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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: 9780374532505
ISBN10: 0374532508
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

“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.

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

Synopsis:

Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, 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.

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.

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?

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 marketsSandel 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 wisean 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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Rick Vigorous, July 29, 2014 (view all comments by Rick Vigorous)
This short book is based on the famous course of the same name that Sandel has taught for many years at Harvard. The main strength of the book--and no doubt of his lectures as well--is the way in which he begins with examples of moral dilemmas, and then from there attempts to extract general principles from the arguments that these examples lead to. Apparently this process is what is meant by the term “philosophical dialectic.” Sandel’s idea of political philosophy is that it is not an armchair pursuit, but fundamentally requires engagement between two or more parties, and ideally all the rest of society as well. Sandel's examples are chosen with sufficient care that they clearly illustrate the point that needs illustrating, sufficiently realistic to engage the reader’s interest, and sufficiently controversial that reasonable people might disagree about it and be able to have a productive argument. I think the last of these is especially crucial.

A few of the many illustrative examples:
* Is it permissible for starving sailors to cannibalize the cabin boy while stranded at sea? Utilitarian reasoning says yes, but Kant would claim that human dignity is paramount and cannot be accounted for by utilitarian calculations.
* Is torture ever justified?
* Is it alright for Romans to feed Christians to the lions if the public wants it?
* Is it just for a country to hire soldiers rather than drafting them?
* Is it fair to rent out one’s womb as a surrogate mother, or to sell one’s organs, particularly if the seller is poor and desperate for money? What about selling votes, or hiring substitutes for juries?
* Is affirmative action fair?

The overall scheme of the book is to compare three rival theories of justice. The first, utilitarianism, traces back to Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The basic idea is that one ought to “maximize utility” by doing whatever leads to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. There are two main challenges to this philosophy: (i) it does not respect individual rights and freedom (see the examples above about the cabin boy and feeding Christians to the lions), and (ii) perhaps not everything can be thought of in the same units of “moral currency” (e.g. a foreclosed home vs. a human life). John Stuart Mill’s work was largely an attempt to reconcile Bentham’s ideas with liberty and individual freedom. Insofar as he succeeded, he was really denouncing core utilitarian ideas.

The second main theory of justice is the modern liberal political philosophy, most strongly expressed in the writings of Kant and John Rawls. The goal of this school of thought has always been to develop a framework for law and civic life that is neutral with respect to differing ideas that people might have on what exactly constitutes the “good life.” Such an approach is clearly appealing in a pluralistic society encompassing people of multiple religious and cultural beliefs. In the end, however, Sandel becomes quite critical of the idea that such a program is possible or even desirable.

I found the chapter on Kant to be the most challenging one in the book. Kant’s basic ideas, which were largely formulated as a response to Bentham’s utilitarianism, revolve around fundamental principles of human dignity and freedom. He claimed that utilitarian philosophy is flawed because it allows people to be used as means to achieve other people’s happiness, whereas they ought to be viewed instead as ends in themselves. According to Kant, an act that gives us pleasure is not free, since we are merely acting as slaves to our desires. The crux of Kant’s moral philosophy is the categorical imperative. By “categorical” he means “unconditional,” i.e. independent of the particular consequences of a given action. For example, a shopkeeper who treats his customers well only because he wants their continued business is acting according to a hypothetical (concerned with the end result of continued business) rather than categorical (doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do) imperative. In Kant’s famous formulation: “Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

As for Rawls, the main principles at play are the "veil of ignorance" and the difference principle. The first of these says that we should live according to a hypothetical social contract to which rational agents would agree without knowing anything about the sort of life they would happen to be born into. The agents would be unlikely to privilege the rich, for example, since they wouldn’t know whether they would be born rich or not. According to the difference principle, the rewards that are reaped by the most talented individuals must be applied to making the disadvantaged (e.g. the bottom quintile) better off. According to Rawls, distributive justice is not a matter of moral dessert, but of providing for those who are least well off.

The third main theory of justice comes from Aristotle. His conception of justice, as opposed to the utilitarian and liberal ideas discussed above, is fundamentally teleological, and so lacks the feeling of universality that’s present in the more modern theories. Suppose that we have a box of flutes. Whom should we give them to? The teleological answer to this question is that the flutes should go to the best flutists, since being played well is what the flutes are for. In a similar spirit, we might ask what people living together in a society are for, and Aristotle’s answer is--just as a flute’s purpose is to be played--that a society’s purpose is to cultivate virtue. This cultivation involves intellectual debate and being an engaged citizen and things like that. Of course, different people might have different ideas about what the best virtues to cultivate are, and herein lies the core difficulty of having a pluralistic society. Working through these differences is done through civic engagement and spirited discourse, but beyond this broad prescription neither Aristotle nor Sandel provides any easy answers.

Sandel eventually makes it clear that his own views of justice align most closely with Aristotle’s. I hadn’t expected things to end up this way, thinking that the more modern liberal theories must be more sophisticated, scientific, and correct. In effect, he’s saying that justice cannot be viewed as neatly and scientifically as one might hope, and that it’s necessarily tied up with competing ideas of what constitutes virtue and the good life. This is in the same spirit as the idea presented in Sandel’s newer book, What Money Can’t Buy, as well as in the talks and interviews I’ve seen him give. According to Sandel, markets are not as value-neutral and scientific as the economists would have us believe, and properly coming to terms with their role in our society necessarily means addressing difficult questions about value and virtue.

It’s a little disappointing that the author goes to all this trouble to convince the reader that moral behavior in the end depends on the particular details of what a society defines as virtue and what it chooses to value, and then hardly anything is said about what we should think of as virtuous or what we should value. There’s a sense in which it seems like the can has just been kicked down the road a bit. I would have liked very much to have read about a scientific method for determining in general terms what is the right thing to do. This is what Kant and Rawls tried to accomplish, but Sandel makes a compelling case that they were missing something. At least knowing that there may be no such general framework is quite valuable, even if it leaves the reader slightly unsatisfied. Perhaps there’s no shortcut to the sort of wisdom that I’d hoped to get from this book, and we can only hope that, like Tolstoy’s Pierre, we might one day find ourselves knowing what is the right thing to do after living life a bit more.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780374532505
Author:
Sandel, Michael J
Publisher:
Farrar Straus Giroux
Author:
Sandel, Michael J.
Subject:
Political
Subject:
History & Theory - General
Subject:
General Philosophy
Subject:
Values
Subject:
Ethics
Subject:
Philosophy : General
Subject:
Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
20100831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes Notes and an Index
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.56 x 0.85 in

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Product details 320 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374532505 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, 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.
"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.

"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?

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 marketsSandel 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 wisean essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.

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