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Also of value on the periphery is Sandel's primer on Justice (political philosophy)

Posted By: Ross Mitchell on March 2, 2010
Almost as an aside, Michael J. Sandel (2009) highlights how the Right has filled the vacuum in public political discourse (at least before the 2008 presidential campaign) concerning what is honorable and virtuous in our society in his recent book *Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?*

Sandel offers three big ideas that encompass the political philosophy of justice: "maximizing welfare, respecting freedom, and promoting virtue" (p. 6). He makes a compelling argument that 19th and 20th century discourse was dominated by the first two--frequently to escape the oppression of authoritarian regimes and stifling religious conformity--leaving a vacuum for contemporary religious conservatives to fill when it comes to matters of promoting virtue or the good. Moreover, he makes clear that, especially when it comes to education (though he only addresses higher education at any length), the matter of what is honored and recognized as virtuous is unavoidable when debating justice.

A pithy summary of Sandel's view on one issue of importance is that there are "three categories of moral responsibility
1. Natural duties: universal; don't require consent
2. Voluntary obligations: particular; require consent
3. Obligations of solidarity: particular; don't require consent" (2009, p. 225).
The third is especially important because it helps to bring culture back in to debates about what is just, through formal schooling or otherwise, because the other two are either too abstract or too of-the-moment to recognize "[how one's] life story is implicated in the stories of others" (p. 225). Life as we live it is filled with obligations of solidarity, not just contractual or transcendent rights and duties, and these responsibilities have the potential to create tremendous personal and social conflict. I believe Sandel is urging us to engage the important particularization of life stories--the entirety of the case--and not just the universal or technical truths of the situation when seeking a just resolution, which I believe demands the kind of democratic deliberation called for by such writers as Amy Gutmann (1999).

In sum, it seems to me, the take-home message offered by Sandel is that justice requires attention to three conceptions, welfare, freedom, and virtue, and that anyone who wishes to dominate political discourse will need to appeal to all three.

Ross E. Mitchell
School of Education
University of Redlands
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 Also of value on the periphery is Sandel's primer on Justice (political philosophy) by Ross Mitchell on March 2, 2010
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