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Justice

What's the Right Thing to Do?

By Michael J. Sandel
18-minute read
Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel

What is justice? How can we act in a just and morally correct way? Drawing on various examples from everyday life, Michael J. Sandel illustrates how differently the idea of justice can be interpreted, for example, by philosophers like Aristotle and Kant. Over the course of Justice (2009), he urges us to critically question our own convictions and societal conventions.

  • Anyone interested in ethics and philosophy
  • Anyone who wants to find out more about the concept of justice
  • Anyone looking for philosophical answers to questions in life

Michael J. Sandel (b. 1953) is an American philosopher. He studied at Oxford and has been teaching political philosophy at Harvard for three decades. His lectures on justice have become so popular that tickets for seats in his lecture hall have to be raffled off. In 2009 his lectures were documented for American television and can now be viewed online at www.justiceharvard.org.

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Justice

What's the Right Thing to Do?

By Michael J. Sandel
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel
Synopsis

What is justice? How can we act in a just and morally correct way? Drawing on various examples from everyday life, Michael J. Sandel illustrates how differently the idea of justice can be interpreted, for example, by philosophers like Aristotle and Kant. Over the course of Justice (2009), he urges us to critically question our own convictions and societal conventions.

Key idea 1 of 11

We sharpen our sense of justice by exploring different philosophical perspectives.

Although it’s not possible to come up with a universal definition of justice, it makes sense to deal with different theories of justice over the history of philosophy, compare them, and weigh their strengths and weaknesses against one another.

We therefore shouldn’t think of the great philosophers as antiquated thinkers, but as engaging interlocutors and advisers on practical questions of our modern, everyday situation: How should we judge progressive taxes? Am I allowed to make promises I can’t keep? How can we make a solid argument for same-sex marriage? Philosophers like Kant, Aristotle and John Rawls give us answers that in turn help us find our own answers.

Bearing various theories in mind can help us sharpen our sense of justice, driving us to question our rigid positions, explore new ways of approaching complex problems and, in doing so, see them in a new light.

By asking the right questions, comparing possible answers and judging them by the different standards promoted by each of these schools of philosophy, we can develop an idea of what we think is just.

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