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Arguing with Reason


Pulin B. Nayak

THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN: WRITINGS ON INDIAN HISTORY, CULTURE AND IDENTITY
By Amartya Sen
Penguin, Delhi, 2005, pp. xx 409, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

It would be no exaggeration to say that Amartya Sen has an iconic and towering presence in the world of economics in present times. The sheer range as well as depth of his work is formidable even by the standards of his fellow Nobel laureates in the subject in the last thirty-five years or more. His work has included original formulations in choice of techniques, which was his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge, to social choice theory to explorations in poverty and inequality to broad and foundational issues that deal with the interface between economics and philosophy. Robert Solow, Professor of Economics at MIT and fellow Nobel laureate, has called Amartya the ‘conscience of economics’ for his tireless espousal of the cause of the deprived and the downtrodden.   What is even more remarkable is that during the past half century while he has been engaged in formal and at times quite abstract and technical research in economics he has at the same time quite energetically engaged in and debated broader social, political, philosophical and cultural issues, where he has addressed the lay public, and not necessarily only the trained economist. The range here too is equally stunning: he has written on the notion of class in India, he has made assessments of Rabindranath Tagore’s oeuvre, and he has at length argued why, in his estimation, India ought not to have gone in for the nuclear option. Sen has never shied away from presenting his deeply felt views with a degree of clarity, cogency and analytical rigour as well as vigour that one has come to routinely expect of him.   The book at hand is truly magisterial and its scope absolutely breath-taking. It contains sixteen essays on diverse topics but the connecting thread is the celebration of the argumentative tradition in India. Sen laments the relative neglect and decline of this tradition in recent times. He particularly takes to task the advocates of the Hindutva movement, ‘the promoters of a narrowly Hindu view of Indian civilization’ (pp. ix-x) and ‘especially those who are given to vandalizing places of worship of other religions’ (p. xi).   The point that Sen emphasizes repeatedly is that social, religious and political debates from age old times in India have always admitted of diverse points of view, the intellectual tradition has always been highly vibrant, and heterodoxy has always been welcomed. Unfortunately in recent years there has ...


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