Amartya Sen as a social and political theorist–on personhood, democracy, and ‘description as choice’

Des Gasper*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Economist-philosopher Amartya Sen's writings on social and political issues have attracted wide audiences. Section 2 introduces his contributions on: how people reason as agents within society; social determinants of people's (lack of) access to goods and of the effective freedoms and agency they enjoy or lack; and associated advocacy of self-specification of identity and high expectations for ‘voice’ and reasoning democracy. Section 3 considers his relation to social theory, his tools for theorizing action in society, and his limited degree of attention to work by sociologists and to capitalism and power structures. Section 4 characterizes a style marked by conceptual refinement, emphases on complexity and individuality, including personal individuality, and reformist optimism. Section 5 shows the features from Sections 3 and 4 at work in his conception of personhood that advocates freedom to make a reasoned composition of personal identity. Similarly, Section 6 addresses his conception of public reasoning and neglect of the sociology of democracy. It contrasts the ideal of a reasoning polity with features in many countries. Sen's programmes for critical autonomy in personhood and for reasoned politics play, nevertheless, a normic role, while his analytical formats help investigation of obstacles to more widespread agency, voice, and democratic participation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-409
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Global Ethics
Issue number3
Early online date18 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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