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Distant voices: Amartya Sen on Adam Smith’s Impartial Spectator

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journal contribution
posted on 21.08.2014 by Ian Fraser
For Amartya Sen, Adam Smith’s notion of the impartial spectator is a device that brings “distant voices” into our moral deliberations in order to prevent us from the parochialism that can limit our views on particular issues. Whilst recognising its importance, this article suggests that there are some problems with the way Sen uses this in his The Idea of Justice. Tensions arise around issues relating to his interpretation of Smith, a one-sided and undialectical understanding of the operation of the impartial spectator, an ambivalence in Sen’s approach between essentialism and cultural relativism, the capacity for people to carry out the demands of the impartial spectator and its efficacy in relation to real moral problems such as Smith’s case of infanticide. The conclusion is that in the search for openness, Sen leaves his idea of justice with insufficient grounding to forge a dialogue that can act as a challenge to entrenched beliefs rather than simply accept them in a limbo of fragile co-existence.

History

School

  • Social Sciences

Department

  • Politics and International Studies

Published in

Culture and Dialogue

Volume

2

Issue

2

Pages

51 - 71 (21)

Citation

FRASER, I., 2012. Distant voices: Amartya Sen on Adam Smith’s Impartial Spectator. Culture and Dialogue, 2 (2), pp.51-71.

Publisher

© Brill Academic Publishers

Version

AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publication date

2012

ISSN

2222-3282

eISSN

2468-3949

Language

en

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Keyword(s)

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