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on September 20, 2015
This book read like a college textbook survey of philosophies on justice, which it is. As a layman I was initially looking for something simpler level and with absolute conclusions on what is right and what is wrong. Instead I got an education on how philosophers have viewed this question over the ages and frankly a slightly unsatisfying conclusion. With a technical background I was looking for a simpler (one plus one equals two) conclusions. Instead with some stark examples- drawn out to an extreme scenario the author challenged my basic beliefs on what is right and what is wrong. Most importantly he left the reader recognizing that in some situations there is no right or wrong as all possible options had shades of gray. While a given society can define an absolute right (or wrong) trying to apply this absolute without the cultural background lends itself to moral traps. But if right can only be defined i terms of the culture you belong does what is right and what is wrong vary as cultures change? Like pornography does the boundaries change with cultural changes? Pictures of ladies ankles may have been pornographic at one time, while statues of naked men or even woman were accepted at other times. Is there a logical code that says one of these was always wrong?

This book makes you think. If you have trouble with the front section focus on the examples , the dilemmas posed, and especially the concepts in the last few chapters. But if you can, try and stay with the author throughout his thought process.
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on April 3, 2016
This is an immensely readable refresher of the principles pertaining to justice as written by a wide array of philosophers, from Aristotle to Rawls. Ultimately, Mr. Sandel argues convincingly that what the right thing is cannot be separated entirely from the hazards of our genes, education and circumstances and that discussions of moral matters require more than considerations of utility and consent. To Sandel, there is a civic dimension to justice that too few attempt to engage. These are thought provoking ideas brought forth in examinations of some very contentious modern issues from immigration to affirmative action to abortion, you name it.
However, the most beautiful thing about the book for me was the self-reflection it promoted in me as I tried to engage the questions as rigorously as I could. Doing that, in the first instance, is the Right Thing to Do, I think.
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on August 10, 2014
ScienceThrillers Review: I never took Sandel’s famous core curriculum course while I was at Harvard, but many undergraduates did. There was something special about that class: people talked about it, and kept talking about it. Sandel was accomplishing what all educators wish they could. He was lighting a fire.

Now, years later, Professor Sandel has written a book based on the content of that course which has now become famous beyond the ivy walls. Which means I had a second chance to be his student. (Or third chance, if you consider I rejected the idea of enrolling in the online edX version of Justice as too onerous.)

No one would describe Justice as a beach read, but I did read it on vacation, an advantage that allowed me to focus more fully and not abandon the book for too-long intervals. It is a page-turner in its own way. Sandel’s gift is two-fold. First, he streamlines the key arguments and perspectives of a select group of great moral philosophers. The ideas aren’t dumbed down, but they are artfully reduced to their essence. Second, he uses real-world anecdotes to illustrate the application of the various philosophies, and equally important, he explains the intellectual challenges made to each. (Which allowed me to pretend that’s exactly what I was thinking and I was glad he brought it up.)

Moral issues used in the book include the famous runaway trolley problem, outrage over the bailout, exploding gas tanks in Ford Pintos, a consensual cannibalism case from Germany, the voluntary military, surrogate pregnancy, selling kidneys, Bill Clinton and Monica, affirmative action, reparations, evacuating Ethiopian Jews, buying American, and much more. In each case, although Sandel is clearly a contemporary American liberal, he avoids taking a decisive stand but works through the logical conclusion of the relevant moral philosophy.

Thus about 80% of the book is an engaging, readable distillation of important ideas about justice, society, and morality. In the last 20% or so, Sandel goes beyond teaching and presents his own argument for a new approach to justice in our times. Once you wrap your head around it, you realize that he is advocating for a revolutionary re-thinking of the moral neutrality which has been the unwritten goal of justice in America for some decades. His is a bracing, risky gambit–but once you’ve read the whole book, you’ll see why it may be the only way to save modern politics.

A remarkable, compact book that will stimulate the logic circuits of your brain and leave you pondering Big Questions.

Unusual words: utilitarianism; Jeremy Bentham; John Stuart Mill; libertarianism; universal rights; laissez-faire; pure practical reason; Immanuel Kant; categorical imperative; intelligible realm; John Rawls; moral desert; Aristotle; telos

If you like Justice, you might like:
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt.
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on May 17, 2014
I came to this book by Professor Sandel from his MOOC, a series of videos on the subject of Justice given as his actual lectures in Harvard. The book follows them closely but is not identical to them. I had not expected it to be based on philosophy, and certainly philosophers are not my favourite reading material, nor do I admire a man who has himself preserved for posterity by taxidermists, but he takes their points of view sequentially building on their arguments and using actual case material from the UK and the USA to provoke thought. Much of the issues remain unresolved and the foundations of the controversies are explored. Is cannibalism under extreme duress legitimate? Can you give permission to be killed and eaten? Is taking one life to save five legitimate? Questions of surrogate motherhood, sale of body parts and other current vexatious issues are explored.
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
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on December 21, 2015
In this book prof. Sandel explores three approaches to justice. The one that justice is the maximizing utility or welfare, the second according to which justice means respecting freedom of choice and the third (which author himself favors) that the justice involves cultivating virtue and reasoning about the common good. The book contains a lot of history of political philosophy. I combined the book with author's video lectures at Harvard where a lot of moral dilemmas were discussed with the students. This book makes you reexamine some of your views on moral questions from a more analytical point of view.
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on May 17, 2015
This is a very interesting book that goes into different philosophies of justice. Sandel starts with an explanation of the utilitarian and libertarian views. His exposition on these is rather too brief, even half-hearted. It is obvious that he disagrees substantially. He goes on to give a very good explanation of Immanuel Kant's philosophy of justice. His description of Rawl's and Aristotle's views is also useful. I can see good scope for developing Sandel's favoured approach of the narrative, identity in community, and moral engagement. The thoughts that he puts forth are promising, but have yet to be fully developed.

The book is written and illustrated with examples (hypothetical and real-life) that are easy for a lay person to understand. It is recommended for any reader who is interested in justice in modern politics.
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on January 4, 2015
Well written, seems like a thorough introduction to the subject matter. I am not through reading it, and am taking the course. It feels slanted against utilitarianism, attacking it rather than trying to understand it. The fact that we have no means of establishing the relative value of actions at the present, does not mean we will not be able to do so in the future. Psychology and sociology are improving, and history itself, through time, has given us hints as to what "pleasures are good" and what "pleasures simply seem good today."
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.
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on April 3, 2014
Growing up I was always told to do the right thing. From an early age, I was taught the golden rule: do to others as you would have them do to you. This was and mostly still is the foundation of all ethical decisions in my life. Having such a simple guiding principle, one would think conversations about justice would be just as simple. Unfortunately, nothing is simple.

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.
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on February 13, 2018
5 stars for the book; ZERO stars to Amazon for the prominent claims that the Kindle version includes page numbers.
--> It does not.
I like my Kindle and I hate location numbers - part of the reason I chose an e-version of this book was Amazon's claims that it includes actual page numbers. It doesn't and they are not an option.

NOTE: I am wide open to being proven wrong and would welcome it; if anyone replies with a way to see pages, I will take it all back.
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on December 28, 2012
I can't quibble with the author's analysis of the limitations of the "liberal" justice theories of Kant and Rawls. I haven't studied them to any degree. However, it does seem to me that the principle of the "dignity of the individual" as an end, never merely as a means, has more substance than the author appears to credit it. He says it provides a foundation for "respect," meaning not to do another harm. But not necessarily any more than that, i.e. not specifically to seek the good of others or even the common good. Perhaps that is right in a minimalist view. The Hippocratic oath states "First, do no harm." One might say that is the first word about justice. But the implications of understanding others as having a fundamental dignity equal to one's own, in effect being a family of man, goes well beyond not doing harm.

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.
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