Sunday, August 9, 2009

What kind of Philosopher are you?

Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize winning Economist cum philosopher from Bengal, posed an interesting riddle while launching in Kolkata his new book, "The idea of Justice".

It goes like this:

Three kids are fighting over a flute in the house. The first one feels he should get it as he is the only one who can play the flute. The second one thinks he is the poorest of the three, possessing no toys unlike the other two & so he should get the first preference for the flute. The third one says that he toiled for a week to make the flute & now that it is nearing completion he finds it unjust that the other two are staking claim to the flute.
The poser is, which of the three kids deserve the flute?

According to Sen, this is a philosophical question & hence the answer to this would depend on the philosophy of justice that one has faith in meaning thereby that all answers are correct depending on the type of philosopher you are.

Hence , if you have made the mental choice of giving the flute to a specific kid, then get a glimpse of the brand of philosopher you are by moving to the following relevant descriptions under the kid of your choice.

Your choice is Kid number 1:

If you are a Welfare oriented philosopher you would choose the first kid. Your brand of justice is based on welfare /utilitarian based principles of justice. You think that the distribution that gives maximum satisfaction to the preferences of individuals in a group { sum of (preference satisfactions of each multiplied by the intensity of preference of each )} should be selected. In simpler words, the most talented should get the scarce resource even if that means starving the rest , who are less talented. In that way, the society is a net gainer of preference satisfactions.

Your choice is Kid number 2:

You would be a believer in reduction of Inequity . You have faith in Difference based principles whereby you subscribe to the theory that given strict equality of rights, liberties & opportunities the best distributive justice is one that maximises the absolute benefit to the least advantaged member in the society. This means you expect & accept the presence of inequity in income (as more productive people will earn more income in an equal opportunity society) as long as that raises the absolute benefit to the poorest.

Your choice is Kid number 3:

You are a Libertarian & also believe in just deserts. The desert based principle of distributive justice states that people should be rewarded for the effort they undertake & the contribution that they make to the social product of raising the standard of living of society in general. It also means that any acquisition following the principles of just exchange or transfer should not leave the original holder worse off than he was before. In simpler terms, if you toiled hard to add value to a product, then your claim to the ownership of the product is just. You may also be rewarded by other means like income & but your reward will be more than the others who have not added value.

(For a comprehensive & abridged guide to these principles, I found this link in Stanford encyclopedia useful.)

I am not sure whether Amartya Sen intentionally posed this philosophical riddle to aid in the marketing of his book but for sure I'm intrigued enough to get hold of one copy.

1 comment:

Arjun Sen said...

As am I intrigued enough to get hold of a copy of the book. Interesting riddle. Thanks for sharing.