Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics / Edition 1

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Overview


In this book, Michael Sandel takes up some of the hotly contested moral and political issues of our time, including affirmative action, assisted suicide, abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, the meaning of toleration and civility, the gap between rich and poor, the role of markets, and the place of religion in public life. He argues that the most prominent ideals in our political life--individual rights and freedom of choice--do not by themselves provide an adequate ethic for a democratic society. Sandel calls for a politics that gives greater emphasis to citizenship, community, and civic virtue, and that grapples more directly with questions of the good life. Liberals often worry that inviting moral and religious argument into the public sphere runs the risk of intolerance and coercion. These essays respond to that concern by showing that substantive moral discourse is not at odds with progressive public purposes, and that a pluralist society need not shrink from engaging the moral and religious convictions that its citizens bring to public life.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Investigating the ways in which morality and politics intersect, Sandel (Democracy's Discontent) considers both the hot-button issues of contemporary political life-abortion, homosexuality, Clinton's bad behavior-and the weighty arguments of political philosophers from Kant to Rawls. He does so in essays that have been published over many years in both general audience venues and scholarly publications. The use of previously published essays makes for some repetition, and not all of his styles and approaches work effectively. The opening chapter, a historical overview of American public philosophy, explains in ponderous generalities "how the aspiration to neutrality finds prominent expression in our politics and law." But the later essays are better written. Some, such as "Honor and Resentment," an essay on whether a wheelchair-bound girl has the right to cheerlead, are short and sprightly. Others, like "The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self," are long and incisive. Uniting the book are a few common themes: the importance of community, the insufficiency of individual rights as a basis for a democratic society and the need for political arguments to engage with questions of morality. All in all, this is an effective, though sometimes lumpy, blend of the wonky and the philosophical. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sandel (government, Harvard; Democracy's Discontent) sets out to explain the importance of civic life to democracy and the role that moral convictions play in our civic identity. He begins by tracing the history of American civic life and argues that, over time, we have lost our civic identity by viewing citizens as independent beings whose political choices are not influenced by moral ideals. According to Sandel, liberal theories, such as John Rawls's "unencumbered self," are mistaken in their belief that individuals make choices independent of their moral views, and he uses past court decisions on civil rights issues to prove his argument. He explains that our living in a pluralist society with differing moral ideals does not inhibit our discussion of issues like abortion and stem-cell research but instead helps us resolve them by looking at what it means to live "a good life." This thought-provoking book will be valuable to the general reader as well as scholars. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Scott Duimstra, Capital Area District Lib., Lansing, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The New York Review of Books

Michael Sandel...believes that liberal appeals to individual rights and to the broad values of fairness and equality make a poor case for the progressive case, both as a matter of strategy and as a matter of principle. The country and the Democratic party would be better off, he thinks, if progressives made more of an effort to inspire the majority to adopt their vision of the common good and make it the democratic ground for public policy and law....Anyone concerned over the political success of conservatism in recent years must be interested in this critical analysis.
— Thomas Nagel

Social Theory and Practice

Are the key values and beliefs that drive democracy in the United States sufficient to cope with our current problems? Since publishing his first book in 1982, Michael Sandel has offered a negative answer to that question by focusing on what he sees as widespread feelings of anxiety emerging from citizens’ recognition that they are unable to shape either their personal or their collective environments. He roots that pathology in our uncritical acceptance of rights, fairness, and individual choice as the hard parameters of legitimate politics, and proposes instead a return to a pre-liberal perfectionism that emphasizes responsibility, civic duty, and the common good. This new volume, which collects articles previously published between 1983 and 2004, provides a valuable overview of what Sandel calls his “public philosophy”...His arguments are broad-ranging, lucid, and sincere in their concern for our current public maladies. As such, they demand attention and engagement.
— William Lund

Jean Bethke Elshtain
Michael Sandel can always be counted on to write with elegance and intelligence about important things. Whether you agree or not, you cannot ignore his arguments. We need all the sane voices we can get in the public square and Sandel's is one of the sanest.
E.J. Dionne Jr.
No matter what your politics are, you will find Michael
Sandel's Public Philosophy exciting, invigorating, discerning and encouraging. Conservatives will discover a liberalism they didn't know existed: profoundly concerned with responsibility, community and the importance of individual virtue. Liberals and Democrats who know their side needs an engaging public philosophy will find its bricks and mortar, its contours and basic principles, right here in these pages. To a political debate that is too often dispiriting and sterile, Sandel has offered a brilliant and badly needed antidote.
Stephen Macedo
Michael Sandel is one of the world's best known and most influential political theorists. He is unusual for the range of practical ethical issues that he has addressed: life, death, sports, religion, commerce, and more. These essays are lucid, pointed, often highly subtle and revealing. Sandel has something important and worthwhile to say about every topic he addresses.
The New York Review of Books - Thomas Nagel
Michael Sandel...believes that liberal appeals to individual rights and to the broad values of fairness and equality make a poor case for the progressive case, both as a matter of strategy and as a matter of principle. The country and the Democratic party would be better off, he thinks, if progressives made more of an effort to inspire the majority to adopt their vision of the common good and make it the democratic ground for public policy and law....Anyone concerned over the political success of conservatism in recent years must be interested in this critical analysis.
Social Theory and Practice - William Lund
Are the key values and beliefs that drive democracy in the United States sufficient to cope with our current problems? Since publishing his first book in 1982, Michael Sandel has offered a negative answer to that question by focusing on what he sees as widespread feelings of anxiety emerging from citizens’ recognition that they are unable to shape either their personal or their collective environments. He roots that pathology in our uncritical acceptance of rights, fairness, and individual choice as the hard parameters of legitimate politics, and proposes instead a return to a pre-liberal perfectionism that emphasizes responsibility, civic duty, and the common good. This new volume, which collects articles previously published between 1983 and 2004, provides a valuable overview of what Sandel calls his “public philosophy”...His arguments are broad-ranging, lucid, and sincere in their concern for our current public maladies. As such, they demand attention and engagement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019287
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government, Harvard University, and the author most recently of Public Philosophy (Harvard).
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Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I. American Civic Life

1. America's Search for a Public Philosophy

2. Beyond Individualism: Democrats and Community

3. The Politics of Easy Virtue

4. Big Ideas

5. The Problem with Civility

6. Impeachment—Then and Now

7. Robert F. Kennedy's Promise

Part II. Moral and Political Arguments

8. Against State Lotteries

9. Commercials in the Classroom

10. Branding the Public Realm

11. Sports and Civic Identity

12. History for Sale

13. The Market for Merit

14. Should We Buy the Right to Pollute?

15. Honor and Resentment

16. Arguing Affirmative Action

17. Should Victims Have a Say in Sentencing?

18. Clinton and Kant on Lying

19. Is There a Right to Assisted Suicide?

20. Embryo Ethics: The Moral Logic of Stem Cell Research

21. Moral Argument and Liberal Toleration: Abortion and Homosexuality

Part III. Liberalism, Pluralism, and Community

22. Morality and the Liberal Ideal

23. The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self

24. Justice as Membership

25. The Peril of Extinction

26. Dewey's Liberalism and Ours

27. Mastery and Hubris in Judaism: What's Wrong with Playing God?

28. Political Liberalism

29. Remembering Rawls

30. The Limits of Communitarianism

Notes

Credits

Index

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