Amartya Sen is at the pinnacle of a storied career, participating both in the highest levels of intellectual discourse and in practical discussions about remedying social inequities that affect the lives of billions.
A Nobel laureate in economics, he is also a recipient of the United States’ highest honor in the humanities and is author or editor of more than 30 books on subjects including social-choice theory, famine and poverty, economic development and the meaning of justice. Professor Sen has not only conceived new theories for explaining the world, he has changed the world, revealing previously unknown truths about the reasons for famine and the gender imbalance in Asia and the Middle East. Presenting him with the National Humanities Medal last year, President Obama said: “By applying philosophical thinking to questions of policy, he has … increased our understanding of how to fight hunger.”
Born into an academic family in India, Professor Sen has been broadly curious, intellectually daring and suspicious of received wisdom from an early age. Appointed founding chair of the Department of Economics at Jadavpur University at age 23, he subsequently taught at Delhi University, the London School of Economics, Oxford and other notable institutions.
He currently is the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard. His latest book, “The Idea of Justice,” is an effort to put in perspective with each other his many ideas about making the world a better place.
Honorary Degree Citation
As an economist and moral philosopher, you have brought clarity of vision, elegance of prose and integrity of argument to a world so dearly in need of all three. There is no greater or more influential exponent of public reason in the world today. Profoundly shaped by the great Indian poet, humanist and internationalist Rabindranath Tagore, who named you Amartya — Sanskrit for immortal — you have done work that we confidently predict will live forever. You have taught economists and politicians a new way of measuring poverty in terms of human capability — a measurement that only a genuine humanist could have devised. You have rigorously proven the link between development and freedom. You have eloquently argued for the universal character of the democratic ideal and definitively shown the provenance of that ideal in the Indian tradition. A professor at some of the world’s finest institutions of higher learning, you have received both the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and the United States National Humanities Medal, which illuminates the breadth of your abilities and interests.
Yours is an intellect, a compelling moral sense, and an unfailing commitment to reason, justice and peace that puts you in the good and exalted company of Justice Louis D. Brandeis. It is with great pride that the university that bears his name bestows upon you its highest honor.