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Article

Moral Sentiments, Institutions, and Civil Society: What Can Hegel Contribute to Sen's Theory of Justice?

Review of Social Economy. 2013. Vol. 71. No. 4. P. 502-525.
Boldyrev I., Herrmann-Pillath C.

In his Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen compares the two basic approaches to evaluating institutions, transcendental institutionalism and realization-focused comparisons. Referring to Adam Smith's Impartial Spectator, he argues in favor of the latter and proposes the principle of open impartiality. However, this cannot solve the tension between universalism and contextualization of values that Sen has inherited from Smith. Based on recent Hegel scholarship, we argue that some of the difficulties can be resolved, considering the role Smith played in the development of Hegel's thinking. Hegel's concept of recognition plays an essential role in establishing the possibility of impartiality both on the level of consciousness and on the level of institutional intersubjectivity. Hegel's critique of Kant's formalist ethics (also considered as transcendental institutionalism by Sen) and his analysis of the civil society in the Philosophy of Right, especially his focus on associations and Estates, can serve as a model for making Sen's focus on public discourse theoretically more concise and pragmatically feasible. Hegel shows that universalistic attitudes can only emerge in specific institutional contexts.