Amartya Sen at the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) – July 7th – on “injustice”

mickyates Economy, Ethics, RSA, Values Leave a Comment

Amartya SenI was lucky enough once again to be at the RSA last night, to listen to a conversation with Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate and all round good guy.

There were some aspects of the evening a little unsatisfactory – a few folks trying to score points in the questions – but in most respects it was a classic RSA event, listening to the thoughts of one of the world’s best thinkers. He is currently Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University. To quote Wikipedia:

“In 1998, Sen won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his contributions to work on welfare economics.He is known as “the Mother Teresa of Economics” for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty, gender inequality, and political liberalism. Amartya Sen’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. He has received over 80 honorary doctorates. In the year 2010, Time magazine listed him among the 100 most influential persons in the world.”

In any event, I was one of the few people tweeting during the talk (itself unusual at the RSA), so I thought I’d share my tweets. There is of course no way that I can do justice to the depth of Sen’s comments – but compressing his ideas into 140 characters in real time is an interesting thing to try to do!

Hope these make sense. In the order of his comments:

  • Global Justice is bigger than the idea of justice within the narrow confines of the State
  • Can’t judge a society just by looking at the bundle of things it does or produces
  • Can’t base a theory of justice on the capabilities of society – what is freedom?
  • Can we define a simple measure of “freedom” to apply to a society just as we define GDP?
  • Interdependent world forces us to act more “together” – how can we build true empathy without relying on this instrumentality
  • Western “Enlightment” vs “Eastern” – there is a difference but not so useful in discussing justice concepts 😉 Amartya Sen
  • Amartya Sen is sceptical of “great civilizations” theory of things – there’s more to humanity than one idea vs another idea
  • Multi-party system helps guarantee proper development of the issues … mmm
  • Biggest injustice today is? But what is resolved by answering this … Always a debate with the questioner! Amartya Sen
  • Injustice comes in many forms – Women’s rights, genocide, children’s rights etc – so must not just choose “the worst” Amartya
  • Self-imposed Identity (eg via one’s faith) is a limitation of personal freedom – you are wrong on this, Tony, says Amartya Sen

The Twitter tag was #rsainjustice, by the way.