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Sen’s Idea of Justice versus Rawls’ Theory of Justice
Sebastiano Maffettone
In ‘The Idea of Justice’, Amartya Sen presents an alternative approach to Rawls' theory of justice. The core argument is reformulated as a criticism of the neglect (by Rawls) of what Sen himself calls ‘nyaya’ in favour of the opposite ‘niti’. According to Sen, Rawls' niti-centred approach, being merely institutional, under-estimates the necessary combination of just institutions and correspondent actual behaviours that make a society reasonably just. Sen consequently champions the opposite nyaya-centred approach, according to which ‘what happens to people’ must be a central concern for a theory of justice. To my advice, this argument is dependent on Sen’s old idea, according to which the ‘primary goods’ basis of Rawls' approach to distributive justice is flawed and must be substituted by an approach in terms of capabilities. I instead think that the capability approach to a general theory of justice presents both epistemic and ethical problems of paramount importance. These problems are similar to the ones created by the necessity to rely on interpersonal comparisons when we move within the utilitarian tradition.

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