A Critical Analysis of Social Justice as the Basis of Policy Making in the Light of Arguments by Amartya Sen

Joydeep Sil


In his book ‘The Idea of Justice’, Amartya Sen has critically examined the established theories of ‘justice’ and forwards his own views about the concept of social justice. As per Sen, injustices in the society need to be evaluated by way of reasoning and reasoned justifications (plural grounding). Only based on such reasoned diagnosis of what causes social injustice, policy measures can be adopted to reduce injustice and advancing justice. Sen has strongly argued against transcendental institutionalism line of reasoning (Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Rawls) as there cannot be one perfectly just social arrangement. He, therefore, discards transcendental proposition of a set of right institutions which would, by default, bring social justice. As per him it is neither necessary nor sufficient for a workable theory of justice. He rather preferred realisation-focussed comparisons of justice (Adam Smith, Marx, J. S. Mill, Condorcet) as it is based on social realisations resulting from actual institutions, actual behaviour and other influences. The focus of the later approach is primarily in the removal of manifest injustice from the society rather than identification of ideal social arrangements and choice of ideal institutions. Sen has drawn analogy for an argument-based public reasoning on rankings of alternatives that can be realised. This is central to the analytical discipline of ‘social choice theory’ conceptualised by Condorcet and further developed by Kenneth Arrow in the middle of the twentieth century. Sen has constructed his own argument further on the social choice theory by way of focussing on an accomplishment-based understanding of justice which is based on freedom and capabilities of individuals. This paper would attempt to bring out the rationale behind arguments put forward by Sen and its implications in the context of Indian public policy making, in general.

Keywords: social justice, social choice, public reasoning, public policy, freedom, capability

DOI: 10.7176/PPAR/10-5-05

Publication date:May 31st 2020

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ISSN (Paper)2224-5731 ISSN (Online)2225-0972

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