From Publishers Weekly
Starred 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. (Oct.)
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Sandel, a Harvard law professor, effortlessly integrates common concerns of individuals with topics as varied as abortion, affirmative action, and family loyalties within the modern theories and perspectives on freedom. He reviews philosophical thought from the ancient to more modern political philosophers, including Immanuel Kant and John Rawls. Sandel critiques three ways of thinking about justice: a utilitarian perspective that seeks the greatest happiness for the greatest number; the connection of justice to freedom with contrast between what he calls the laissez-faire camp that tends to be market libertarians and the fairness camp with an egalitarian slant that acknowledges the need for market regulation; and justice tied to virtue and pursuit of the good life. Although the last is generally associated with the cultural and political Right, he exposes connections across political lines. Sandel reveals how perspectives on justice are connected to a deeper and reasoned analysis, a moral engagement in politics, and a counterintuitive conclusion in modern politics. Whether or not readers agree with Sandel’s conclusions, they will appreciate the encouragement to self-examination on the most mundane topics. --Vernon Ford