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Against Sen Against Rawls on Justice
Evan Riley
Amartya Sen has recently levelled a series of what he alleges to be quite serious but very general objections against Rawls, Rawlsian fellow travellers, and other social contract accounts of justice. In The Idea of Justice, published in 2009, Sen specifically charges his target philosophical views with what he calls transcendentalism and procedural parochialism, and with being mistakenly narrowly focused on institutions. He also thinks that there is a basic incoherence—arising from a version of Derek Parfit’s Identity Problem—internal to the Rawlsian theoretical apparatus. Sen would have political philosophy pursue inter-societal comparisons of relative justice more directly and in the manner of social choice theory. Yet the positive argument that he develops in support of this method is quite thin. That aside, Sen’s polemical strategy of inflicting death by a thousand cuts is ineffective against the Rawlsian paradigm. For, as I show herein, none of these criticisms has the force we might be led to expect.

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