Very rarely do we come across extraordinary individuals who have used their positions of power to devote their entire lives to helping people in disenfranchised spaces who would otherwise have their voices and experiences unheard. One such scholar, Amartya Sen, has spent his career making important contributions to welfare economics, social choice theory, social justice and economic theories of famine. Often called the “Mother Theresa of economics,” Sen has tackled inequalities of race, gender and class and used economics to fight famine that occurred in his home country. In 1998, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work in welfare economics.
Born on a university campus in Bangladesh, Sen has always been intrigued by the topics of mathematics and physics, and he explored these two subjects before settling on economics. Sen went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Presidency College, with a minor in mathematics. He continued his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge to earn a second Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, graduating at the top of the class. Sen continued as a Ph.D student at Cambridge and was offered a position as a professor and head of the economics department, making him the youngest economics department head while there. During this time, Sen took the opportunity to broaden his scope of economics and researched philosophical disciplines such as mathematical logic, moral philosophy and the study of inequality and deprivation, especially as he recognized it from his home country.
Sen went on to write a book that argued that the underlying causes of the Bengal famine were related to economics and economic principles that led to millions of rural workers starving to death as a result. Sen’s humanistic approaches to economics stemmed from his personal experience growing up and witnessing the deaths of multiple people.
Both humble and modest while presenting his lecture, Sen’s main motivation for doing what he has for so long centers on the importance of knowing and understanding the world around us. He went on to say that “to understand one’s intellectual evolution is to acknowledge the amount of work that needs to be put into that evolution” and explained that understanding his upbringing and recognizing his personal experiences were helpful and even essential in tackling acts of injustice throughout his career.
To conclude his speech Sen said, “There is no need to apologize for being motivated by societal issues” and explained that the work completed in his lifetime was done through abstract reasoning and his deep curiosity to understand the world around us. Along with being revered for the truly altruistic work he has done throughout his lifetime, Amartya Sen has spent his life giving back to the community he was raised in, and he did so with continuous curiosity, hard work and humility.