Jess Taverna, director of undergraduate programs at the Eccles School, was one of more than 650 people who attended the lecture by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. Jess’s graduate work was in political philosophy. Here is her take on Dr. Sen’s lecture.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen delivered a lecture on “Ethics and Economics of Global Justice” to a full house at the Libby Gardner Hall on April 22, 2016. He emphasized the importance of rectifying injustices rather than pursuing perfect justice.

After introductions by Dr. Ruth Watkins, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dr. Deen Chatterjee, Senior Advisor and Professorial Fellow in the S.J. Quinney College of Law, Dr. Sen addressed the need for a global public discourse on economic and social justice.

Dr. Sen began with an overview of the basic principles of social contract theories of justice, as represented in the work of Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century through John Rawls, one of the most prominent political philosophers of the 20th century. Social contract theorists have attempted to define an ideal concept of justice that should be implemented by political and economic institutions, a move that Dr. Sen argued detracts from real-world efforts to respond to clear instances of injustice.

Instead of pursuing a predetermined ideal form of justice, around which it is difficult if not impossible to generate broad agreement, Dr. Sen argued that we must tackle injustice, relying on our collective sensibilities to such injustices in economic relations. Public reason, the language of common values and principles, provides opportunities for societies to confront injustice.

However, such efforts are often limited in scope, focusing on local or national issues while assuming that public reason does not extend beyond such political borders. In contrast, Dr. Sen emphasized the imperative of working towards more a globalized public reason, addressing injustice wherever it is found regardless of formal political borders and institutions.

After his talk, Dr. Sen responded to questions from the audience. Audience members, including university faculty and students, raised questions concerning our collective identification of injustice, possible non-Western sources of ethical guidance, and the relative threats posed by environmental, economic, and other forms of social injustice.