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Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality [Paperback]

Michael Walzer

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Book Description

4 Sep 1984
The distinguished political philosopher and author of the widely acclaimed Just and Unjust Wars analyzes how society distributes not just wealth and power but other social goods like honor, education, work, free timeeven love..

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Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality + A Theory of Justice Rev (Paper) (Belknap)
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About the Author

Michael Walzer is Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, and the author of many widely heralded books, including "Spheres of Justice, Exodus and Revolution," and "The Company of Critics," all available from Basic Books. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Distributive justice is a large idea. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
69 of 79 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The other shoe never drops 9 Nov 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Before critiquing this book, Mr. Walzer should be given some credit. He manages to make a good argument for pluralism, equality, and the like, and avoids the deus ex machina thought experiments a la Rawls (with "original positions") or the like. For that, Mr. Walzer should be thanked.
Now for the problems. Walzer, author of "Just and Unjust Wars" and "On Toleration" (among many others), is trying to defend a certain order of society where differences can be accepted and equality may be ensured. But Walzer's arguments suffer from a major problem - his starting point(s) are left undefended, and indeed sometimes even undefined. The key to his system is "shared meanings," an idea that he has used in other works (like "Just and Unjust Wars" [J&UW]) under various names. What these shared meanings are, Walzer generally avoids saying directly. As he mentioned in J&UW, Walzer tends to avoid the more complex questions of the foundations for morality and the like - he tends, in practice anyway, to be an antifoundationalist. This presents a problem - he gives the reader all these beautifully reasoned arguments for his idea of society, but always leaves the starting-point out. As such, it is hard to make much of his argument, if you may find yourself in disagreement with his elusive first principles.
Walzer argues that he's starting with "shared meanings," and just following out logically what that entails. In practice, this results in a social democratic, left-oriented society. Fine. But one feels a sleight-of-hand is being played. The "shared meanings" are rather vague. Moreover, "shared" by whom? While Walzer gives some discussion to this, the question lingers. Shared by all those in Western society? By those in only one country? By those in one class? By those on the editorial board of "Dissent" magazine? The reader may find that s/he is locked into the "logical result" of premises that were unknown in the beginning.
Having written all that, this is a very important book in political thoery/philosophy. If those are areas you are interested in, you should read this book. While well-argued, I find it less than compelling (for the reasons discussed above). I could be wrong. Read and decide for yourself.
37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walzer makes equality make sense 3 Jan 2000
By dave w - Published on Amazon.com
Spheres of Justice was assigned to me but, years later and the class notes long lost, it has become a loyal, dog-eared partner in my life. Walzer's framework provides a powerful tool for non-philosophers to understand, and then speak-up directly and intelligently for equality and democracy. Nonetheless, the sphere-conceit tends mask and mystify the material bases for some of the situations Walzer uses it to address. This book is not a replacement for Mill, Rawls, Locke, Marx, Kant, and Arrow, but it is a huge span in the bridge between theories advocating equality and public policies that can secure it.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An easy, excellent read 7 July 2001
By Tron Honto - Published on Amazon.com
One of the major achievements of this is book just how well-written it is. Like one previous reviewer noted, Walzer is much more readable than authors like Nozick and Rawls (not to demean their incredible works). The strength of this book I have found is uneven. Some topics it treats incredibly and others are sorely wanting. Walzer's work is best at showing how justice is not just a political experience but also an economic, social, cultural, religious, and personal one; thus, this book is not just about politics but also about ethics. I recommend the book highly. It's an easy, memorable read for those interested in the topic therein.
16 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walzer is king on distributive justice. 4 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Comparing "Spheres of Justice" with other books on distributive justice,(for instance Rawls; "Theory of Justice" and "Political Liberalism") this book by M.Walzer is a page-turner. If the primary goal of a "theory" of justice is a practical one, Walzer makes sense . For most students this book will make it possble to apply ethics to the real world, revealing the veil of ignorance.
11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic 14 Mar 2001
By J. A Magill - Published on Amazon.com
This is nothing less than the most important work of political theory written in the last 20 years. Walzer, unlike other post war liberal theorists like Nozick and Rawls, returns political theory to the realm of practical political reality. His propsed theory creates a rational and thoughtful framework to confront many modern social issues.
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