The Idea of Justice

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The Idea of Justice
The Idea of Justice.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Amartya Sen
Country India
Language English
Subject A Theory of Justice
Publisher Allen Lane & Harvard University Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 304
ISBN 978-1-84614-147-8
OCLC 368046398

The Idea of Justice is a 2009 book by economist Amartya Sen.


Sen's book is principally a critique and revision of John Rawls' basic ideas in A Theory of Justice (1971). Sen was a student of Rawls and the book is dedicated to his memory.

One of Sen's main arguments is that the project of social justice should not be evaluated in binary terms, as either achieved or not. Rather, he claims that justice should be understood as existing to a matter of degree, and should correspondingly be evaluated along a continuum. Furthermore, he argues that we do not need a fully established abstract ideal of justice to evaluate the fairness of different institutions. He claims that we can meaningfully compare the level of justice in two institutions without positing an ideal, transcendental idea of justice. He names the opposite position institutional transcendentalism.

Sen defends one of Rawls' most fundamental theoretical concepts: justice as fairness. Although this is a vague notion fraught with difficulties in any particular case, he nevertheless views it as one of Rawls' strongest insights while rejecting the necessity of Rawls' two principles of justice emerging from the Original position thought experiment in A Theory of Justice.

Sen also draws heavily on Adam Smith and his first major work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), arguing that it is Smith's most important and unduly overlooked work.

Scholarly reception[edit]

The Idea of Justice has been described by The Economist as a "commanding summation of Mr Sen’s own work on economic reasoning and on the elements and measurement of human well-being".[1] Sen delivered a lecture based on the book (The Penguin Annual Lecture) in Kolkata on 5 August which was followed by a discussion with Barkha Dutt.


  1. ^ The Economist, 6 August 2009, [1]

External links[edit]