Measuring Justice

by Harry on February 28, 2010

Cambridge has just published a new book, Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities (UK), which Ingrid and I edited (the idea of doing it was entirely Ingrid’s, I should say, and a brilliant idea it turned out to be). Its a fairly tightly focused collection, for which we invited two kinds of contribution. It opens with a shortened version of Pogge’s essay “Can the Capabilities Approach be Justified?” which many of the contributors refer back to, and the first part continues with a series of chapters considering the relative merits of Rawls’s social primary goods approach and the capabilities approach to the metric of justice; for this we invited contributors whom we believed would defend one or another of these metrics while giving careful criticisms of the rival, plus Dick Arneson whom we believed (rightly) could be relied on to help make progress despite not being associated with either view. For the second part we invited contributors who would think about some specific issue of justice (in health, education, gender, the family, disability) and consider the relative merits of the approaches with respect to that specific issue. We wrote a short analytical introduction which locates the debate in a broader context, and which, we hope, helps guide the reader through the book (the CUP page has a pdf of it, so you can judge for yourselves); the book concludes with a nice, partly autobiographical, essay by Sen engaging with the chapters in the first part of the book. The contributors so far unmentioned are Erin Kelly, Elizabeth Anderson, Norman Daniel, Lorella Terzi, Colin MacLeod, and Elaine Unterhalter. This is the second volume I’ve co-edited for Cambridge, and both times they have come up with much better titles than the editors would have done, good-looking but demure covers, and, most importantly, a reasonable price.



Matt 03.01.10 at 12:47 am

It looks really interesting, Harry (and Ingrid). Those interested in the topic might also find something worth-while in the just-started reading group on Sen’s recent book on the Public Reason blog. I think they are going one chapter a week- the first post is up and I think the second will be up soon.
The blog is here: (scroll down a bit to get to the first entry) and the schedule here:

some of the same topics will be discussed, though not with the care that would make it a substitute for the book, I’m sure.


vivian 03.01.10 at 2:01 am

Congratulations to the proud parents!


John Quiggin 03.01.10 at 7:06 am

This looks fascinating. Congratulations to both of you.

Unsurprisingly, maybe, given that I’m an economist concerned with risk and uncertainty, I found Dworkin’s arguments (which I hadn’t seen before) appealing in a lot of respects. But I was struck that, in the 1981 paper I found, there was no mention of inherited advantages or how to deal with them. Does he address this elsewhere?

For that matter, I don’t really find Rawls treatment of this topic satisfactory, and I also don’t know what the capability approach has to say. Can anyone give me pointers?


Winston Thompson 03.01.10 at 7:15 am

Most excellent!
I’ve been awaiting this for months. Should be a rather provocative read…


JoB 03.01.10 at 8:00 am

Congratulations indeed! As far as publishing a good book is concerned justice is served.


JoB 03.01.10 at 8:00 am

Should have been: As far as publishing a good book is a measure , justice is served


Ingrid Robeyns 03.01.10 at 9:19 am

Harry, the reason why it is reasonably priced is (a) because it is not published by Springer-Kluwer or another such horrible press, and (b) because CUP decided to publish it straight in paperback too. On (b), editors and authors normally have no control on whether a book comes out in paperback too (except if you are so famous that you have shifted the balance of power towards your own position, which is not the case here). So we’ve simply been lucky that someone at CUP decided that it was in their interest (too) to publish this book straight as a paperback.

I’ve been very absent from the blogosphere in recent months since I was drowning in teaching and admin, but hope that I see the end of that in two or three weeks time, and that that’ll be soon enough to catch up with the discussion on The Idea of Justice over at Public Reason. I have an overdue deadline to write a discussion piece/critical book review of that book for a journal (the idea being to have three commentators with a reply by Sen, if he finds time to write it), so I intend to write something about it here too. But first two more weeks of new classes to teach….


John Meredith 03.01.10 at 10:50 am

“and both times they have come up with much better titles than the editors would have done, good-looking but demure covers, and, most importantly, a reasonable price.”

On price and titling I am sure you are right, but the cover designs are awful: students and teachers only! they scream. There is a general reader market for books lik this, even if it is small.

I will buy it though. Congrats, it looks excellent and is a realy good idea.


m 03.01.10 at 11:08 am

The linked pdf cuts off mid sentence on page 10. Is that a mistake? Or maybe a sly marketing move, creating a cliffhanger to motivate the reader to get the book to continue reading? (if so then it worked in my case :-)


Matt 03.01.10 at 11:23 am

I kind of like the cover, though I guess I fall into the “students and teachers” group.

The price is nice, even for a paperback these days. It’s sadly now common enough to see new paperbacks priced at $50 or more, even at academic presses- truly outrageous prices.


Harry 03.01.10 at 2:04 pm

Yes, I agree we’ve been lucky (though I also think the press has been smart to see the market opportunity here, and to decide to exploit it effectively).

I agree that the cover marks this as an academic book — but I think anything else would be deceitful — this is a book that you’d only want to turn to in the context of some other academic reading OR with an instructor who could guide you through the debates.

Answers to JQ’s question later. (There’s a great paper by Swift in the Bowles Gintis and Osborne-Groves volume on Unequal Chances, but our thinking has superceded it).


Liam 03.01.10 at 8:37 pm

I’ve been waiting for this for a while. I’ll get my library to get it in quick-sharp.

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