Rawls’ influence and counter-influence on Sen: post-welfarism and impartiality
Rawls has been a constant reference for Sen both to overcome welfarism and consider impartiality. In this paper, we’ll try to identify Sen’s paradoxical relationship to Rawls’ work that has evolved with time. The dialogue between both authors emerged in the late sixties, while Sen was working on a constructive social choice theory. Sen greatly benefited from Rawls’ insight as his proposition for a “weak equity axiom” (Sen, 1973) attests, inspired by Rawls’ difference principle. Sen then developed an important critics of what he calls welfarism, partly induced by Rawls too. In the eighties, Sen came up with a capability approach centered on individual life potentialities, rather than utility or primary goods. While it has often been perceived as a mere extension of Rawls’ theory of justice, it has to be acknowledged that Sen developed a strong critics of Rawls’ view of impartiality that led him toward a concept of “trans-positional objectivity” as a better basis for social judgments. The Idea of justice gives a final and decisive inflexion to his position vis-à-vis Rawls: not only Sen (2009) disagrees with Rawls’ view of impartiality, but he refuses the social contract perspective to provide an underpinning for a theory of justice.
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