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Examining Sandel’s proposal Essay

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Updated: Dec 14th, 2019


The question of the right ways of ensuring that the rules that govern the society accomplish justice is an intriguing one even to the most advanced civilizations all over the globe. Scholars adopt various ways in their interpretation of what constitutes justice. They have also come up with the necessary ingredients that form part of the characteristics of political systems to ensure that justice is availed to every member of the society irrespective of the existing social differences.

One of such an approach is to perceive justice as a way of ensuring maximization of welfare or rather utilities to facilitate happiness for the wider society. The paper examines the four principles about justice that Sandel defends in What Is the Right Thing to Do. Later, it presents a response about Sandel’s proposals. It also provides a clear explanation of what policy, law or moral principle that two authors in Justice: A Reader would defend on that topic alongside the writer’s opinion on the same.

Examination of Sandel’s proposal

Among the principles, which may lead to the achievement of justice, which Sandel immensely defends include the citizenship, sacrifice and services, the moral limits of the markets, inequality, solidarity and civic virtue, as well as politics of moral engagement. According to Sandel, the utilitarian approach faces two significant defects. Sandel argues that this approach “makes justice and rights as a matter of calculation, not a principle” (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” 260).

This argument is somehow crucial. This holds when one bears in mind that accomplishment of justice needs people to have priory established and laid out rules and regulations that he/she has to follow to arrive at what is right. The second defect of utilitarian perception of justice according to Sandel is that it “tries to translate all human goods into single, uniform measure of value. This flattens them and takes no account of the qualitative differences among them” (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” 260).

To resolve these defects, there is a need for a different interpretation of the right things that one ought to do to arrive at a just and fair society. One of such a different approach would require the interpretation of justice from the concepts of freedoms of choice.

Unfortunately, Sandel argues that this approach solves the first defect of the utilitarian approach of justice interpretation. It fails to solve the second problem since the theories based on freedoms of choice “don’t require one to question or challenge the preferences and desires he/she brings to public life” (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” 261).

Citizenship, sacrifice and services encompass one of the principles that Sandel, immensely defends. He claims that it has the capacity to render the society more just. For people to engage in activities that promote and inculcate the highest sense of communalism, they need to inculcate some sense on citizenship.

A second attribute is placing moral limitation to the free markets. Marketing of social responsibilities, arguably, leads to degradation or rather corruption of the precise norms that guide the society’s social practices. In this context, Sandel argues, “people need to make inquiries about the constituents of nonmarket norms that need protection against market intrusions” (Sandel “Justice: A reader” 89).

There is the need for adequate answers into this inquiry. This may help by far in arriving at the right way of seeking mechanisms of ensuring emergence of a better society in terms of justice. Failure to accomplish this perhaps makes the realization of justice exceedingly impaired.

Now, Sandel postulates that “unless people want to let markets rewrite the norms that govern social institutions, they need a public debate about the moral limits of the markets” (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” p. 265). Furthermore, in an endeavor to realize justice propelled by the concerns of collective reasoning, people need to address ardently the questions of inequalities and civic virtues.

In this context, the Sandel’s third principle: inequality, solidarity and civic virtue make some sense. This is perhaps a paramount endeavor since inequalities like the ones resulting to widening the gaps between the poor and the rich serve to escalate the existence of more and more injustices within the society.

“Politics of moral engagements” is another conspicuous principle that Sandel upholds in his book Justice: What is the right thing to do? (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” 268). Majority of people presumes that public involvements in interrogation about the concerns of the abundant life embrace civic transgressions.

This presumption is crucial, as Sandel voices it out “politics and law should not become entangled in moral and religious disputes. However, people often think that such entanglement opens the way to coercion and intolerance” (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” 268). It is, however, crucial to note that, one cannot conduct politics in an environment that is neutral.

Moral principles of authors from Justice: A Reader

Among the authors in Justice: A Reader include John Rawl. John Rawl upholds the moral principle that human beings are worth of respect. Arguably, John Rawl would enormously concur with Sandel’s proposal on the capacity of the moral engagement to contribute to the realization of justice.

To reinforce this point, Rawl posits that “one way to think about justice is to imagine a social contract in which people come together to choose the basic principles that will govern their society” (Rawl 203). Sandal, on the other hand, argues in the lines of how people need to construct politics on grounds based on mutual respect.

Such an endeavor, more often than not may have at most an effect on minimization of prejudices among certain classes of people in the society in terms of according justice. Basing politics on the foundations of mutual respect, however, requires “more robust and engaged civic life than the one to which we have become accustomed” (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” 268). To some people, respecting other people’s beliefs, among them religious inclination, infers ignoring them in their reasoning.

To this end, a question remains, does ignorance of other people’s beliefs and practices amount to upholding the rule of justice guided by the very principles that regulate the interactions of people in the society?. However, Rawls confirms this from a different dimension. According to him, coming together for people to think collectively on the right things to do, calls the group of people concerned to seek the guidance of certain norms that apply equally to the entire group.

One may see these binding principles as to constitute the forces of morality. This way, it is evident that Rawl perhaps concurs with Sandel. For instance, he argues that, “rather than avoiding the moral and religious convictions that our fellow citizens bring to public life, we should attend to them more directly-sometimes challenging and contesting them, sometimes by listening to and learning from them” (Sandel “Justice: What is the right thing to do” 268).

From this line of view, the basis for sound justice seems largely inseparable from moral engagements. In fact, this may form adequate foundations for just and fair society.

In accordance with the myriads of acceptance of justice, John Stuart, another author in Justice: A Reader believes that morality entangles personal rights. According to him, morality is a dream without the recognition of personal rights. In fact, he contends that morality entails “a claim on the part of one or more individuals, like that which the law gives when it confers a proprietary or other legal right” (Mill 39).

Arguably, Mill sees justices pegged of moral engagement as relative. To him, justice may entail the deprival or even conferment of rights unnecessarily. Mill would perhaps question Sandel’s proposal for the capacity of justice to ensure fairness.

Would the person deprived of what he or she calls his or her right feel fairly treated when that right is eroded based on moral fairness considerations? Mill would thus not see moral engagements as catalysts of achievement of justice as Sandel proposes but rather as two distinct elements of forces that determine the actions of the society. He would shape them differently.


Since the two authors, Rawl and Mill, uphold two differing moral principles, which they adequately back up, there is need to compare them based on the quality and weight of the evidence provided. According to the writer, Rawl’s views are the most illuminating based on the way he backs up his idea of bestowing respect to human beings.

This defense lies on the ideas about the value of appealing justice. It predominantly relies on the perception that, for realization of fine justice to the society, people need to reason together about what is right or wrong. Perhaps looking at justice this way, one rules out other approaches to seeking justice in society.

These include perceiving justice as a way of ensuring maximization of welfare or rather utilities. This happens to facilitate happiness for the wider society and from the dimension of looking at justice as a tool for paying due respect to freedoms of choice.

Personal opinion

In the light of presentation of justice from the context of fostering the four principles that Sandel immensely defends, I believe that the exercise of justice means that fairness must prevail in the society. I wish to declare all the principles as imperative in any just society.

However, given a chance, I would defend the principle of social and economic inequalities. Concisely, this principle advocates for fairness as a trait of any society perceived as fair in terms of according justice to its members without discrimination. Congruent with this line of thought, I believe that reason on what is right and or wrong must characterize justice. However, certain forces of coercion such as differences in terms of power or mightiness need not to determine the choice of what is wrong or right.

With this regard, justice needs to foster fairness, as opposed to its historic association with fate, divine providence or even reincarnation. Equality forms an essential element that gigantically helps in defining the coordinates of justice. This perhaps stands out based on the manner of distributing wealth, opportunities and respect. The respect advocated for here is tantamount to that advocated by Sandel: one based on mutual respect.

Works Cited

Mill, John. Utilitarianism. London: Routledge, 2003, Print.

Rawl, John. A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Sandel, Michael. Justice: A reader. Oxford: Oxford University press, 2007. Print.

Sandel, Michael. Justice: What is the right thing to do? New York: Farar, Sraus and Giroux, 2009. Print.

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