- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 15, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374180652
- ISBN-13: 978-0374180652
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 492 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? 1st Edition
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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
Top customer reviews
Ultimately he expresses an enthusiasm for Bobby Kennedy which I do not share, but the book and lectures are thought provoking and force on to clear one's own mind
The "good" advocated by Aristotle appears by the author's own description to be premised on building up the "common good" which implies, first of all, the dignity (if not equality) of persons for whom pursuit of the common good is the purpose. The author also emphasizes Aristotle's focus not on prescriptions or rules about the "good life," but practical wisdom that uses judgment about particular situations. That approach fits the author's argument for seeing the identity and nature of persons through the "narrative" rather than "voluntarist" conception.
This kind of empirical evaluation of our concrete interdependence, horizontally within our society and vertically deep into our past, strongly suggests (if not dictates) the conclusion that the fundamental dignity of each human being implies a duty, Kant's categorical imperative, to our neighbor beyond doing no harm. In fact to act for his or her good. If people are not to be treated as mere means to another's personal ends, then in concrete situations we will always be faced with choices about how to orient ourselves. Do we act in a way that is above all self-interested but in which there is at least no intended harm to others? In that case, even if they are not in fact (unduly) harmed they are nevertheless being used as means to our ends.
Kant's logic supports the notion that the dignity of other persons as ends in themselves demands that we must always act in such a way that we are not indifferent to the good to others that may be effected through our actions. After all, in many concrete situations there is no bright line of demarcation between good and harm our actions may visit on others. We may suppose that most often if we pursue our self-interest with an eye only to clear and present harm to others, we will err with responsibility for latent and unintended harm. The Golden Rule, said to be dismissed by Kant based upon its uncertainty in relation to how one wishes to be treated by others, at least can stand for the proposition that we would always want others to take account of our well being in the decisions they make for themselves. We would always want others to act in a practical way as much as possible for my benefit consistently with their own, if not actually making any personal sacrifice to their detriment to effect my benefit.
The upshot is that the rationale behind each theory of justice discussed by the author, insufficient and distorting by itself, may be seen as complementary as a corrective to each of the others. For example, the utilitarian model, problematic for failing to insist on fundamental rights, offers a perspective of pragmatism that the author admires in discussing Aristotle's emphasis on practical wisdom. Utilitarians simply carry the pragmatism principle beyond its capability, ignoring fundamental rights and the limitations on our knowledge of weighing consequences. Liberal justice theory arguably corrects for this by insisting only on proscribing the clearest cases of harm (to fundamental liberty interests). The author in fact argues for a middle way that treats fundamental rights as a foundation of personal human dignity (first, do no harm) but insists we go beyond that to address the higher purposes for which we live. Implicit in this approach is a recognition that human dignity which demands respect for basic rights also is the foundation for identifying the higher purposes which in principle must encompass the common good. Individual actions and decisions are always taken within a context of social responsibility.
There is hope that the future might bring us an arithmetic to help decide questions of morality.
I will update this review when I finish the course.
Justice by Michael Sandel is an exceptionally interesting book. The concept of justice is so intense and complex with numerous layers about fairness, equality, freedom, rights, virtues, morality, and so on. Sandel effortlessly and eloquently deconstructs the concept of justice. He shows us each arguments strengths and weaknesses without sounding pedantic or showing any bias.
This book is a great introduction into the concepts of philosophy. Though he does spend some time discussing the timeline of philosophy with Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls, the majority of the book addresses modern day issues. It is easy to see, after reading this book, how two intelligent, logical human beings can come to two very different conclusions concerning the same moral dilemma.
This is a great book and I highly recommend it.