Friday, April 11, 2008

Three things I learned from Amartya Sen

Economics Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen was in residence at Stanford this week. His upcoming book is - "The Idea of Justice" and after all his is the mind that provides the theoretical validation for socially motivated business creation. So I juggled my calendar and attended. The three lectures were called Indignation and Room for Reason, Impartiality: Contracts versus Voice and my favourite - Beyond Institutional Fundamentalism. I also attended his office hours - to know the man behind the words - a lot of words - a lot of really really really good words. His office hours were Q&A format - with 10-15 people. I was seeking to go beyond philosophy to actions that stem from conviction born of thoughtful argumentation (I like "The Argumentative Indian"). Here are the top three gems (using his words - from my notes) for me:

1- If you feel threatened it makes intelligent discourse impossible
2- For creating a just society: Empowerment is not enough. You must to ensure "enlightened empowerment" which can only come from public discussion and giving a political voice (to those who are not being heard)
3 - Recognition (or fame) can useful unless it becomes a substitute for doing anything useful

I noticed:
For every question, he acknowledged both sides of the argument and when he disagreed it was always with a smile.
He talks more about the voice of the poor (or minorities) because they have no/less voice - not that others don't deserve a voice.
Throughout my 3-5 day interaction I always saw him speaking from intellect and emotion - never from ego and recognition.

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