An Interview with Amartya Sen on Practical Justice

0821_amartya_408x600Neelima Mahajan-Bansal and Udit Misra in Forbes:

Is there really a way to measure justice?

The question that you are asking–is there more injustice or less injustice. That’s an excellent question. The answer isn’t 37 as opposed to 51. That ranking is the basis of measurement we have known for at least a hundred years. The basic measure to look at is a ranking. Then everything else follows from it. And it’s the ranking that justice is concerned with, not a numerical measure, I think. The debates are all about rankings.

Take the issue of land acquisitions in SEZs. There are several stakeholders. A villager would feel it’s unjust to take his land. A company would feel their taking the land is justified because it would add to economic activity. Are there mechanisms to deal with issues like that?

I wasn’t so much saying that justice means different things to different people. There are different ways of looking at justice. Sometimes the same person can take different views. In the flute case, I think I can give an argument for all three of them and I see merit in each of them.

[Note: In the book, Sen describes a problem of divergent views on justice in which you have one flute and three children who want it. One child wants the flute because she knows how to play it, the second one wants it because he is poor and doesn’t have toys, and the third one says she made the flute, so she should get it. Who do you give it to?]

The main point is that there can be different reasonable positions not that different people must have different positions. It’s not related to difference between persons. It’s related to difference between arguments and reasoning.