Philosophy of Noble laureate Amartya Sen
As a humble teacher and student of economics, I have made sincere efforts to understand, analyze and interpret the thoughts of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen as a philosopher more than as an economist.
As an economist he is par excellence but as a philosopher, I have developed different opinions about his wisdom. Even at the risk of being misunderstood by his long list of friends across the world, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, I have to point out the great controversy he has raised on Mahatma Gandhi. His knowledge of economics has given him more than he deserves through recognition and fame as a recipient of the Noble Prize in economics in 1998 and Bharat Ratna, or Jewel of India, the nation’s highest civilian award, in 1999.
In my well-considered opinion, he has lost credibility as a true Indian because of his uncalled for utterances. It causes me deep pain to comment on his philosophy in the 2005 book ``The Argumentative Indian” which has brought down his stature and caliber at least in the eyes of many Gandhian thinkers around the world. Sen’s open ridicule of Gandhi’s emphasis on a simple but free life, symbolized by Khadi and Charkha is beyond my understanding.
To justify his anti-Gandhi propaganda, Sen smears him in ``The Argumentative Indian” with terms like ``not entirely with propriety or elegance.” The character assassination of the internationally known proponent of non-violence by the Noble laureate is more piercing than Nathu Ram Godse's bullets. Sen has called Lord Krishna a warmonger who is an incarnation of the god Vishnu and beyond comprehension of a human mind.
Sen is not argumentative enough in the book as it does not address some of the most important ideologies that have shaped contemporary India.
Young people who want to follow the ``The Path to Peace” will be very confused by Sen’s anti-Gandhi propaganda. The Internet is full of anti-Gandhi propaganda based on lies and illogical analysis. It has become difficult to persuade people to understand Gandhi unless the lies and illogical analysis of his life is refuted.
Sen is also silent on the other central point of conflict during the last decade of globalization. He conveniently ignores the term globalization in contemporary discussions in the economic sense, not to say its use as an economic ideology of contemporary capitalism has much in common with the globalization of a hundred years ago.
In ``Development as Freedom” (1999), Sen explores the relationship between freedom and development, the ways in which freedom is both a basic constituent of development in itself and an enabling key to other aspects including capabilities. He writes on substantive human freedoms with a broad view of freedom, one that encompasses both processes and opportunities, and for recognition of ``the heterogeneity of distinct components of freedom."
His book ``Inequality Reexamined,” argues that equality plays a key role in all political philosophies of any consequence.
The most significant contribution of Sen is the measurement of poverty in the general form of the poverty index which removes the defects of traditional measures which are insensitive to the equalizing or unequalizing income transfers among the poor. But this index is not free from flaws. D. Thon has shown that this index violates his transfer axioms. N.C. Kakwani has also criticized Sen’s index for giving equal weight to transfers at different levels of income.
In brief, I am full of appreciation of Sen’s economic thoughts but with serious objections to his utterances for Gandhi and Lord Krishna in ``The Argumentative Indian.”
The writer is a professor of economics and dean of the faculty of social sciences at Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, India. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.