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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? Paperback – August 17, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (August 17, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374532508
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374532505
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (382 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at the University of Harvard. Sandel's legendary 'Justice' course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. In 2007, Harvard made Sandel's course available to alumni around the world through webstreaming and podcasting. Over 5,000 participants signed up, and Harvard Clubs from Mexico to Australia organized local discussion groups in connection with the course. In May 2007, Sandel delivered a series of lectures at major universities in China and he has been a visiting professor at the Sorbonne, Paris. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations. Sandel is the author of many books and has previously written for the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic and the New York Times. He was the 2009 BBC Reith Lecturer.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

115 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Cthulhu #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on October 7, 2009
Format: Audio CD Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Michael Sandel's discussion of Justice begins and ends with what he believes are the three main views on what Justice is or rather what it should promote: the maximum good to the largest possible number of people, individual freedom or encourage the collective virtues and the development of harmonious and enlightened communities (who wouldn't?)?.

Sandel's discussion, based on a popular course he teaches at Harvard, mixes a pretty good dose of 'history of political philosophy' with an interesting selection of hypothetical and real life 'cases', meant to stimulate thinking and understanding of the difficulties one faces when one's mission is to distribute 'justice'.

Is affirmative action justified as a criterion for college admission? Are the handicapped entitled to jobs their handicaps prevent them from performing well? Are abortions 'murder' or an expression of free choice? Should the State get out of the 'marriage' business altogether? Is it okay to kill and eat a sick boy about to die anyway if that would save the lives of three men? These are some of the dilemmas Sandel presents his students. And, for context - or is this the true purpose of the course? - he presents a summary of what he considers to be some of the more prominent thinking on the matters of morality and justice: the Utilitarians, Kant, Aristotle, John Rawls.

The journey ends with an attempt to answer the initial question: what is Justice for? And, now, that we better understand the main arguments and their proponents and we saw how they applied in 'real life', Sandel is ready to reveal his preference.
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267 of 291 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on September 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will not satisfy the elite of hair-splitting moral philosophers, but to my mind it is the best book I have ever seen explaining moral philosophy to neophytes. The examples come mostly from contemporary American social life and many are well-known in the literature. But many were new to me, and included some of the most morally conflictual issues I have ever encountered. I just cannot imagine a better way to present the content of modern moral philosophy to the world.

Michael Sandel is a quite famous political philosopher with a reputation for extreme adherence to a particular brand of community-oriented virtue theory that is critical of the two major traditions in moral philosophy---utilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Peter Singer) and deontology (Immanuel Kant, John Rawls). However, the reader will likely not discover this fact until the very end of the book, so even-handed and appreciative is Sandel of the alternative approaches. Indeed, the book is filled with the tension of a World Cup match, where the top players in the world are paraded before us in all their splendor, and where it is difficult to call any one a looser. This attitude contrasts sharply with the standard behavior of professional philosophers, who have hissy-fits when confronted with arguments with which they disagree (Sandel is capable of this as well, of course, but not in this elegant volume).

The most important thing the student learns from this book is that morality is for real, and leading a moral life is the highest goal to which we can aspire. I learned moral philosophy in an era dominated by the sort of analytical philosophy according to which moral statements are meaningless utterances, and moral behavior is irrational and constricting.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Massimo Pigliucci on November 29, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
There has been much discussion lately about what science can tell us about ethics, much of it frankly misguided or downright bizarre. Science is indeed informing us on how we evolved a sense of right and wrong, and it is beginning to elucidate how the brain works when we make moral judgments (or fail to do so). As interesting as this is, it says nothing about ethical questions per se, no more than understanding the evolution and neurological bases of mathematical thinking tells us whether Fermat's theorem is correct or not. You will not find much science in Michael Sandel's book, but it will give you endless food for thought to deepen your understanding of ethics. The book covers all the major philosophical approaches to ethical theory, from deontology to consequentialism, from libertarianism to virtue ethics. While the author (like myself) favors a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, he provides an accessible yet sophisticated discussion of all approaches. Moreover, this isn't just theoretical philosophy. The book has a very applied bent (and no, applied philosophy is not an oxymoron), as each discussion is introduced by an actual example of a moral conundrum taken from everyday life or from well known cases in the news. We learn, for instance, that to make sense of disputes about the essence of cheerleading, or playing golf with the aid of a cart, one needs to examine Aristotle's concept of virtue and what sort of polity we wish our society to be (even the Supreme Court got into it!). In the book you will find insightful discussions of affirmative action and abortion, for instance, which may actually change your mind about those issues, or at the very least give you a more sophisticated understanding of the other side and why their position cannot be cavalierly dismissed.Read more ›
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