Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sen and Brown

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival on the bookshelves of two books very soon. One is The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen and the other is The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Few days back Hasan Suroor in The Hindu discussed about The Idea of Justice. I am reproducing an interesting passage verbatim:

For those who might like to test their sense of justice, here’s a little quiz that Amartya Sen tried on his audience at the London Literature Festival the other day and had them struggling until he came to their rescue with, well, a sort of an answer. He used it to illustrate his alternative approach to mainstream theories of justice that he challenges in his new book The Idea of Justice published this month.

Three children — Anne, Bob and Carla — are quarrelling over a flute: Anne claims the flute on the ground that she is the only one of the three who knows how to play it; Bob demands it on the basis that he is so poor that — unlike others — he has no other toys to play with and it would therefore mean a lot to him if the flute were given to him; and Carla says that it belongs to her because she has made it with her own labour.

The important thing to note here is that none of the claimants questions their rival’s argument but claims that his or hers is the most persuasive. So, who deserves the flute?

Should it go to the child for whom it represents the only source of entertainment as he has no other toys to play with? Or to the one who can actually make practical use of it; or to the child to whom it must belong by virtue of her ``right” to the fruits of her labour?

The answer, according to Prof. Sen, is that there is actually no one “right” answer. In his scheme of things that he elaborates persuasively over more than 400 pages in his book, it is not possible in any situation to have an “impartial” agreement as to what offers a “perfect” resolution to a problem — and that applies to the dilemma posed by the children’s competing claims.

Nor, indeed, is there one perfect process to arrive at a conclusion that would be acceptable to all. The question as to who really deserves the flute can be decided in many ways — through a process of ideological reasoning ; on compassionate grounds such as charity (for example the poorest of the three children should get it); by majority opinion; and even by an arbitrary method like tossing the coin.

Prof. Sen argued that the story of “Three Children and a Flute,” which also features in his book, showed that there was no such thing as “perfect” justice; that justice was relative to a given situation; and that rather than searching for “ideal” justice the stress should be on removing the more manifest forms of injustice.

“The idea of justice demands comparisons of actual lives that people can lead rather than a remote search for ideal institutions. That is what makes the idea of justice relevant as well as exciting in practical reasoning,” Prof. Sen said.

Turning to Dan Brown, his The Lost Symbol is a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, unfolds over 12 hours and again features the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. It has taken Brown five years to write but only in the past few days has he settled on a title bland or enigmatic enough to give away none of his new subject matter. The book will have an initial print run of 5 million copies !

1 comment:

sugan said...

Hey..I'm eagerly awaiting the return of Robert Langdon