Amartya Sen’s recent book The Idea of Justice is a rich and wide-ranging book, that covers a broad range of issues related to social justice, public reasoning, rationality, human agency, well-being, equality, freedoms, democracy and related concerns. Sen formulates a strong critique of contemporary theorising on justice, and proposes an alternative that focuses more on identifying injustices rather than talking about (perfect) justice, and strongly stresses the importance of deliberation and public debate when addressing questions of injustice.

However, in my discussion here I will limit myself to one major claim that Amartya Sen makes in this book, namely that transcendental theories of justice are redundant (This relates especially to the preface, introduction, and chapter 4 of the book; anyone interested in academic discussions of the other chapters should pop over to “Public Reason”:, which hosts a reading group going through the book one chapter a week). But as said, I will only focus on the ‘Redundancy Claim’, and will argue that it is mistaken, since for justice-enhancing actions we need both transcendental and non-transcendental theorising of justice. Nevertheless I endorse an implication that follows from the Redundancy Claim, namely that theorists of justice should shift their priorities from transcendental theorizing towards thinking about justice-enhancing change. I will argue that this ‘Priorities Claim’ not only follows from the (mistaken) Redundancy Claim, but also from another (correct) claim which Sen advances in The Idea of Justice about the current practice of political philosophy. I will conclude that the Redundancy Claim does need to be rejected, but that this is not a big loss, since what is really important is the Priorities Claim, which is vindicated. [click to continue…]