BOOK REVIEW “The Idea of Justice” by Amartya Sen. Japanese translation by Ikemoto Yukio, Akashi Shoten (2011)

Sali Augustine SJ Sophia University

  I would like to introduce The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, who is well-known in the fields of poverty and inequality. Mr Sen is an economist qualified to speak about justice. The book was published in English in 2009. The Japanese translation by Ikemoto Yukio (Akashi Shoten) appeared in 2011. This book certainly shows a realistic approach toward implementing the Idea of Justice for those who, experiencing current economic and social gaps, think that a just distribution of wealth is nothing but a wild idea.
  Professor Rolls is an authority on the theory of Justice, and the discussions he gave rise to on “universal and absolute justice” have attracted many theoreticians. Mr Sen, one of these theoreticians, has criticized various enlightened ethical theories from Kant to Rolls as being transcendental systems and, as a counter measure, proposes the principle of realistic comparison. His approach is to bring injustice to an end through concrete action and by providing answers to concrete problems. With regard to issues like poverty and famine, he stresses that the actual practice of justice is the “Idea” for their solution. It is meaningless to keep on questioning what justice is and what the supreme criterion is to determine a right distribution of wealth, although on the other hand not making any decision invites unfairness.Instead of that, it is not only necessary, as Rolls proposes, to offer clear principles.
  One has also to compare the various options of possible action. Furthermore, considering the formalities required to come to any agreement among many people from the multiple criteria that are offered, neutrality and transparency must also be selected. In this way, Mr Sen insists that the concept of Justice relates to democracy as an indispensable characteristic.
  I think that Jesuit social and pastoral spirituality, hypothetically speaking, must search for ways to diminish social unfairness and injustice, more than to achieve “perfect justice.” That is Jesuit social commitment. Even if all members do not reach an agreement on how to put “perfect justice” into practice, everybody will agree on the need to put an end to social injustice manifested in famine, deprivation, discrimination, and the existing gaps in health and education. Mr Sen stresses that we should pay attention to such justice as is alive in the daily lives of common people, more than to a social justice understood as merely institutional. The author, focusing on famine in India, his home country, has long been involved in issues of poverty in developing countries and has authored many publications on issues of social justice. This book is a sort of compilation of his work. It embodies a discussion on justice by an economist and philosopher, but it is a useful reference book for the Catholic Church in dealing critically with issues of justice in modern times.

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