Law and Ideas of Justice


  • Amartya Sen



The social contract approach concentrates on identifying perfectly just social arrangements, taking the characterization of "just institutions," along with compliant human behaviour, to be the principal - and often the only identified - task of the theory of justice.  Rather than following the contractarian tradition of beginning the exercise by asking what is perfect justice, or what principles should govern the choice of perfectly just institutions for the society, Amartya Sen here argues for asking about the identification of clear cases of injustice on which agreement could emerge on the basis of public reasoning (even in the absence of an agreement on the nature of "perfect justice"). In arguing, for example, for the abolition of slavery, as the Marquis the Condorcet, Adam Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft all did, they did not have to seek an agreement on the nature of the perfectly just society, or the characteristics of ideally just social institutions.  That is, agreement can be reached on the manifest injustice of particular institutions and behaviour patterns even without having the same view of an ideally just society, or of perfectly just institutions. 




How to Cite

Sen, A. “Law and Ideas of Justice”. New American Studies Journal: A Forum, vol. 73, Dec. 2022,



Amartya Sen, George Anastaplo & The Idea of Justice