by Michael J. Sandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of the clearest and most fun books on moral and political philosophy that I've read in a long time.
The core of this book is a very clear and concise explanation of the major approaches to the question of justice throughout the history of philosophy, which I suppose could be roughly classified as utilitarian, libertarian, Kantian, Rawlsian, Aristotelian, and communitarian. (Yes, Sandel covers them in roughly that order. It's not chronological, but it effectively highlights the similarities and differences in the way the various philosophies try to define justice.) I think I now understand each of these approaches and their strengths and weaknesses better than I have before. (If there's one that I'm still fuzzy on, it's the communitarian philosophy that Sandel himself espouses. Maybe he was a touch shy about proselytizing, or maybe I'm finding that particular philosophy harder to get to grips with because it's the first time I've encountered it.)
Sandel also has a real gift for using concrete situations to illustrate ethical and philosophical principles. His real-world examples not only help you get to grips with the sometimes rather abstract elements of various philosophies, but they make for great conversational fodder. This is a great book to read along with a friend, or with a book group.
Sandel finishes up the book with some interesting comments on the role of moral arguments in present-day American political discourse. He makes the somewhat familiar argument that liberals have made a mistake in trying to be scrupulously morally neutral in their approach to public policy, thus effectively ceding the moral ground to religious conservatives. I'm never quite sure what to make of this argument - I've never considered my own liberalism to be divorced from questions of morality. But Sandel offers lots of food for thought. View all my reviews >>