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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? Cover

ISBN13: 9780374180652
ISBN10: 0374180652
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Publisher Comments:

What are our obligations to others as people in a free society? Should government tax the rich to help the poor? Is the free market fair? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is killing sometimes morally required? Is it possible, or desirable, to legislate morality? Do individual rights and the common good conflict?

Michael J. Sandels “Justice” course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. Up to a thousand students pack the campus theater to hear Sandel relate the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and this fall, public television will air a series based on the course. Justice offers readers the same exhilarating journey that captivates Harvard students. This book is a searching, lyrical exploration of the meaning of justice, one that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, patriotism and dissent, the moral limits of markets—Sandel dramatizes the challenge of thinking through these con?icts, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well. Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise—an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.

Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1980, and the author of many books. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Michael J. Sandels “Justice” course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. Up to a thousand students pack the campus theater to hear Sandel relate the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day. Justice offers readers the same journey that captivates Harvard students. This book is an exploration of the meaning of justice, one that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. What are our obligations to others as people in a free society? Should government tax the rich to help the poor? Is the free market fair? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is killing sometimes morally required? Is it possible, or desirable, to legislate morality? Do individual rights and the common good conflict? Justice is thought-provoking and wise—an essential work that speaks convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.

Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, patriotism and dissent, the moral limits of markets—Sandel dramatizes the challenge of thinking through these conflicts, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.

“Michael J. Sandel is one of this generations most important philosophers because he combines a relentlessly inquiring spirit with a profound commitment to the idea of a common good. Justice is Sandel at his finest: no matter what your views are, his delightful style will draw you in, and hell then force you to rethink your assumptions and challenge you to question accepted ways of thinking. But Sandel does not leave you marooned on an island of skepticism. He calls us to a better way of doing politics, and a more enriching way of living our lives.”—E. J. Dionne, Jr.

"Using examples drawn from recent experience, Sandel explores a variety of approaches to theories of justice. Sandel reviews the cold calculation of Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism (which asks which course of action will lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people), to John Stuart Mill's more humane but more abstract approach to utilitarianism, with examples ranging from throwing Christians to the lions in Rome (hard on the Christian but served as entertainment for thousands and so arguably justifiable to utilitarians) to exploring the morality of torture in ticking-bomb scenarios (our former vice president will find this discussion of particular interest) . . . Sandel explores the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant (who explored the concept of duty as defining morality), John Rawls (who argued for a system of morality flowing from equality), and even Aristotle. But the ultimate aim here, appropriate to any college survey course, is to leave the reader with a range of different perspectives through which to view the world and the moral choices that we make. Sandel is at his best in weaving modern-day problems into convincing applications of competing theories of justice. He loses his footing, though, when he detours into the jargon of moral philosophy, at times testing a reader's patience (at least those not compelled to take notes or face end-of-semester consequences). But he concludes with a flourish: 'A just society can't be achieved simply by maximizing utility or by securing freedom of choice. To achieve a just society we have to reason together about the meaning of the good life, and to create a public culture hospitable to disagreements that will inevitably arise.' Quoting Robert F. Kennedy and President Obama, he argues that this approach to moral philosophy can and should have a real impact on our common good. For those seeking a short course through moral philosophy from a witty writer, fast on his feet, and nimble with his pen, this thin volume is difficult to beat."—Kevin J. Hamilton, The Seattle Times

"[Justice] is easily the most accessible primer on the topic now available. But Sandel aspires to do more than merely vulgarize the available positions in political theory and explore them through contemporary examples: he is calling, as he long has, for nothing less than a reinvigoration of citizenship . . . Sandel's book is organized as an excursion through three main theories of justice—one based on welfare, one on freedom and one on virtue—and like the best teachers, Sandel gives each theory its due."—Samuel Moyn, The Nation

"This book is absolutely indispensable for anyone who wants to be a good citizen. It shows how to balance competing values, a talent our nation desperately needs nowadays."—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

“Michael J. Sandel is one of this generations most important philosophers because he combines a relentlessly inquiring spirit with a profound commitment to the idea of a common good. Justice is Sandel at his finest: no matter what your views are, his delightful style will draw you in, and hell then force you to rethink your assumptions and challenge you to question accepted ways of thinking. But Sandel does not leave you marooned on an island of skepticism. He calls us to a better way of doing politics, and a more enriching way of living our lives.”—E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Why Americans Hate Politics

“Michael J. Sandel, political philosopher and public intellectual, is a liberal, but not the annoying sort. His aim is not to boss people around but to bring them around to the pleasures of thinking clearly about large questions of social policy. Reading this lucid book is like taking his famous undergraduate course ‘Justice without the tiresome parts, such as term papers and exams.”—George F. Will

"For nearly 30 years, Harvard professor Michael Sandel has taught a course entitled 'Moral Reasoning 22,' nicknamed 'Justice,' to a packed auditorium of more than 1,000 undergraduates. This stimulating volume, prepared in conjunction with a PBS series airing this fall and available online succeeds admirably in translating to a wider audience the challenging moral dilemmas he and his students confront and will help thoughtful readers focus their thinking about what a just society might look like while sharpening the vocabulary they call upon to express their views. At its heart, Sandel's book offers a broad and, for the most part, readily comprehensible survey of some of the major theories of justice. He rejects the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and its grounding of morality in the attempt to maximize the overall balance of pleasure over pain and is equally critical of the unbridled free market ideology of libertarianism. While more sympathetic to what he calls the 'liberal neutrality' of Immanuel Kant and his modern counterpart John Rawls, he likewise finds their ideas wanting. But Sandel is more than a tepid repackager of received philosophical wisdom. He subjects each of these theories to a probing critique and is a witty and graceful writer who understands he's addressing the intelligent general reader, not an academic audience. And it's that understanding that gives Justice its real zest. Sandel has richly seasoned his analysis with crisp treatments of an impressive array of contemporary social and political controversies: the familiar (abortion, stem cell research and the debate over same-sex marriage) and the obscure but no less thorny (whether a disabled professional golfer should be permitted to ride a cart or whether it would be appropriate to auction college admissions). In each instance he gently challenges us to question our conventional ways of thinking, relying on real (if occasionally bizarre) examples to push competing philosophical positions to their limits: If surrogate motherhood is O.K., why can't we simply buy babies? Is there a moral basis for limiting immigration or for laws that require government to 'Buy American?' Is consensual cannibalism acceptable? For Sandel, 'a politics emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life.' Instead, he advocates what he calls 'a new politics of common good,' one that 'takes moral and spiritual questions seriously, but brings them to bear on broad economic and civic concerns, not only on sex and abortion.' It's impossible to come away from this thoughtful book without feeling invigorated by the possibility of realizing that exalted vision, if only slightly daunted as to how it might be achieved."—Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness

"A Harvard law professor explores the meaning of justice and invites readers on a journey of moral and political reflection, 'to figure out what they think, and why.' Does a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder 'deserve' the Purple Heart? Should the U.S. government formally apologize and make reparations for slavery? Is it wrong to lie to a murderer? Following the taxpayer bailout of the company, are executives at insurance giant A.I.G. still entitled to their bonuses? Should a professional golfer afflicted with a severe circulatory condition be allowed to use a golf cart during tournaments? Are you obliged to surrender your criminal brother to the FBI? Although Sandel concedes that answering the many questions he poses, bound up 'with competing notions of honor and virtue, pride and recognition,' is never easy and inevitably contentious, it's necessary for a healthy democracy. 'Justice,' he writes, 'is inescapably judgmental.' Using three approaches to justice—maximizing welfare, respecting freedom and promoting virtue—the author asks readers to ponder the meaning of the good life, the purpose of politics, how laws should be constructed and how society should be organized. Using a compelling, entertaining mix of hypotheticals, news stories, episodes from history, pop-culture tidbits, literary examples, legal cases and teachings from the great philosophers—principally, Aristotle, Kant, Bentham, Mill and Rawls—Sandel takes on a variety of controversial issues—abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action—and forces us to confront our own assumptions, biases and lazy thought. The author has a talent for making the difficult—Kant's 'categorical imperative' or Rawls's 'difference principle'—readily comprehensible, and his relentless, though never oppressive, reason shines throughout the narrative. Sparkling commentary from the professor we all wish we had."—Kirkus Review

"Harvard government professor Sandel dazzles in this sweeping survey of hot topics—the recent government bailouts, the draft, surrogate pregnancies, same-sex marriage, immigration reform and reparations for slavery—that situates various sides in the debates in the context of timeless philosophical questions and movements. Sandel takes utilitarianism, Kant's categorical imperative and Rawls's theory of justice out of the classroom, dusts them off and reveals how crucial these theories have been in the construction of Western societies—and how they inform almost every issue at the center of our modern-day polis. The content is dense but elegantly presented, and Sandel has a rare gift for making complex issues comprehensible, even entertaining (see his sections entitled 'Shakespeare versus the Simpsons' and 'What Ethics Can Learn from Jack Benny and Miss Manners'), without compromising their gravity. With exegeses of Winnie the Pooh, transcripts of Bill Clinton's impeachment hearing and the works of almost every major political philosopher, Sandel reveals how even our most knee-jerk responses bespeak our personal conceptions of the rights and obligations of the individual and society at large. Erudite, conversational and deeply humane, this is truly transformative reading."—Publishers Weekly

Review:

"Harvard government professor Sandel (Public Philosophy) dazzles in this sweeping survey of hot topics — the recent government bailouts, the draft, surrogate pregnancies, same-sex marriage, immigration reform and reparations for slavery — that situates various sides in the debates in the context of timeless philosophical questions and movements. Sandel takes utilitarianism, Kant's categorical imperative and Rawls's theory of justice out of the classroom, dusts them off and reveals how crucial these theories have been in the construction of Western societies — and how they inform almost every issue at the center of our modern-day polis. The content is dense but elegantly presented, and Sandel has a rare gift for making complex issues comprehensible, even entertaining (see his sections entitled 'Shakespeare versus the Simpsons and 'What Ethics Can Learn from Jack Benny and Miss Manners'), without compromising their gravity. With exegeses of Winnie the Pooh, transcripts of Bill Clinton's impeachment hearing and the works of almost every major political philosopher, Sandel reveals how even our most knee-jerk responses bespeak our personal conceptions of the rights and obligations of the individual and society at large. Erudite, conversational and deeply humane, this is truly transformative reading." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Synopsis:

"Justice" invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. From affirmative action to physician-assisted suicide, Sandel shows how even the most hotly contested issues can be illuminated by reasoned moral argument.

Synopsis:

Michael J. Sandel shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us to make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions.

Synopsis:

What are our obligations to others as people in a free society? Should government tax the rich to help the poor? Is the free market fair? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is killing sometimes morally required? Is it possible, or desirable, to legislate morality? Do individual rights and the common good conflict?

These questions are at the core of our public life today—and at the heart of Justice, in which Michael J. Sandel shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us to make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.

Sandels legendary Justice course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. Up to a thousand students pack the campus theater to hear Sandel relate the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day. In the fall of 2009, PBS will air a series based on the course.

Justice offers listeners the same exhilarating journey that captivates Harvard students—the challenge of thinking our way through the hard moral challenges we confront as citizens. It is a searching, lyrical exploration of the meaning of justice, an audiobook that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets, patriotism and dissent—Sandel shows how even the most hotly contested issues can be illuminated by reasoned moral argument.
 
Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise—an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the big questions of our civic life.

Synopsis:

“For Michael Sandel, justice is not a spectator sport,” The Nations reviewer of Justice remarked. In his acclaimed book—based on his legendary Harvard course—Sandel offers a rare education in thinking through the complicated issues and controversies we face in public life today. It has emerged as a most lucid and engaging guide for those who yearn for a more robust and thoughtful public discourse. “In terms we can all understand,” wrote Jonathan Rauch in The New York Times, Justice “confronts us with the concepts that lurk . . . beneath our conflicts.”

Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets—Sandel relates the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.

Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise—an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.

About the Author

Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1980, and the author of many books. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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OneMansView, October 27, 2009 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Basic concepts, but vague and scattershot (3.6 *s)

This book is a rather meandering and inconclusive look at some different conceptions of justice and connections with freedom, rights, and morality. In his study, the author examines some basic, well-known paradigms, both modern and ancient, the ideas of a few noted political philosophers, and any number of real and hypothetical example situations where the just, or right thing to do, is not necessarily easily determinable.

The two most prevalent, contemporary ideas concerning justice are based on utility and maximizing freedom of choice. Utilitarianism, based on Jeremy Bentham’s works, sees justice occurring when an outcome enhances happiness for the most people or results in benefits exceeding costs. Individuals who are on the losing side of utilitarian decisions, essentially, have their rights sacrificed to the greater good. Judgments of outcomes are not permitted outside the “currency of valuation.” If happiness is the standard, justice may be served by entertaining a majority of spectators by throwing Christians to the lions. If maximizing profits is of interest, paying damages for deaths due to gas tanks exploding may be more cost-effective than recalling autos and preserving lives. On the other hand, libertarianism emphasizes the primacy of choice for every person as being the basis of justice. Any form of exterior control or coercion on anyone to effect a greater good, whether based on utility, morality, or otherwise, is a perversion of justice. Individual rights cannot be sacrificed to majority will. Self-ownership is also a part of libertarianism. Assuming no adverse consequences to others, most any behavior is tolerated be it drug usage, selling one’s body parts, etc.

As the author indicates, so-called free-markets are regarded as being compatible with both utility and freedom concerns. For one, the sum of free exchanges increases happiness. Second, by definition, free-markets are the locus of free exchanges. In fact, some libertarians assume that most any good or service that could be for sale, should be for sale, even to the point of paying others to take one’s place in the military – a widespread practice in the Civil War. However, for libertarian justice to be realized, choices must really be free. Equal opportunity undergirds free choice. Without it, disadvantaged people may well be coerced in their choices. Another question is the relevance of civic obligations under libertarianism. Is libertarian justice consistent with any possible tearing of the social fabric due to eschewing civic duties or with “free-riding” on the backs of those who choose to serve society?

The author largely rejects the extreme positions of utilitarianism and libertarianism, which either minimize the rights and well-being of sacrificial citizens for overall happiness or adopt the pretense that maximizing free choice, including the placing of social practices not usually for sale in the marketplace, will automatically produce a robust and just community. In contrast to those concepts, Aristotle has a decidedly different notion on what is important in establishing justice. That people are socially situated cannot be ignored. There is a social necessity of “cultivating the virtue of citizens,“ and of teaching “how to live a good life.” Political association is required for people to fully exercise their “distinctly human capacity for language” and “realize their nature” by “deliberating with others about right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice.” Of course, such state involvement is anathema to libertarians who raise the specter of state coercion. As the author notes, American political thinking is predominated by the view that the state should be “neutral” regarding moral ends and should at the least permit individuals to pursue their own ends. Theoretical rights theorists, such as Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, hold that liberty must be achieved before any conceptions of the good can be considered.

The author addresses the dilemma of being embedded in communities with attendant “obligations of solidarity and loyalty, historic memory and religious,…, while still giving scope to human freedom.” Alasdair MacIntyre suggests that we are “storytelling beings.” Our storylines provide direction and coherency to our lives. Social identities bear directly on determinations related to morality and justice and cannot be simply set aside. MacIntyre would suggest that libertarian choice carries little meaning in the shared communities that most of us inhabit. It goes without saying that belonging to a shared community carries with it a far greater sense of obligation and responsibility than libertarian unencumbered selves. Furthermore, determining justice is far more difficult than simply aggregating preferences or claiming that one’s choices are unburdened by social concerns. Those embedded in communities must bring their moral and religious convictions to debates about justice.

The book is interesting, yet it is a bit vague and disorganized. Who is the target audience? Digressions into the obscure philosophies of hypothetical rights theorists like Kant and Rawls are too sketchy to be of much use to the general public or students. The justice of such situations as pregnancy for pay, affirmative action, apologies and reparations for wronged social groups is discussed, but rather hazily. The abortion and stem-cell debates and those on same-sex marriage are tinged with religious considerations. The author seems to down play the difficulties that religious perspectives bring to open debates about social issues. The book is really meant to accompany an introductory, non-technical survey course on justice. A this-and-that approach is probably to be expected. Borderline four star book.

Justice is pretty serious business and achieving it in the US goes far beyond religious tolerance. The author touches on the ascendance of the free-market paradigm and the huge growth in inequality over the last thirty years. He neglects to mention that the rich control the media, which in many ways are propaganda mills for their interests and distort all topics including matters related to justice. It’s most doubtful that the educational system will be producing activists in sufficient numbers to counter current trends. In actuality markets are far more controlled than free and not for the benefit of the have-nots. The latest Wall St financial fiasco, where a group of rich people nearly brought the economy to its knees and then were propped up with taxpayer money with not one investment house CEO being led to jail in handcuffs, probably says more about the prospects for justice in the US than anything. That situation goes far beyond competing versions of justice as the author would have one believe. Usurpation of justice would be more accurate.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780374180652
Subtitle:
What's the Right Thing to Do?
Author:
Sandel, Michael J
Author:
Sandel, Michael J.
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Subject:
History & Theory - General
Subject:
Political
Subject:
Values
Subject:
Ethics
Subject:
General Philosophy
Subject:
Philosophy : General
Subject:
Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20100817
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes Notes and an Index
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
9.00 x 6.00 in

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Product details 320 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374180652 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Harvard government professor Sandel (Public Philosophy) dazzles in this sweeping survey of hot topics — the recent government bailouts, the draft, surrogate pregnancies, same-sex marriage, immigration reform and reparations for slavery — that situates various sides in the debates in the context of timeless philosophical questions and movements. Sandel takes utilitarianism, Kant's categorical imperative and Rawls's theory of justice out of the classroom, dusts them off and reveals how crucial these theories have been in the construction of Western societies — and how they inform almost every issue at the center of our modern-day polis. The content is dense but elegantly presented, and Sandel has a rare gift for making complex issues comprehensible, even entertaining (see his sections entitled 'Shakespeare versus the Simpsons and 'What Ethics Can Learn from Jack Benny and Miss Manners'), without compromising their gravity. With exegeses of Winnie the Pooh, transcripts of Bill Clinton's impeachment hearing and the works of almost every major political philosopher, Sandel reveals how even our most knee-jerk responses bespeak our personal conceptions of the rights and obligations of the individual and society at large. Erudite, conversational and deeply humane, this is truly transformative reading." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , "Justice" invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. From affirmative action to physician-assisted suicide, Sandel shows how even the most hotly contested issues can be illuminated by reasoned moral argument.
"Synopsis" by ,
Michael J. Sandel shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us to make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions.
"Synopsis" by ,
What are our obligations to others as people in a free society? Should government tax the rich to help the poor? Is the free market fair? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is killing sometimes morally required? Is it possible, or desirable, to legislate morality? Do individual rights and the common good conflict?

These questions are at the core of our public life today—and at the heart of Justice, in which Michael J. Sandel shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us to make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.

Sandels legendary Justice course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. Up to a thousand students pack the campus theater to hear Sandel relate the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day. In the fall of 2009, PBS will air a series based on the course.

Justice offers listeners the same exhilarating journey that captivates Harvard students—the challenge of thinking our way through the hard moral challenges we confront as citizens. It is a searching, lyrical exploration of the meaning of justice, an audiobook that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets, patriotism and dissent—Sandel shows how even the most hotly contested issues can be illuminated by reasoned moral argument.
 
Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise—an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the big questions of our civic life.

"Synopsis" by ,

“For Michael Sandel, justice is not a spectator sport,” The Nations reviewer of Justice remarked. In his acclaimed book—based on his legendary Harvard course—Sandel offers a rare education in thinking through the complicated issues and controversies we face in public life today. It has emerged as a most lucid and engaging guide for those who yearn for a more robust and thoughtful public discourse. “In terms we can all understand,” wrote Jonathan Rauch in The New York Times, Justice “confronts us with the concepts that lurk . . . beneath our conflicts.”

Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets—Sandel relates the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.

Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise—an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.

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