The Idea of Justice

Grayson gave me The Idea of Justice, by Amartya Sen, for Father’s Day. I began reading it today while basking in the labyrinth. It contains sentences like

An appropriate understanding of social realization , central to justice as nyaya , has to take the comprehensive form of a process-inclusive broad account. It would be hard to dismiss the perspective of social realizations on the grounds that it is narrowly consequentialist and ignores the reasoning underlying deontological concerns.

Okay. I’m already reading it with a bookmark sliding down the page, line by line, to keep my eyes on track. I guess I need a word wall to help keep the dialectics sorted out. I got it that he’s not a transcendental institutionalist (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant) but rather a fan of realization-focused comparison (Smith, Condorcet, Bentham, Marx, Mill), and I think I’m on his side.

For example, the term nyaya above is one of two basic Sanskrit jurisprudence concepts. Niti is organizational propriety/behavioral correctness , the Law (which as Mr. Bumble reminds us, “is a ass”) , while nyaya is realized justice, i.e., an inclusive view of human behavior. The Western example he gives of niti is Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Emperor) and his dictum, “Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus”: Let justice be done, though the world perish. As Sen wryly notes,

it would be hard to accommodate a total catastrophe as an example of a just world.

Precisely. He also gives an Indian term,

matsyanyaya, “justice in the world of fish,” where a big fish can freely devour a small fish. We are warned that avoiding matsyanyaya must be an essential part of justice, and it is crucial to make sure that the “justice of fish” is not allowed to invade the world of human beings… No matter how proper the established organizations might be, if a big fish could still devour a small fish at will, then that must be a patent violation of human justice as nyaya.

So far, the path he seems to be taking us down is one that I already have a sense of as being the proper one.

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