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Sen and Sensibility

Politicians would have a better chance of solving the great problems of the day—from unemployment to education and immigration—if they read more philosophy

By James Purnell   October 2009

The last year has been a surprisingly rich period for those seeking philosophical inspiration for political renewal. The BBC’s Reith lectures were given by a philosopher, Harvard’s Michael Sandel. Meanwhile economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has seen his ideas picked up on opposite sides of the political divide. Now both have written important new books—Sen’s is called The Idea of Justice, (Allen Lane) Sandel’s simply Justice (Allen Lane)—which argue that political philosophy has much to teach politicians. But does it? And should those who want to renew the centre-left start with philosophy first?

The argument the two philosophers make is…

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