I was listening to the BBC’s Start the Week podcast this morning, and their central guest was Amartya Sen, who was promoting his new book, The Idea of Justice. He talks in the show about how he departs from the traditional ways of discussing justice as a guiding ideal. Instead, justice is an understanding of the world as one lives in it. One sees justice and injustice in the order of the world around you, if only you pay attention. You could call it a concept of justice as imminent to the world, instead of a transcendent ideality.
This is especially intriguing to me, as the transcendent character of most approaches to justice is exactly what alienates me from them. Transcendent justice has that flavour of the absolutely perfect to which we mere mortals can never attain. Implicit within it is the devaluation of the world in which we live and the valorization of that which is not human, even though they are our ideas. It separates thought from action, dismissing action as mere empirical imperfection. Transcendent frameworks of ethical ideals I think contradicts the very point of ethics, which is worldly action.
But Sen’s concept of justice as he articulated it on Start the Week was especially intriguing, and could very well revolutionize the way the philosophy of justice and ethics is done, if he achieves in it all that he claims to achieve. Of course, there will be some who don’t understand his concept of imminent justice, because they have become so used to thinking of justice as a transcendent ideal that their minds are closed to any approach that denies a premise so fundamental to them. Of course, that would seem, at this cursory stage, to be the very point of Sen’s concept of justice. You will only understand justice if you pay attention to the world and what the world can offer. If you persist in what you have learned and do not take seriously the novel or the strange which is present around you, then you will know nothing.