Amartya Kuman Sen

Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, Harvard University

Dept of Economics
Littauer Center 205
1805 Cambridge Street

Assistant: Ashley Nahlen / 617-496-1764

Biography

Amartya Sen is Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, at Harvard University and was until 2004 the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He is also Senior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Earlier on he was Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University Calcutta, the Delhi School of Economics, and the London School of Economics, and Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University.

Amartya K. Sen, The Idea of Justice (Harv. Univ. Press 2009).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Legal Theory & Philosophy
Type: Book
Abstract
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, has long left practical realities far behind. The transcendental theory of justice, the subject of Sen’s analysis, flourished in the Enlightenment and has proponents among some of the most distinguished philosophers of our day; it is concerned with identifying perfectly just social arrangements, defining the nature of the perfectly just society. The approach Sen favors, on the other hand, focuses on the comparative judgments of what is “more” or “less” just, and on the comparative merits of the different societies that actually emerge from certain institutions and social interactions. At the heart of Sen’s argument is a respect for reasoned differences in our understanding of what a “just society” really is. People of different persuasions—for example, utilitarians, economic egalitarians, labor right theorists, no-nonsense libertarians—might each reasonably see a clear and straightforward resolution to questions of justice; and yet, these clear and straightforward resolutions would be completely different. In light of this, Sen argues for a comparative perspective on justice that can guide us in the choice between alternatives that we inevitably face.
Amartya K. Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (W.W. Norton 2006).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Law & Political Theory
,
Legal Theory & Philosophy
Type: Book
Abstract
Sen argues in his new book that conflict and violence are sustained today, no less than the past, by the illusion of a unique identity.
Amartya K. Sen, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity (Picador 2006).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Foreign Law
Type: Book
Abstract
The Argumentative Indian brings together a selection of writings from Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen that outline the need to understand contemporary India, including its thriving democracy, in the light of its long argumentative tradition." "Understanding the political, social, cultural and economic challenges that contemporary India faces demands an adequate appreciation of its pluralist, interactive and dynamic heritage. Sen argues that external views also affect the national perception of identity through an interactive process, especially in the post-colonial world. The West has often perceived India as a place of endless spirituality and unreasoning mysticism. Yet it has a long tradition of scepticism and reasoning, with perhaps, of all ancient civilizations, the largest body of agnostic and atheistic literature, in addition to secular contributions in mathematics, astronomy, linguistics, medicine and political economy.
Amartya K. Sen, Why Exactly is Commitment Important for Rationality?, 21 J. Econ. & Phil. 5 (2005).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Law & Behavioral Sciences
,
Law & Economics
Type: Article
Abstract
Gary Becker and others have done important work to broaden the content of self interest, but have not departed from seeing rationality in terms of the exclusive pursuit of self-interest. One reason why committed behavior is important is that a person can have good reason to pursue objectives other than self interest maximization (no matter how broadly it is construed). Indeed, one can also follow rules of behavior that go beyond the pursuit of one's own goals, even if the goals include non-self-interested concerns. By living in a society, one develops possible reasons for considering other people's goals as well, which takes one beyond an exclusive concentration on one's own goals, not to mention the single-minded pursuit of one's own self interest. The recognition of other people's goals may be a part of rational thought. If rational behavior may depart from the relentless pursuit of one's own goals, commitment has to be important in a theory of rationality. Furthermore, seeing the role of commitment in human behavior can have explanatory importance in allowing us to understand behavior patterns that are hard to fit into the narrow format of contemporary rational choice theory. Commitment is, thus, important both for practical reason and for causal explanation.
Amartya K. Sen, Rationality and Freedom (Harv. Univ. Press 2002).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Legal Theory & Philosophy
Type: Book
Abstract
Rationality and freedom are among the most profound and contentious concepts in philosophy and the social sciences. In two volumes on rationality, freedom, and justice, the distinguished economist and philosopher Amartya Sen brings clarity and insight to these difficult issues. This volume—the first of the two—is principally concerned with rationality and freedom. Sen scrutinizes and departs from the standard criteria of rationality, and shows how it can be seen in terms of subjecting one’s values as well as choices to the demands of reason and critical scrutiny. This capacious approach is utilized to illuminate the demands of rationality in individual choice (including decisions under uncertainty) as well as social choice (including cost benefit analysis and environmental assessment). Identifying a reciprocity in the relationship between rationality and freedom, Sen argues that freedom cannot be assessed independently of a person’s reasoned preferences and valuations, just as rationality, in turn, requires freedom of thought. Sen uses the discipline of social choice theory (a subject he has helped to develop) to illuminate the demands of reason and the assessment of freedom. The latter is the subject matter of Sen’s previously unpublished Arrow Lectures included here. The essays in these volumes contribute to Sen’s ongoing transformation of economic theory and social philosophy, and to our understanding of the connections among rationality, freedom, and social justice.

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Dept of Economics
Littauer Center 205
1805 Cambridge Street

Assistant: Ashley Nahlen / 617-496-1764