In the August issue of Literary Review, the British philosopher John Gray reviews Amartya Sen's new book The Idea of Justice (Allen Lane/Harvard University Press, 2009):
Is a Smarter World a Better World?
John Gray praises Amartya Sen for debunking the idea that justice requires the acceptance of universal principles - but disagrees that rationality will always find the right course.
"Much of the book is a critique of the work of the late twentieth-century American liberal philosopher John Rawls. (...) In showing why those who pursue justice do not need an ideal of a perfectly just society, only a view about what would make the world a more just place, "The Idea of Justice" deserves to be acclaimed as a major advance in contemporary thinking. If the book succeeds in debunking rationalistic philosophies that claim to formulate principles of justice that everyone must accept, it still asks a great deal of reason - more, in fact, than reason can give. It is one thing to accept that the demands of justice are plural, another to recognise that they can be rivals - and not only in the sense that they must be ranked on a scale of comparative urgency because they cannot all be realised at the same time. In actual conflicts justice and injustice are not always as distinct and opposed as they seem in the seminar room. Quite often they are closely intertwined, sometimes in morally horrendous ways."
"A smarter world might be more fun. There is little reason to think it would be less conflict-ridden, or more just."
John Gray's latest book is "Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia" (Allen Lane, 2007). Highly recommended! In spring 2009 came "Gray's Anatomy. Selected Writings" (Allen Lane, 2009).