Sen’s Idea of Justice and the dynamics of the reproduction of injustice

Garza, Oscar (2014). 'Sen's Idea of Justice and the dynamics of the reproduction of injustice' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Following Sen´s concerns in The Idea of Justice (2009), the main focus of this paper is the diagnosis of injustice and the conceptual framework needed to reduce it in practice. In his book, Sen shifts his starting point for thinking about justice from a detached 'transcendental' perspective to a shared notion of injustice in the real world. Whilst the former is concerned with identifying perfectly just institutions, the latter is concerned with reducing injustice by comparing different 'social realisations' that take into account the kind of lives that individuals can lead (what they are able to do and be). In other words, Sen´s concern is to propose a practical conception of justice that is more closely connected to people's life. To do this he insists that what we need is a comparative framework capable of ranking different 'social realisations' as more or less just. The paper will leave questions about the relevance of this dichotomisation aside and will focus instead on critically scrutinising the epistemological framework that Sen proposes for the task of removing manifest cases of intolerable injustices in the world.  The paper will argue that, as it stands, Sen´s approach is still not a sufficient framework to guide injustice-reduction interventions effectively.

The paper is organised in three different sections. First, it briefly analyses Sen´s point of departure and the content of the methodological framework that enables his comparative framework to be put into practice. In particular, it identifies the role of agency, capabilities, and public reasoning as main components of his framework to advance justice. Second, it provides a critical examination of the specific understandings that these concepts take in Sen´s approach and illustrate, with cases of injustice in Mexico, how they would work in practice. In this discussion two limitations of Sen´s approach will also be identified. Firstly, it will be argued that Sen´s framework remains transcendental and thus there is still a gap between his proposal and its implementation in practice. Secondly, the paper highlights that the notion of a 'comprehensive outcome' to evaluate justice-enhancements in his approach is not comprehensive enough to inform whether justice has been advanced or not. As a consequence, the paper concludes that the guidance that his approach can offer may not be sufficient to furthering justice. Finally, the paper identifies some ways in which these shortcomings might be addressed. In particular, the paper stresses the need of a framework capable to account for injustice and the dynamics of its reproduction to complement Sen´s epistemological framework. For without a clear understanding of the nature of injustice, it is unlikely that remedies will be effective. This suggests that other philosophical perspectives, such as critical theories, can be a useful and indeed necessary supplement to enlarge our understandings of injustice. This paper, then, will highlight the need to direct our attention to the close relationship between structures and actual agency of individuals to reproduce injustice. To conclude, I present initial thoughts about how this acknowledgment can provide additional political guidance to tackle injustice in the real world.

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