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What Sen Should Have Said to Rawls
James P. Sterba
When moral and political philosophers come into conflict with each other, they tend to provide characterizations of their opponents’ views that usually highlight what they think are weaknesses while providing contrasting characterizations of their own views that usually highlight what they think are strengths. After providing these two characterizations, they then draw the inevitable conclusion that their views are better than those of their opponents. Another, and in my judgement, better way of proceeding here is to evaluate opposing perspectives with a very sympathetic eye, re-interpreting and refurbishing them wherever possible, while at the same time taking a very critical look at one’s own perspective to detect any weaknesses that require correction. My contention is that if Amartya Sen had carried out this second sort of evaluation of John Rawls's theory of justice, he would have found much more with which to agree, particularly since Rawls view has been reinterpreted and refurbished in certain ways so as to make it more defensible. Sen would have also discovered that this more favourable interpretation of Rawls' view could be usefully employed to remedy weaknesses in his (Sen’s) own view that would have emerged after a more critical examination.

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