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Editorial Reviews

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.

Sandel's 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, a book 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.

©2009 Michael J. Sandel (P)2009 Macmillan Audio

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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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