Development and the limits of Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice

Severine Deneulin

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The paper analyzes the contribution of Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice for development studies. The influence of Sen’s book for thinking about development is likely to parallel that of John Rawls’s Theory of Justice in political theory. This paper argues that The Idea of Justice has a limited reach in relation to addressing concrete cases of injustice because it is built only on the dual foundations of freedom and reasoning. On the basis of real world examples of unjust situations derived from Sen’s body of writings itself, the paper discusses the limits of The Idea of Justice. It contends that remedying injustice requires an understanding of how justice is structural and which recognizes that discussion of justice is inseparable from reasoning about the nature of the good society. The paper concludes by pointing out The Idea of Justice’s ambiguous relationship with liberalism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)787-797
Number of pages11
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number4
Early online date25 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Amartya Sen
  • reasoning
  • freedom
  • structural injustice
  • Justice
  • liberalism


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