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Justice by Michael J. Sandel: A Book That Challenges You to Think

Justice by Michael Sandel: A Book Review

Justice is one of the most popular and influential courses at Harvard University, taught by professor Michael Sandel. In his book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, Sandel presents some of the most challenging moral dilemmas of our time and invites readers to think critically about how to resolve them. He explores various theories of justice, such as utilitarianism, libertarianism, and Kantianism, and shows how they apply to contemporary issues such as abortion, euthanasia, affirmative action, and market regulation. In this article, I will review the book and highlight its main arguments, insights, and implications.

Justice Michael Sandel.epub


Who is Michael Sandel?

Michael Sandel is a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University. He has been teaching at Harvard since 1980 and has won several awards for his teaching excellence. He is also a public intellectual who has written several books and articles on topics such as democracy, bioethics, globalization, and human rights. He has delivered lectures around the world and has participated in various public debates on moral and political issues. He is best known for his course on justice, which has attracted thousands of students and millions of viewers online.

What is the book about?

The book is based on Sandel's course on justice and consists of 10 chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of justice. The book is divided into three parts: Part One deals with the moral side of murder; Part Two deals with putting a price tag on life; and Part Three deals with free to choose. In each chapter, Sandel presents a hypothetical or real-life scenario that poses a moral dilemma and then discusses how different theories of justice would approach it. He also provides historical and cultural examples to illustrate how different societies have dealt with similar dilemmas in the past. He does not offer definitive answers or solutions to the dilemmas, but rather encourages readers to reflect on their own moral intuitions and judgments.

Why is the book important?

The book is important because it challenges readers to think deeply about some of the most pressing and controversial issues of our time. It also exposes readers to different perspectives and arguments that they may not have encountered before. It helps readers to develop their critical thinking and moral reasoning skills, as well as their civic awareness and engagement. It also invites readers to question their own assumptions and values and to consider how they can contribute to a more just society.

Main Body

Part One: The Moral Side of Murder

The Trolley Problem

The first chapter introduces the trolley problem, a classic thought experiment in moral philosophy. The problem goes like this: A runaway trolley is heading towards five workers who are unaware of the danger. You are standing at a switch and can divert the trolley to another track, where only one worker is present. What should you do? Should you flip the switch and save five lives at the cost of one, or should you do nothing and let the trolley kill five people?

The Case of the Transplant Surgeon

The second chapter presents another variation of the trolley problem, called the case of the transplant surgeon. The problem goes like this: You are a doctor who can save five patients who need different organ transplants. However, you have no organs available. You have a healthy patient who came in for a routine checkup and has no relatives or friends. You can kill him and harvest his organs to save the five patients, or you can let him go and let the five patients die. What should you do?

Utilitarianism and Kantianism

The third chapter compares and contrasts two major theories of justice: utilitarianism and Kantianism. Utilitarianism is the view that the right thing to do is to maximize the overall happiness or welfare of society. According to this view, flipping the switch in the trolley problem and killing the healthy patient in the transplant case are both morally justified, because they result in more lives saved than lost. Kantianism is the view that the right thing to do is to respect the dignity and autonomy of every person. According to this view, flipping the switch in the trolley problem may be permissible, but killing the healthy patient in the transplant case is morally wrong, because it violates his right to life and uses him as a means to an end.

Part Two: Putting a Price Tag on Life

The Case of the Ford Pinto

The fourth chapter introduces the case of the Ford Pinto, a real-life example of how cost-benefit analysis can be used to justify immoral actions. The problem goes like this: In the 1970s, Ford produced a car called the Pinto, which had a design flaw that made it prone to explode in rear-end collisions. Ford knew about the defect but decided not to fix it, because it calculated that it would cost more to recall and repair the cars than to pay for the lawsuits and settlements from the victims. Was Ford's decision morally acceptable?

The Value of Human Life

The fifth chapter explores how different methods and criteria can be used to assign a monetary value to human life. For example, some methods use statistical data on how much people are willing to pay or accept for reducing or increasing their risk of death. Other methods use moral principles or judgments to determine how much compensation or restitution should be paid for wrongful death or injury. The chapter also examines how different values of life can affect public policy decisions, such as environmental regulation, health care, and national security.

Cost-Benefit Analysis and Moral Reasoning

The sixth chapter evaluates the strengths and limitations of cost-benefit analysis as a tool for moral reasoning. On one hand, cost-benefit analysis can help to clarify and quantify the trade-offs and consequences of different actions. It can also help to avoid bias and arbitrariness in decision making. On the other hand, cost-benefit analysis can also oversimplify and distort complex moral issues. It can also ignore or devalue important moral considerations, such as rights, duties, fairness, and dignity.

Part Three: Free to Choose

The Case of the Libertarian Surfer

The seventh chapter introduces the case of the libertarian surfer, a hypothetical scenario that challenges the idea of freedom as non-interference. The problem goes like this: Imagine a society where everyone is free to do whatever they want, as long as they do not harm others. In this society, there is a surfer who chooses to live off welfare and spend his days surfing. He does not work, contribute, or care about anything else. He is happy with his lifestyle and does not harm anyone else. Is he free? Is he just?

Libertarianism and Freedom

The eighth chapter explains and critiques libertarianism, a political philosophy that advocates for minimal government intervention and maximum individual freedom. Libertarianism is based on the principle of self-ownership, which means that each person has full rights over his or her own body and property. According to this view, taxation, regulation, redistribution, and paternalism are all forms of coercion that violate individual rights and freedom. The chapter also examines some of the arguments for and against libertarianism, such as the arguments from consent, natural rights, efficiency, equality, and community.

Markets and Morals

```html have many benefits, such as promoting efficiency, innovation, and choice. However, markets can also have some drawbacks, such as creating inequality, externalities, and exploitation. Moreover, markets can also corrupt or degrade some goods and values that are not meant to be bought and sold, such as friendship, honor, citizenship, and human dignity. The chapter also discusses some examples of controversial markets, such as markets for organs, sex, drugs, gambling, and education.


Summary of the main points

In conclusion, Justice by Michael Sandel is a book that invites readers to think critically about some of the most difficult and important questions of our time. The book covers various theories of justice, such as utilitarianism, Kantianism, and libertarianism, and shows how they apply to contemporary issues such as murder, life valuation, and freedom. The book also challenges readers to question their own moral intuitions and judgments and to consider how they can contribute to a more just society.

Evaluation of the book

The book is a well-written and engaging introduction to the field of political philosophy and moral reasoning. The book uses clear and accessible language and examples to explain complex and abstract concepts. The book also provides a balanced and fair presentation of different perspectives and arguments without imposing a single or definitive answer. The book stimulates readers' curiosity and interest in the topic and encourages them to explore further.

Recommendations for further reading

For readers who want to learn more about justice and moral reasoning, here are some recommendations for further reading:

  • The Republic by Plato: A classic work of political philosophy that explores the nature and meaning of justice in an ideal society.

  • Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle: A foundational work of moral philosophy that examines the concept of virtue and the good life.

  • Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes: A seminal work of social contract theory that argues for the necessity of a strong sovereign to ensure peace and order.

  • A Theory of Justice by John Rawls: A modern work of political philosophy that proposes a theory of justice based on fairness and equality.

  • Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick: A libertarian critique of Rawls's theory of justice that defends the minimal state and individual rights.


  • What is justice?

Justice is a complex and contested concept that can have different meanings and interpretations depending on the context and perspective. Generally speaking, justice is the idea of fairness or rightness in the distribution of benefits and burdens in society.

  • What are some theories of justice?

Some theories of justice are utilitarianism, Kantianism, libertarianism, egalitarianism, communitarianism, feminism, multiculturalism, etc. Each theory has its own assumptions, principles, arguments, and implications for how justice should be defined and achieved.

  • What are some methods of moral reasoning?

Some methods of moral reasoning are cost-benefit analysis, rights-based reasoning, duty-based reasoning, virtue-based reasoning, care-based reasoning, etc. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages for how moral dilemmas should be resolved.

  • What are some examples of moral dilemmas?

Some examples of moral dilemmas are the trolley problem, the transplant surgeon case, the Ford Pinto case, the libertarian surfer case, etc. Each dilemma poses a conflict between different values or interests that require a moral judgment.

  • Why is it important to study justice and moral reasoning?

It is important to study justice and moral reasoning because they help us to understand ourselves and others better. They also help us to develop our critical thinking and civic skills. They also help us to contribute to a more just society.



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