The Demands of Justice 


Amartya Sen

Winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, Amartya Sen is best known for his commitment to addressing the challenges faced by the world’s poorest people.

After a childhood encounter with famine victims in Bengal, India (now part of Bangladesh), he has spent a lifetime fighting poverty through research, analysis, and advocacy of human development informed by an ethical dimension.

One of Sen’s best known works, Development as Freedom (1999), argues that people cannot lift themselves out of poverty unless they have political freedom, civil rights, economic opportunities, access to health care and education, and “protective security,” including unemployment benefits, famine, and emergency relief. 

In a highly influential essay published in 1990 in The New York Review of Books and expanded upon in his subsequent academic work, Sen estimated that more than 100 million Asian women were “missing” ­­— eliminated through sex-selective abortion, infanticide, or inadequate nutrition during infancy.

In recent years, Sen has turned his attention to questions of justice and peace and their relationship to his approach to development. His 2006 book Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny explores the complex interaction of plural identities and inter-group violence. In 2009, he published The Idea of Justice, where he develops a theory of justice that seeks to be more relevant to practical concerns than other current approaches.

Sen is the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, a Distinguished Fellow of All Souls College, and a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. He studied at Presidency College in Calcutta, India, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, before serving as Professor of Economics at Delhi University and at the London School of Economics. He later served as the Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University and as a Fellow of All Souls College.

In 2010, Time magazine listed Sen as one of the “100 most influential persons in the world,” and the New Statesman listed him as one of the “World's 50 Most Influential People Who Matter.” He holds more than 90 honorary degrees from universities around the world, and his books have been translated into more than 30 languages.

Sen has a childhood connection to the Congregation of Holy Cross (the same Catholic religious order that founded Notre Dame). He received part of his education at St. Gregory’s High School—a Holy Cross school in Dhaka.

Also on April 17, Sen will receive the Notre Dame Award for International Human Development and Solidarity, bestowed by the Kellogg Institute’s Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity.

About the Hesburgh Lectures in Ethics and Public Policy

The annual Hesburgh Lectures in Ethics and Public Policy, established by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in 1995, honor the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., president emeritus of Notre Dame, a global champion of peace and justice, and the founder of the Kroc Institute.

Past Hesburgh Lecturers have included:

  • Francis Deng (2011), Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities
  • Martha Minow (2010), The Dean and Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor, Harvard Law School
  • Shirin Ebadi (2009), 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, lawyer and human rights advocate in Iran
  • Rev. Bryan Hehir (2008), Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government
  • Shashi Tharoor (2007), author and former Under-Secretary-General, United Nations
  • Mary Kaldor (2006), Professor of Global Governance & Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, London School of Economics
  • Congressman Lee Hamilton (2005), former vice-chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks & former chairman/ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
  • Kenneth Roth (2004), executive director, Human Rights Watch
  • Michael Walzer (2003), Professor Emeritus, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
  • Freeman Dyson (2002), Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
  • Anthony Lake (2001), Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, and former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Saskia Sassen (2000), Professor of Sociology and the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University
  • Martha Nussbaum (1999), Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, The University of Chicago Law School
  • Michael Ignatieff (1998), Member of Canadian Parliament and former director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights and Policy, Harvard University
  • Richard Falk (1997), Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University
  • Jean Bethke Elshtain (1996), Laura Spellman Rockefeller Professor of Social Political Ethics, University of Chicago Divinity School
  • Stanley Hoffmann (1995), Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor, Harvard University