on the causes of famine, which led to the development of practical solutions for preventing or limiting the effects of real or perceiv
“The increasing tendency towards seeing people in terms of one dominant ‘identity’ (‘this is your duty as an American’, ‘you must commit these acts as a Muslim’, or ‘as a Chinese you should give priority to this national engagement’) is not only an imposition of an external and arbitrary priority, but also the denial of an important liberty of a person who can decide on their respective loyalties to different groups (to all of which he or she belongs).” 46 likes
“The notion of human right builds on our shared humanity. These rights are not derived from the citizenship of any country, or the membership of any nation, but are presumed to be claims or entitlements of every human being. They differ, therefore, from constitutionally created rights guaranteed for specific people.” 12 likes
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