Amartya Sen has sought to maintain a dialogue with mainstream economics on inequality-a continuing theme in his writing. This paper suggests this dialogue has involved costs. The first and second sections outline where Sen has located himself in the epistemological range that defines acceptable knowledge in the general economics discourse and takes Sen's epistemological principles into the analysis of economic inequality. The third section links Sen's work on causes of famine with his work on inequality and shows how this has given a particular slant to the development of capabilities theory with a focus on the lower end of the inter-personal inequality distribution. The fourth section focuses on the need also for development ethics at the top end of the inequality distribution and economic opulence. The conclusion makes the case for further critical reflection on the top end of the inter-personal distribution and opulence as vital elements in the capabilities approach to improving the human condition, even if this means a greater distancing from mainstream economics than Amartya Sen has found acceptable in the past. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.