Reading 2013: Justice

March 14, 2013


Michael J. Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? offers a comprehensive exploration of essential questions that we face in today’s world: from affirmative action to moral limits on markets, from same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, and how we promote enrollment into military service.

As to the title, it could just as easily be called Ethics; this is not necessarily a treatise on merely social justice or law. Nor does Sandel give his readers a final statement on what is the right thing to do in each of these issues. (Although in several cases he does make clear what direction he favors.) Justice explores a variety of perspectives (e.g., Utilitarianism, Libertarianism, Communitarianism) from which to view these situations, and a reasonable explanation of each is given. Sandel also examines these issue through the philosophies of Kant, Rawls, and Aristotle. In a sense, the book is a primer on the development and articulation of secular morality.

This is not a theological treatment of these issues, but a philosophical one. Nor is it done from a Christian perspective. Yet, whatever one’s faith, this book asks important questions that cannot be ignored forever. Religion, and particularly the morality of Judeo-Christianity, is impossible to leave out of the picture entirely when considering justice and ethics, as Sandel emphasizes in the book.

This book was referenced by Timothy Keller in Generous Justice when discussing the common tendency among secularists to push for religion to be excluded from any politics or promotion of justice. Sandel is out of the ordinary in this instance, as is Keller, to a degree, in his promoting working alongside non-believers as we try to promote justice–an earthly picture of eventual, eternal shalom.


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