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Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? is an accidental find and a very great read (so far). I stumbled upon it at the neighborhood book and decided to take it home after perusing the first two chapters. Michael J. Sandel, a professor of government at Harvard University, seeks to bring implicit arguments over justice into the open, and to persuade liberals that there is nothing wrong with being judgmental. In debates ranging from affirmative action and surrogate parenting to abortion and same-sex marriage, we must talk, he says, about virtue and desert, not just compassion and choice. “Justice is inescapably judgmental,” he writes. “A politics emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic life. It is also an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.”

Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, based on a famous course that Sandel teaches, offers a discussion of what Sandel regards as the three main competing views of justice. The first of these takes welfare to be the criterion of justice. Another approach takes freedom and rights to be fundamental to justice. The third view, the one to which Sandel is himself inclined, stresses virtue. What character traits should the government, as well as society as whole, endeavor to inculcate in the population?


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