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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? [Paperback]

Michael Sandel
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Feb 2010

Michael Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? invites readers of all ages and political persuasions on a journey of moral reflection, and shows how reasoned debate can illuminate our lives.

  • Is it always wrong to lie?
  • Should there be limits to personal freedom?
  • Can killing sometimes be justified?
  • Is the free market fair?

    What is the right thing to do?

Questions like these are at the heart of our lives. In this acclaimed book Michael Sandel - BBC Reith Lecturer and the Harvard professor whose 'Justice' course has become world famous - gives us a lively and accessible introduction to the intersection of politics and philosophy. He helps us think our way through such hotly contested issues as equal rights, democracy, euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage, as well as the ethical dilemmas we face every day.

'One of the most popular teachers in the world'

'Enormously refreshing ... Michael Sandel transforms moral philosophy by putting it at the heart of civic debate'
  New Statesman

'One of the world's most interesting political philosophers'

  The Nation

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. 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.

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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? + What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets + The Price of Inequality
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (25 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141041331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141041339
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


One of the world's most interesting political philosophers (Guardian)

Justice is a lucid and compelling analysis of our current moral dilemmas, which argues for a new commitment to citizenship and the common good (Shirley Williams)

In the beautifully concise explanations of American philosopher Michael Sandel, I see great insight into our current predicaments. If any political reckoning is on its way . . . then perhaps it might come from the philosophy department of Harvard (Madeleine Bunting)

Michael Sandel, perhaps the most prominent college professor in America,...practices the best kind of academic populism, managing to simplify John Stuart Mill and John Rawls without being simplistic. But Sandel is best at what he calls bringing 'moral clarity to the alternatives we confront as democratic citizens'.... He ends up clarifying a basic political divide - not between left and right, but between those who recognize nothing greater than individual rights and choices, and those who affirm a 'politics of the common good,' rooted in moral beliefs that can't be ignored

(Michael Gerson Washington Post)

Michael Sandel transforms moral philosophy by putting it at the heart of civic debate....Sandel's insistence on the inescapably ethical character of political debate is enormously refreshing (Edward Skidelsky New Statesman)

A spellbinding philosopher.... For Michael Sandel, justice is not a spectator sport.... He is calling for nothing less than a reinvigoration of citizenship (Samuel Moyn The Nation)

An ambitious and an appealing idea. Intriguingly, I find myself persuaded that it might well be worth a try (Lisa Jardine, The Times)

More than exhilarating; exciting in its ability to persuade this student/reader, time and again, that the principle now being invoked-on this page, in this chapter-is the one to deliver the sufficiently inclusive guide to the making of a decent life (Vivien Gornick Boston Review)

Sandel explains theories of justice...with clarity and immediacy; the ideas of Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Robert Nozick and John Rawls have rarely, if ever, been set out as accessibly... In terms we can all understand, Justice confronts us with the concepts that lurk, so often unacknowledged, beneath our conflicts (Jonathan Rauch New York Times)

This book is absolutely indispensable for anyone who wants to be a good citizen. It shows how to balance competing values, a talent our nation desperately needs nowadays (Walter Isaacson, author of 'Benjamin Franklin: An American Life')

Sandel dazzles in this sweeping survey of hot topics.... Erudite, conversational and deeply humane, this is truly transformative reading (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

Hard cases may make bad laws, but in Michael Sandel's hands they produce some cool philosophy.... Justice is a timely plea for us to desist from political bickering and see if we can have a sensible discussion about what sort of society we really want to live in (Jonathan Ree The Observer)

A road map for negotiating modern moral dilemmas... For those seeking a short course through moral philosophy from a witty writer, fast on his feet, and nimble with his pen, this thin volume is difficult to beat (Kevin J. Hamilton Seattle Times)

There have been various attempts over the decades to bury moral philosophy -- to dismiss convictions about right and wrong as cultural prejudices, or secretions of the brain, or matters so personal they shouldn't even affect our private lives. But moral questions always return, as puzzles and as tragedies. Would we push a hefty man onto a railroad track to save the lives of five others? Should Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell, in June of 2005, have executed a group of Afghan goatherds who, having stumbled on his position, might inform the enemy about his unit? (Luttrell let them go, the Taliban attacked, and three of his comrades died.) These examples and others -- price-gouging after Hurricane Katrina, affirmative action, gay marriage -- are all grist for the teaching of Michael Sandel, perhaps the most prominent college professor in America. His popular class at Harvard -- Moral Reasoning 22: Justice -- attracts about a sixth of all undergraduates. For those lacking $49,000 a year in tuition and board, he has written Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? which has been further translated into a PBS series and a Web site, JusticeHarvard.org (Michael Gerson Wall Street Journal)

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.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking introduction 5 Jan 2010
By Diziet TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The first thing to say about this book is just how readable it is. Although 'justice' is a subject that interests us all from the point when, as children, we first said 'but it's not fair', too often it can be a dry and academic subject with no immediate apparent relevance to 'real life'. Not so this book.

Sandel takes us on a tour of theories of justice in roughly chronological order. Starting with Jeremy Bentham and Utilitarianism, Sandel clearly explains the principles involved and then provides a critique. Moving on, he outlines John Stuart Mill's attempts at refining and expanding Bentham's 'simple' Utilitarianism with more emphasis on the individual. Next, Sandel gives a concise description and critique of Libertarians, mentioning Robert Nozick as a contemporary example.

From there, Sandel moves to a philosopher who rejected Bentham, Mills and Libertarianism - namely Immanuel Kant. Sandel's explanation of Kant's 'categorical imperative' and the autonomous individual is the clearest and most understandable that I have ever come across - explaining the difference between, for example, the Golden Rule (treat others as you would be treated) and Kant's non-contingent principles. Sandel then moves on to John Rawls and illustrates the continuities between Kant and Rawls.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Michael Sandel has dedicated his life to moral philosophy and deciding what is the right thing to do. He is an incredibly talented lecturer, seeming to be able to explain even the most complicated subjects in a way that is easy to comprehend.

He has managed to do the same with this book. He presents moral dilemmas with clear examples and follows them with proposed answers from famous philosophers such as Kant, Rawls and Aristotle (don't worry if you currently don't know much about these people, I didn't when I first started reading either).

This being said, it is incredibly easy to read. I have been reading this alongside books requires for my law course and it compliments them very well and is often a welcome break!

I would strongly recommend it to those with little knowledge in the area but with some interest. It will very quickly have you pausing your reading to try and form your own arguments and opinions on the moral dilemmas he presents you with.

So if you want thought provoking ideas, insight from a life devoted to moral philosophy and perhaps even if it's just you want a 'little bit more' from your holiday book then this is the book for you.


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I first heard the author, Michael Sandel on a podcast talking about economic and social ethics. His approach is simple: present the different theories and let you decide for yourself.

This book challenges the way you think about everything! From economics and torture of terrorists, to your everyday life issues. It enhances your emotional and ethical intelligences. It's easy to read and it helps you understand why some politicians and political parties believe in what they do, but also equips you with the framework to challenge these perceptions intelligently.

I dont know how to sell this book to you...but all I can say is it has added to my life by giving me the intellectual framework to assess our world and forced me to make an ethical choice which I struggle to maintain every day (in a good self-growth way).

Perhaps look up Michael Sandel, hear one of his Harvard Lectures and then if you like what you hear, then buy the book.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like thinking you will love this book 9 Jun 2010
I loved this book. It's been a while since I read any philosophy but wanted to get back into it. After buying the book I was a little concerned that starting with a topic as heavy as justice may have been a bad choice. Thankfully, I could not have been more wrong.

From start to finish the arguments are interesting, thought provoking and easily understood. The author's ability to present complexity in simple everyday terms testfies to a lack of pomposity, all to common among academic writers.

When reading Justice, one gets the sense of a writer confident in his own ideas but one who would also welcome scrutiny. A deep desire to get to "the truth" is palpable throughout. This is evident from the detailed and objective attention that Sandel pays to the key theories of Justice before constructing his own argument. Indeed, the bulk of the book is dedicated to considering the strengths and weaknesses of each of the main schools of thought.

After a brief introduction, the book proceeds to consider utilitariasm. It starts with the rather harsh form first propounded by Jeremy Bentham, and gives due credit to John Stuart Mill's attempt to round off some of the harsher edges of this school of thought. Sandel then proceeds to consider the libertarian attack on utilitarianism and clearly and objectively outlines the arguments on both sides.

One of the best features of the book is the author's determination to put these arguments in context and make them relevant to our everyday modern lives. To this end, at Chapter 4, the author discusses several current social questions from the utilitarian and libertarian perspectives.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
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Published 3 months ago by DJRodger
3.0 out of 5 stars If you don't mind the constant reference to American culture
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