Justice: what’s the right thing to do?

Michael Sandel; Farrar Straus, and Giroux 2009; New York.

An exploration of the leading concepts of justice from Aristotle, to Kant, to Rawls. In the end offers his own views of how political and civic life should be approached and conducted. Sandel vouches for politics of moral engagement and recognises a need for “more robust and engaged civic life”, approached with “mutual respect”. Such politics is “not only a more inspiring ideal than a politics of avoidance,” as he says, “but is also a more promising basis for a just society”.

May add to this: at the moment these are just excerpts collected for the purpose of a research paper. 

Ch 1: Doing the right thing

“Maybe the moral difference lies not in the effect on the victims… but in the intention of the person making the decision”, p 22

“We sometimes think of moral reasoning as a way of persuading other people. But it is also a way of sorting out our own moral convictions, of figuring out what we believe and why”, p23

“Moral quandary… which principle has greater weight, or is more appropriate under the circumstances”, p23

Ch 8: Who deserves what? / Aristotle

Disabled Cheerleader story:
“resentment… what kind of resentment might motivate the head cheerleader’s father?”
“his resentment probably reflects a sense that Callie is being accorded and honour she doesn’t deserve, in a way that mocks the pride he takes in his daughter’s cheerleading prowess… a social practice once taken as fixed in its purpose and in the donors it bestowed was now, thanks to Callie, redefined”, p185.

According to Aristotle;
1. “Justice is teleological. Defining rights requires us to figure out the telos (the purpose, end, or essential nature) of the social practice in question.
2. Justice is honorific: to reason about the telos of a practice – or to argue about it – is, at least in part, to reason or argue about what virtues it should honour and award, p186

What is the purpose of politics?
“For Aristotle, the purpose of politics is not to set up a framework of rights that neutral among ends. It is to form good citizens and cultivate good character”, p193

“Why can’t we live perfectly good, virtuous lives with politics?
The answer lies in our nature. Only by living in a polis and participating in politics do we fully realise our nature as human beings. Aristotle sees us as beings ‘meant for political association, in a higher degree than bees or other gregarious animals.'” p195.

Ch 10: Justice and the Common Good

Obama, June 28 2006
“‘I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can’t impose my own religious views on another’…he now thought his response had been inadequate, and “did not adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and my own beliefs”, p245

“He proceeded to describe his own Christian faith and to argue for the relevance of religion to political argument. It was a mistake, he thought, for progressives to ‘abandon the field of religious discourse’ in politics. ‘The discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms.’ If liberals offered a political discourse emptied of religious content, they would foreit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.”

Quoting Obama:
“Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity”, p246.

Same-Sex Marriage
Argument, “without entering into moral and religious controversies about the purpose of marriage — whether one personally approves or disapproves of gay and lesbian relationships, individuals should be free to choose their marital partners. To allow heterosexual but not homosexual couples to get married wrongly discriminates against gay men and lesbians, and denies them equality before the law”, p253.

“The case for same-sex marriage can’t be made on non-judgemental grounds. It depends on a certain conception of the telos of marriage… fundamentally a debate about whether gay and lesbian unions are worth of the honour and recognition that, in our society, state-sanctioned marriage wonders. So the underlying moral question is unavoidable,” p253-4.

Three policies:
1) recognise only marriages between a man and a woman;
2) recognise same-sex marriages and opposite-sex marriages;
3) don’t recognise marriage of any kind, but leave this role to private associations.

Third has an advantage in that does not have to engage in the moral and religious controversy over the purpose of marriage and the morality of homosexuality, p256.

“Autonomy and freedom of choice are insufficient to justify a right to same-sex marriage. If governments were truly neutral on the moral worth of all voluntary intimate relationships, then the state would have no grounds for limiting marriage to two persons; consensual polygamous partnerships would also qualify”, p257.

“Possible to adjudicate rival accounts of the purpose, or essence, of marriage? Is it possible to argue rationally about the meaning and purpose of morally contested social institutions such as marriage? Or it simply a clash of bald assertions – some say it’s about procreation, others say it’s about loving commitment – and there’s no other way of choosing one to be more plausible than the other?”, p259.

Uses all of this to basically assert, not a view of whether same-sex marriage should prevail, but rather to stress, “we can’t remain neutral toward competing conceptions of the good life”, p260

“To achieve a just society, we have to reason together about the meaning of the good life, and to create a public culture hospitable to the disagreements that will inevitably arise”, p261

“Justice is inescapably judgemental”, p261.

“Most of our political arguments revolve around welfare and freedom – increasing economic output and respecting people’s rights… The challenge is to imagine a politics that takes moral and spiritual questions seriously, but brings them to bear on broad economic and civic concerns, not only on sex and abortion”, p262.

When analysing Robert F Kennedy, whom he thought was “the most promising voice in this direction”, in how we saw that justice involved, “a higher moral purpose”:
“He did not hesitate to be judgemental. And yet, by invoking Americans’ pride in their country, he also, at the same time, appealed to a sense of community”, p262-3.

Just everything from p263-269.
– role of politics is to strength community, cultivate citizens with a concern for the whole, dedication to common good –> what is common good, and cultivation? indoctrination?
– moral limits of markets – marketising social practices may corrupt or degrade the norma that define them..
– inequalities create disparity in social solidarity – public services deteriorate as those who no longer use those services become less willing to support them with their taxes – hollowing out o public realm makes it difficult to cultivate the solidarity and sense of community on which democratic citizenship depends.
– robust public engagement, not neutrality
– with basis of mutual respect



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