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Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics Paperback – November 30, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0674023659 ISBN-10: 067402365X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067402365X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674023659
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #428,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Investigating the ways in which morality and politics intersect, Sandel (Democracy's Discontent) considers both the hot-button issues of contemporary political life—abortion, homosexuality, Clinton's bad behavior—and the weighty arguments of political philosophers from Kant to Rawls. He does so in essays that have been published over many years in both general audience venues and scholarly publications. The use of previously published essays makes for some repetition, and not all of his styles and approaches work effectively. The opening chapter, a historical overview of American public philosophy, explains in ponderous generalities "how the aspiration to neutrality finds prominent expression in our politics and law." But the later essays are better written. Some, such as "Honor and Resentment," an essay on whether a wheelchair-bound girl has the right to cheerlead, are short and sprightly. Others, like "The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self," are long and incisive. Uniting the book are a few common themes: the importance of community, the insufficiency of individual rights as a basis for a democratic society and the need for political arguments to engage with questions of morality. All in all, this is an effective, though sometimes lumpy, blend of the wonky and the philosophical. (Nov.)
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.


Michael Sandel can always be counted on to write with elegance and intelligence about important things. Whether you agree or not, you cannot ignore his arguments. We need all the sane voices we can get in the public square and Sandel's is one of the sanest. (Jean Bethke Elshtain, The University of Chicago Divinity School)

No matter what your politics are, you will find Michael Sandel's Public Philosophy exciting, invigorating, discerning and encouraging. Conservatives will discover a liberalism they didn't know existed: profoundly concerned with responsibility, community and the importance of individual virtue. Liberals and Democrats who know their side needs an engaging public philosophy will find its bricks and mortar, its contours and basic principles, right here in these pages. To a political debate that is too often dispiriting and sterile, Sandel has offered a brilliant and badly needed antidote. (E.J. Dionne Jr., syndicated columnist, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, professor at Georgetown University, author of Why Americans Hate Politics and Stand Up Fight Back)

Michael Sandel is one of the world's best known and most influential political theorists. He is unusual for the range of practical ethical issues that he has addressed: life, death, sports, religion, commerce, and more. These essays are lucid, pointed, often highly subtle and revealing. Sandel has something important and worthwhile to say about every topic he addresses. (Stephen Macedo, Princeton University)

Michael Sandel...believes that liberal appeals to individual rights and to the broad values of fairness and equality make a poor case for the progressive case, both as a matter of strategy and as a matter of principle. The country and the Democratic party would be better off, he thinks, if progressives made more of an effort to inspire the majority to adopt their vision of the common good and make it the democratic ground for public policy and law....Anyone concerned over the political success of conservatism in recent years must be interested in this critical analysis. (Thomas Nagel The New York Review of Books)

[Sandel] explains that our living in a pluralist society with differing moral ideals does not inhibit our discussion of issues like abortion and stem-cell research but instead helps us resolve them by looking at what it means to live 'a good life.' This thought-provoking book will be valuable to the general reader as well as scholars. (Scott Duimstra Library Journal 2005-09-15)

Are the key values and beliefs that drive democracy in the United States sufficient to cope with our current problems? Since publishing his first book in 1982, Michael Sandel has offered a negative answer to that question by focusing on what he sees as widespread feelings of anxiety emerging from citizens’ recognition that they are unable to shape either their personal or their collective environments. He roots that pathology in our uncritical acceptance of rights, fairness, and individual choice as the hard parameters of legitimate politics, and proposes instead a return to a pre-liberal perfectionism that emphasizes responsibility, civic duty, and the common good. This new volume, which collects articles previously published between 1983 and 2004, provides a valuable overview of what Sandel calls his “public philosophy”...His arguments are broad-ranging, lucid, and sincere in their concern for our current public maladies. As such, they demand attention and engagement. (William Lund Social Theory and Practice 2007-07-01)

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

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I have only read through half the book so far but I like what I have read so far.
Manas Asthana
In the middle section it explores the conflict between the concepts of rights of individuals versus the common good being imposed.
Robert David STEELE Vivas
I like the fact that this book contains a lot of short essays that you can read on the bus on the way to school.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I picked this lovely book up on a whim while visiting the Harvard bookstore, and let it lie fallow for months. It was not until I read Paul Hawken's "Ecology of Commerce," that this book demanded to be read. I had no idea how well the two would go together.

Published in 2005, it is a balanced collection of essays written over the previous decade, and I found it to be better than any textbook or more labored treatise. This book really worked for me. Here are the highlights that made this book vital reading for any adult concerned about where we are going in the aftermath of the Bush-Cheney debacles.

Liberalism--root word liberty--has lost its moral voice. It has no compelling vision just when public philosophy is most needed. The author is quietly passionate about how values--enduring values--both enable localized self-governance and come from localized communities where everyone knows one another.

According to the author, individual knowledge of public affairs, and a sense of belonging to a larger commonwealth, are the underlying foundation for the Republic as our Founding Fathers bequeathed to us--"a Republic, if you can keep it," as Benjamin Franklin told us all.

This author is most powerful in making the case that "laissez faire" on values is to NOT have national values. The author uses the early portion of the book to make the case that the larger question on anything is this: what strategy or policy will most support the nurturing of self-governance at the local and state levels? This connects DIRECTLY to the current focus in Ecotopia (British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington State) on resilience and on the equivalent focus by the global public health intelligence network on the same word: resilience!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Manas Asthana on August 22, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have only read through half the book so far but I like what I have read so far. Most ethical arguments are well presented and nicely divided into individual chapters/essay. I think everyone should read these, not because you may/maynot agree with what's being proposed/analyzed but because it gives you food for thought. It gives you some basis for believing in things that we believe in or reasons to abandon the antiquated things that we believe in. After I finish this one I have 'JUSTICE' by the same author waiting for me. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a capacity to think and question things. A very well written piece of work.
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I loved this book. He brings philosophy back into the public square with aplomb - leading the reader through some of the great philosophers and theories without getting lost in the detail or making the analysis overly academic.

This book made me rethink many of my views on the need for personal morality to be brought into the public arena.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Oparu on December 23, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book after watching all of Sandel's lectures on his website, [...] and wanted to read a little more about what he was talking about in his lectures. I like the fact that this book contains a lot of short essays that you can read on the bus on the way to school.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on June 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was first introduced to Michael Sandel a couple of years ago on YouTube while I was looking for a productive way to spend my newly free summer days. His course at Harvard called "Justice" is one of the fastest in the entire university to fill up - not something I had to worry about, since I could watch all twelve of the lectures at my leisure. The lectures were filmed in an enormous hall (over 1,000 student register for his class every time it is offered), and are full of students who would never think of necessarily majoring in philosophy, but are still interested in deep, meaningful questions like "What does it mean to be a citizen in a democratic society?" and "How does one pursue the good life in a world of so many competing interests?" This searching quality, and Sandel's open, interactive maieutic method of engaging his students were some of the best parts of his lectures.

That same Socratic spirit continues within the pages of this book, a series of previously published essays. Sandel's willingness and insistence on being a knowledgeable cicerone through the history of liberal political theory is a sincere and much-appreciated one. However, some of these pieces are simply too short, both in length and in moral force, to merit inclusion in what otherwise could have been an extremely powerful collection. Most of the short pieces I'm talking about are in Part II, "Moral and Political Arguments." These are articles (I use this word instead of "essay" because they almost look more like, and it pains me to say it, op-ed pieces than they do well-considered philosophical arguments) discussing the relative positives and negatives of state lotteries, advertising in public classrooms, the morality of buying and selling pollution credits, affirmative action, and the Clinton imbroglio.
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