《Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?》经典读后感

《Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?》经典读后感

《Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?》是一本由Michael Sandel著作,Allen Lane出版的平装图书,本书定价:203.00,页数:320 页,特精心从网络上整理的一些读者的读后感,希望对大家能有帮助。

《Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?》精选点评:

爱上政治哲学

自己大概是个偏不影响他人为前提、信息对称下只要参与各方都认同就合理合法的自由派且公民意识淡薄吧,桑德尔最后关于common good的表述完全不能说服我,除了个人有义务承担祖先的罪责这点。另外,私认为affirmative action就是另一种形式的歧视,虽然我很喜欢Rawls对moral desert的解析,但桑德尔帮忙写的那两封信有鼓吹阶级固化、引导人民接受不公的嫌疑

2012年11月开始读,2013年11月又重读,自己最爱的一类论辩风格。

想用《批评官员的尺度》中的一句话来形容,就是:若批评不自由,则赞美无意义。社会美好要的是自由和民主~~可惜我们还在路上一路坎坷前行~

书和课程一起看的,很有帮助。

不能说深奥,但是道理有些绕。还需要再读读才能完全懂。书评里梳理的非常好。

公正以及明辨是非实时上不可能存在,每个人作出判断的同时身上都会带有自己特定的情景。

2019.11.04 读完,马克 2019.11.07 华尔街追求利润、法官寻求公正平衡、教授传授思辨,各司其职。 华尔街贪婪谈不上对错,但为高额佣金推销/买进有毒衍生品,引发金融海啸却纳税人买单。有失职业水准。

文化自信的极好表达。

Politics: A good citizen has to practice it!

《Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?》读后感(一):小瓶子评《Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?》

这本书看看停停, 停停看看, 因为有太多地方值得思考.

何为一个公义的社会? 历史上不少哲学家都提出了他们的对理想社会的看法.

香港是既是一个功利主义及自由主义的社会, 但由于贫富悬殊越来越厉害, 我们觉得社会不公.

Michael Sandel 认为透过功利主义或自由主义, 都无法引领人类获取更好的生活.

功利主义寻求全人类的快乐减去痛苦的最大化. 这表面上很合理, 因为人总是倾向追求快乐而逃避痛苦. 但若然社会要把少数人杀死而成全大部分人的快乐, 这还是不是我们理想的公义社会呢? 如果牺牲一个正常人, 把他的器官分给五个病人, 可以救回五个人, 五>一, 这样是否公义?

自由主义尊重每个人的权利, 人人皆可以在不影响他人的情况下干自己想干的事. 这表面上也很合理. 但再细心去想, 这样的社会系统下, 家和国等观念便难以存在. 现代日本人未经历过战争, 南京大屠杀是上一代的事. 这种主义体制下, 日本人便无须因为他们拥有日本人的身份, 为父辈的劣行道歉或负责.

香港哲学教授李天命也提过类似的观点, 他批评「极端相对主义」的支持者口是心非.

「极端相对主义」指每个人都可以有他们自己的价值判断, 价值判断没有是非高下之分, 见仁见智, 我们不应该把自己的价值判断加诸别人身上.

李天命认为「极端相对主义」实际上是行不通的. 例如教育小孩要有礼貌, 如果小孩斗嘴说: 「礼貌与否是一种价值判断, 没有高下之分, 我就是不觉得需要礼貌. 」这就很难教导孩子了. 另一个弊端是这句子在逻辑上自我推翻. 「每个人都可以有他们自己的价值判断」本身就是一种价值判断, 所以把这种价值判断说出来便正正是把它加诸在别人身上, 因此是逻辑上的自我推翻.

Michael Sandel认为要建构一个公义的社会, 我们必须思考生命的本质, 究竟怎样才是人类美好的生活? 政府作为引领人民的机构, 是无法在价值判断上维持绝对的中立, 否则便无法教化市民.而人类作为高等灵性的生物, 除了追求肉体上的快乐和自由外, 也应该要培养责任及牺牲等美德.

《Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?》读后感(二):入门级的关于justice的分析

看完了全书,大概知道了一些关于justice的理论,但要求我进行总结的时候我发现没有能形成一个完整的理论体系。不知道是不是看英文同时记住真的有点吃力,前八章是在上班时候看的,可以看出我的上班是多么有限。但是真的需要改变这种上班状态。战线有点长,导致现在忘记了前面说的是什么。对公开课的印象也比较模糊。对书中的一些具体争论的片段由于hoghlight其内容了翻阅notes时候还有点印象。

对通俗读物的推崇也许就暴露了我的层次就是那么浅薄,但是这本书举的事例贴近我们日常生活,语言也通俗易懂,贴近大众,所以我还是觉得这本书不错。

第一章Doing the right thing举了飓风发生时,ice从两美元变成10美元,房屋修理费用,住宿费用暴涨,引出了这样的高收费对于遭遇不幸的人们的非人道的道德问题。一些经济学家争论商品应该由市场来控制的问题。在市场经济中,价格是由需求决定的,没有所谓的合理的价格。价格调控真的是情感上强大但是经济学上无意义的行为吗。高价格能吸引更多地物资流向需要的地方。这提出了道德和法律的两难的问题,法律应该禁止price gauging吗,应该干预买家和卖家的自由吗。

welfare,freedom, and virtue这个问题同时也是关于法律应当做什么,社会如何组织,公正是甚么的问题。关于price guaging提出了三个问题:maximizing welfare,respecting freedom,and promoting virtue.然后开始了对于价格管制的反对者和支持者的辩论。谁来判断是virtue or vice,government should be neutral.公正的古代的理论,Aristotle认为给人他们应得的。modern理论认为公正的社会是每个人有自由选择他们认为的好的生活。原来justice也是那么复杂的一个问题。这本书是关于道德和政治的反思。

救生艇吃人自救的例子提出了道德是关于权衡代价和利益,还是特定道德责任和人类权利是如此基本在这样的计算之上。如果特定的权利是如此基本,我们应该如此鉴别他们。接着作者提出了Bentham的功利主义。道德的最高原则是最大化快乐,总体的快乐的平衡于痛苦。看到这个原则,首先想到的是你不知道一个目前看上去是痛苦的事情你不知道以后是否让你获得更大的快乐。也许我的快乐就建立在我自身的痛苦之上呢。总是这个原则看上去就有点不靠谱,如何定义每个人的快乐呢。Libertarians认为我们有一个对于自由的基本权利,只要我们尊重他人的权利,就可以做我们想做的任何事情。

是否应该对富人征税我觉得最有说服力的理由是因为你出生在这个社会,刚好社会欣赏奖励你的这种能力,加上你的努力,你才可以造出巨大的财富,所以应该对你征税。其余理由如对穷人的关怀,平等社会等都不能成为征税的理由。我属于我自身,所以是错的让我牺牲我的权利为了他人的福利。

Kant提出了morality is about respecting persons as ends in themselves.我觉得他对一个人是否道德的争论有点极端,比如如果你考虑到这个行为的目的而去做某件事,而不是你内心真的认为这样“pure practical reason”,你就不能算是道德的。永远不应该说谎,听着就有点诡辩。关于自由,Kant认为是act autonomously according to a law I give myself。我觉得这个理论很奇葩,何谓我给自己的规则,我的想法一定会受到我出生的社会环境、文化、亲人等等的影响,这个本质的law就很难说。我可以给自己制定我一定要说谎的law。我觉得寻求快乐避免痛苦就是我给自己的law,但Kant说这不是act freely的表现。choose best means to a given end,我觉得end就是很难定义的.他说what matters is doing the right thing because it’s right, not because for some ulterior motive.Categorical imperative我觉得真的好难仔细定义清楚。我觉得争论act由于categorical 还是hypothetical原因判定我们是否是自由真的很没有意义,本来就是要受这个社会影响,出于那些原因而行动。

写的读书笔记相比我看的其它人写的针对此书的读书笔记,真的觉得自愧不如。没有条理、逻辑,文笔也很差。

《Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?》读后感(三):The Definition of Justice

About three years ago, Harvard created a new way for students to learn knowledge and exchange academic ideas that it uploaded many of its popular courses on the Internet, such as Professor Michael Sandel’s philosophy class Justice and Professor Tal Ben Shahar’s psychology class Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership. The university soon became the trailblazer of open courses that after that, Yale, Stanford, Cambridge and many other top universities successively uploaded their classes on iTunes in order to better and broader advertise their universities to the whole world.

Thus, that is how I got to know Michael Sandel and his great class: Justice.

efore I watched the whole 12-episode class, I held the impression of philosophy that it is boring and dry. People argue about it all the time from past till now, but no one is able to say who is right. To me, because when I was in high school we had to remember the theory which ancient people had come up with, philosophy used to be my least favorite subject to study.

However, in his first class of Justice, Professor Sandel asked the students several tricky questions which soon drew my attention and obsessed me. For example, suppose you’re the driver of a broken trolley car, will you stir your wheel from your original track which stand on five workers to avoid hitting them, and turn to another branch which stands only one person and kill him/her? Why or why not?

Those questions are all about morals. Yet because they trigger people to think in different perspectives with different but all justifiable reasons, they are not only about morals anymore. According to Professor Sandel, your answer determines the category you stand in, such as utilitarian and libertarian, and those categories therefore make the whole philosophy complicated but interesting.

Then we have one of the most interesting topics in philosophy, the moral correctness. When I was reading Les Miserable, I encountered so many scenes which readers cannot easily decide whether they are morally correct or not. For example, is stealing right? Definitely not. However, if someone steals foods only because he is extremely poor and cannot buy foods for his starving and dying daughter, is his stealing forgivable then? You might answer “probably”. Then what if I tell you that the stealer steals an apple from another poor family, and the apple he steals is the only food the family have? Now suppose you’re a judge, can you quickly and directly make decisions of this case? I kept asking myself what was right and what was wrong when I was reading the book, yet I would subvert all my initial opinions and hesitated between “true” and “false” all the time.

Then I made a conclusion: there’s no absolute “correctness”, no definite “right” and no certain “justice”.

Aristotle says that when people argue about justice they usually are “speaking of a limited and partial justice.” I totally agree. The first question I asked about Les Miserable indicates the limited and partial justice of the “stealee”. When we turn into the second and third question, we obviously can’t feel the confidence of the answer towards the first question. It is so difficult to talk about justice in the larger sense of the word rather than to discuss a limited aspect of justice, because we never know the future sequence of our decisions. In other words, we cannot include all the aspects of justice, and therefore we cannot make a perfect decision of justice.

When I was studying Economics, it seemed so reasonable for the government to tax the rich heavily to save the poor. However, in Economics there’re two determinants of a market: equity and efficiency. The weights of the two determinants decide the mode of the economy of a country. Generally, capitalism encourages more efficiency while communism cares more about equity. Therefore, though taxing the rich heavily to save the poor is apparently people’s preference and it seems so reasonable and justified, it’s not correct. People who earn money will lose the incentive (which is another significant determinant in Economics) to work, and without enough labour force the market will gradually lose the efficiency and cannot function anymore.

o as a conclusion, I don’t think there’s a definition of the word “Justice”. It’s so complex that it’s not something we could merely define with.

《Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?》读后感(四):笔记

Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, Sandel, Michael J.

If you look closely at the price-gouging debate, you’ll notice that the arguments for and against price-gouging laws revolve around three ideas: maximizing welfare, respecting freedom, and promoting virtue. Each of these ideas points

If you look closely at the price-gouging debate, you’ll notice that the arguments for and against price-gouging laws revolve around three ideas: maximizing welfare, respecting freedom, and promoting virtue. Each of these ideas points to a different way of thinking about justice.

Outrage is the special kind of anger you feel when you believe that people are getting things they don’t deserve. Outrage of this kind is anger at injustice.

o when we probe our reactions to price gouging, we find ourselves pulled in two directions: We are outraged when people get things they don’t deserve; greed that preys on human misery, we think, should be punished, not rewarded. And yet we worry when judgments about virtue find their way into law.

This dilemma points to one of the great questions of political philosophy: Does a just society seek to promote the virtue of its citizens? Or should law be neutral toward competing conceptions of virtue, so that citizens can be free to choose for themselves the best way to live?

The conviction that justice involves virtue as well as choice runs deep. Thinking about justice seems inescapably to engage us in thinking about the best way to live.

The dispute over the Purple Heart illustrates the moral logic of Aristotle’s theory of justice. We can’t determine who deserves a military medal without asking what virtues the medal properly honors. And to answer that question, we have to assess competing conceptions of character and sacrifice.

Americans are harder on failure than on greed. In market-driven societies, ambitious people are expected to pursue their interests vigorously, and the line between self-interest and greed often blurs. But the line between success and failure is etched more sharply. And the idea that people deserve the rewards that success bestows is central to the American dream.

A just society distributes these goods in the right way; it gives each person his or her due. The hard questions begin when we ask what people are due, and why.

ushing someone off a bridge to a certain death does seem an awful thing to do, even if it saves five innocent lives. But this raises a moral puzzle: Why does the principle that seems right in the first case—sacrifice one life to save five—seem wrong in the second?

In order to resolve the lifeboat case, as well as many less extreme dilemmas we commonly encounter, we need to explore some big questions of moral and political philosophy: Is morality a matter of counting lives and weighing costs and benefits, or are certain moral duties and human rights so fundamental that they rise above such calculations? And if certain rights are fundamental in this way—be they natural, or sacred, or inalienable, or categorical—how can we identify them? And what makes them fundamental?

entham, an English moral philosopher and legal reformer, founded the doctrine of utilitarianism. Its main idea is simply stated and intuitively appealing: The highest principle of morality is to maximize happiness, the overall balance of pleasure over pain. According to Bentham, the right thing to do is whatever will maximize utility. By “utility,” he means whatever produces pleasure or happiness, and whatever prevents pain or suffering.

ut is it possible to translate all moral goods into a single currency of value without losing something in the translation? The second objection to utilitarianism doubts that it is. According to this objection, all values can’t be captured by a common currency of value.

Mill’s robust celebration of individuality is the most distinctive contribution of On Liberty. But it is also a kind of heresy. Since it appeals to moral ideals beyond utility—ideals of character and human flourishing—it is not really an elaboration of Bentham’s principle but a renunciation of it, despite Mill’s claim to the contrary.

Mill concedes that “occasionally, under the influence of temptation,” even the best of us postpone higher pleasures to lower ones. Everyone gives in to the impulse to be a couch potato once in a while. But this does not mean we don’t know the difference between Rembrandt and reruns. Mill makes this point in a memorable passage: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.”

Libertarians favor unfettered markets and oppose government regulation, not in the name of economic efficiency but in the name of human freedom. Their central claim is that each of us has a fundamental right to liberty—the right to do whatever we want with the things we own, provided we respect other people’s rights to do the same.

eizing the results of someone’s labor is equivalent to seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities. If people force you to do certain work, or unrewarded work, for a certain period of time, they decide what you are to do and what purposes your work is to serve apart from your decisions. This . . . makes them a part-owner of you; it gives them a property right in you.

ut the renewed debate over the volunteer army and the draft brings us face-to-face with some big questions of political philosophy—questions about individual liberty and civic obligation. To explore these questions, let’s compare the three ways of allocating military service we have considered—conscription, conscription with a provision for hiring substitutes (the Civil War system), and the market system. Which is most just?

o the first objection to the market rationale for a volunteer army is concerned with unfairness and coercion—the unfairness of class discrimination and the coercion that can occur if economic disadvantage compels young people to risk their lives in exchange for a college education and other benefits.

The argument for upholding the surrogacy contract draws on the two theories of justice we’ve considered so far—libertarianism and utilitarianism. The libertarian case for contracts is that they reflect freedom of choice; to uphold a contract between two consenting adults is to respect their liberty. The utilitarian case for contracts is that they promote the general welfare; if both parties agree to a deal, both must derive some benefit or happiness from the agreement—otherwise, they wouldn’t have made it. So, unless it can be shown that the deal reduces someone else’s utility (and by more than it benefits the parties), mutually advantageous exchanges—including surrogacy contracts—should be upheld.

How free are the choices we make in the free market? And are there certain virtues and higher goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?

Libertarians offer a possible answer: Persons should not be used merely as means to the welfare of others, because doing so violates the fundamental right of self-ownership. My life, labor, and person belong to me and me alone. They are not at the disposal of the society as a whole.

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) offers an alternative account of duties and rights, one of the most powerful and influential accounts any philosopher has produced. It does not depend on the idea that we own ourselves, or on the claim that our lives and liberties are a gift from God. Instead, it depends on the idea that we are rational beings, worthy of dignity and respect.

Kant’s philosophy is hard going. But don’t let that scare you away. It is worth the effort, because the stakes are enormous. The Groundwork takes up a big question: What is the supreme principle of morality? And in the course of answering that question, it addresses another hugely important one: What is freedom?

Kant rejects approach one (maximizing welfare) and approach three (promoting virtue). Neither, he thinks, respects human freedom. So Kant is a powerful advocate for approach two—the one that connects justice and morality to freedom. But the idea of freedom he puts forth is demanding—more demanding than the freedom of choice we exercise when buying and selling goods on the market. What we commonly think of as market freedom or consumer choice is not true freedom, Kant argues, because it simply involves satisfying desires we haven’t chosen in the first place.

asing morality on interests and preferences destroys its dignity. It doesn’t teach us how to distinguish right from wrong, but “only to become better at calculation.”

He argues instead that we can arrive at the supreme principle of morality through the exercise of what he calls “pure practical reason.”

Kant argues that every person is worthy of respect, not because we own ourselves but because we are rational beings, capable of reason; we are also autonomous beings, capable of acting and choosing freely.

Kant argues that reason can be sovereign, at least some of the time. When reason governs our will, we are not driven by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Kant reasons as follows: When we, like animals, seek pleasure or the avoidance of pain, we aren’t really acting freely. We are acting as the slaves of our appetites and desires. Why? Because whenever we are seeking to satisfy our desires, everything we do is for the sake of some end given outside us. I go this way to assuage my hunger, that way to slake my thirst.

To act freely, according to Kant, is to act autonomously. And to act autonomously is to act according to a law I give myself—not according to the dictates of nature or social convention.

To act freely is not to choose the best means to a given end; it is to choose the end itself, for its own sake—a choice that human beings can make and billiard balls (and most animals) cannot.

For any action to be morally good, “it is not enough that it should conform to the moral law—it must also be done for the sake of the moral law.”5 And the motive that confers moral worth on an action is the motive of duty, by which Kant means doing the right thing for the right reason.

These cases bring out the plausibility of Kant’s claim that only the motive of duty—doing something because it’s right, not because it’s useful or convenient—confers moral worth on an action.

Taking pleasure in doing the right thing does not necessarily undermine its moral worth. What matters, Kant tells us, is that the good deed be done because it’s the right thing to do—whether or not doing it gives us pleasure.

Contrast 1 (morality): duty v. inclination Contrast 2 (freedom): autonomy v. heteronomy Contrast 3 (reason): categorical v. hypothetical imperatives

“If the action would be good solely as a means to something else,” Kant writes, “the imperative is hypothetical. If the action is represented as good in itself, and therefore as necessary for a will which of itself accords with reason, then the imperative is categorical.”

y “categorical,” Kant means unconditional.

“It is concerned not with the matter of the action and its presumed results, but with its form, and with the principle from which it follows. And what is essentially good in the action consists in the mental disposition, let the consequences be what they may.”

Only a categorical imperative, Kant argues, can qualify as an imperative of morality.

This leaves one big question: What is the categorical imperative, and what does it command of us? Kant says we can answer this question from the idea of “a practical law that by itself commands absolutely and without any further motives.”18 We can answer this question from the idea of a law that binds us as rational beings regardless of our particular ends.

For Kant, seeing whether I could universalize the maxim of my action and continue acting on it is not a way of speculating about possible consequences. It is a test to see whether my maxim accords with the categorical imperative. A false promise is not morally wrong because, writ large, it would undermine social trust (though it might well do so). It is wrong because, in making it, I privilege my needs and desires (in this case, for money) over everybody else’s. The universalizing test points to a powerful moral claim: it’s a way of checking to see if the action I am about to undertake puts my interests and special circumstances ahead of everyone else’s.

What could possibly have an absolute value, as an end in itself? Kant’s answer: humanity. “I say that man, and in general every rational being, exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will.”22 This is the fundamental difference, Kant reminds us, between persons and things. Persons are rational beings. They don’t just have a relative value, but if anything has, they have an absolute value, an intrinsic value. That is, rational beings have dignity.

For Kant, self-respect and respect for other persons flow from one and the same principle. The duty of respect is a duty we owe to persons as rational beings, as bearers of humanity.

ut Kantian respect is respect for humanity as such, for a rational capacity that resides, undifferentiated, in all of us.

For Kant, justice requires us to uphold the human rights of all persons, regardless of where they live or how well we know them, simply because they are human beings, capable of reason, and therefore worthy of respect.

Duty and autonomy go together only in a special case—when I am the author of the law I have a duty to obey.

Kant says we can’t help but understand ourselves from both standpoints—the empirical realm of physics and biology, and an “intelligible” realm of free human agency.

As a natural being, I belong to the sensible world. My actions are determined by the laws of nature and the regularities of cause and effect. This is the aspect of human action that physics, biology, and neuroscience can describe. As a rational being, I inhabit an intelligible world. Here, being independent of the laws of nature, I am capable of autonomy, capable of acting according to a law I give myself.

“When we think of ourselves as free, we transfer ourselves into the intelligible world as members and recognize the autonomy of the will together with its consequence—morality.”

ecause we inhabit, simultaneously, both standpoints—the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom—there is always potentially a gap between what we do and what we ought to do, between the way things are and the way they ought to be.

The desire which a man has for a woman is not directed toward her because she is a human being, but because she is a woman; that she is a human being is of no concern to the man; only her sex is the object of his desires.

Human beings are “not entitled to offer themselves, for profit, as things for the use of others in the satisfaction of their sexual propensities.” To do so is to treat one’s person as a mere thing, an object of use. “The underlying moral principle is that man is not his own property and cannot do with his body what he will.”

Only when both partners share with each other their “person, body and soul, for good and ill and in every respect,” can their sexuality lead to “a union of human beings.”

o there is reason to conclude that, on Kant’s moral theory, true but misleading statements—to a murderer at the door, the Prussian censors, or the special prosecutor—are morally permissible in a way that bald-faced lies are not.

As he sees it, a just constitution aims at harmonizing each individual’s freedom with that of everyone else. It has nothing to do with maximizing utility, which “must on no account interfere” with the determination of basic rights. Since people “have different views on the empirical end of happiness and what it consists of,” utility can’t be the basis of justice and rights. Why not? Because resting rights on utility would require the society to affirm or endorse one conception of happiness over others. To base the constitution on one particular conception of happiness (such as that of the majority) would impose on some the values of others; it would fail to respect the right of each person to pursue his or her own ends. “No one can compel me to be happy in accordance with his conception of the welfare of others,” Kant writes, “for each may seek his happiness in whatever way he sees fit, so long as he does not infringe upon the freedom of others” to do the same.

Moral principles can’t be derived from empirical facts alone. Just as the moral law can’t rest on the interests or desires of individuals, principles of justice can’t rest on the interests or desires of a community. The mere fact that a group of people in the past agreed to a constitution is not enough to make that constitution just.

John Rawls (1921–2002), an American political philosopher, offers an illuminating answer to this question. In A Theory of Justice (1971), he argues that the way to think about justice is to ask what principles we would agree to in an initial situation of equality.

Rawls believes that two principles of justice would emerge from the hypothetical contract. The first provides equal basic liberties for all citizens, such as freedom of speech and religion. This principle takes priority over considerations of social utility and the general welfare. The second principle concerns social and economic equality. Although it does not require an equal distribution of income and wealth, it permits only those social and economic inequalities that work to the advantage of the least well off members of society.

The fact that a constitution is ratified by the people does not prove that its provisions are just.

Legal thinkers have debated this question for a long time. Can consent create an obligation on its own, or is some element of benefit or reliance also required?3 This debate tells us something about the morality of contracts that we often overlook: actual contracts carry moral weight insofar as they realize two ideals—autonomy and reciprocity.

First, the fact of an agreement does not guarantee the fairness of the agreement. Second, consent is not enough to create a binding moral claim.

Consent is not a necessary condition of moral obligation. If the mutual benefit is clear enough, the moral claims of reciprocity may hold even without an act of consent.

What do these various misadventures tell us about the morality of contracts? Contracts derive their moral force from two different ideals, autonomy and reciprocity. But most actual contracts fall short of these ideals. If I’m up against someone with a superior bargaining position, my agreement may not be wholly voluntary, but pressured or, in the extreme case, coerced. If I’m negotiating with someone with greater knowledge of the things we are exchanging, the deal may not be mutually beneficial. In the extreme case, I may be defrauded or deceived.

only those social and economic inequalities are permitted that work to the benefit of the least advantaged members of society.

Underlying the device of the veil of ignorance is a moral argument that can be presented independent of the thought experiment. Its main idea is that the distribution of income and opportunity should not be based on factors that are arbitrary from a moral point of view.

If Rawls is right, even a free market operating in a society with equal educational opportunities does not produce a just distribution of income and wealth. The reason: “Distributive shares are decided by the outcome of the natural lottery; and this outcome is arbitrary from a moral perspective. There is no more reason to permit the distribution of income and wealth to be settled by the distribution of natural assets than by historical and social fortune.”

The difference principle represents, in effect, an agreement to regard the distribution of natural talents as a common asset and to share in the benefits of this distribution whatever it turns out to be. Those who have been favored by nature, whoever they are, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out. The naturally advantaged are not to gain merely because they are more gifted, but only to cover the costs of training and education and for using their endowments in ways that help the less fortunate as well. No one deserves his greater natural capacity nor merits a more favorable starting place in society. But it does not follow that one should eliminate these distinctions. There is another way to deal with them. The basic structure of society can be arranged so that these contingencies work for the good of the least fortunate.

Rawls’s reply is that the difference principle permits income inequalities for the sake of incentives, provided the incentives are needed to improve the lot of the least advantaged.

Rawls replies that even effort may be the product of a favorable upbringing. “Even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances.”18 Like other factors in our success, effort is influenced by contingencies for which we can claim no credit. “It seems clear that the effort a person is willing to make is influenced by his natural abilities and skills and the alternatives open to him. The better endowed are more likely, other things equal, to strive conscientiously . . .”

The difference is this: Unlike a desert claim, an entitlement can arise only once certain rules of the game are in place. It can’t tell us how to set up the rules in the first place.

A just scheme, then, answers to what men are entitled to; it satisfies their legitimate expectations as founded upon social institutions. But what they are entitled to is not proportional to nor dependent upon their intrinsic worth. The principles of justice that regulate the basic structure of society . . . do not mention moral desert, and there is no tendency for distributive shares to correspond to it.

The successful often overlook this contingent aspect of their success. Many of us are fortunate to possess, at least in some measure, the qualities our society happens to prize. In a capitalist society, it helps to have entrepreneurial drive. In a bureaucratic society, it helps to get on easily and smoothly with superiors. In a mass democratic society, it helps to look good on television, and to speak in short, superficial sound bites. In a litigious society, it helps to go to law school, and to have the logical and reasoning skills that will allow you to score well on the LSATs.

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls rejects the counsel of complacence that Friedman’s view reflects. In a stirring passage, Rawls states a familiar truth that we often forget: The way things are does not determine the way they ought to be.

Rawls proposes that we deal with these facts by agreeing “to share one another’s fate,” and “to avail [ourselves] of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benefit.”26 Whether or not his theory of justice ultimately succeeds, it represents the most compelling case for a more equal society that American political philosophy has yet produced.

Dworkin argues that no applicant has a right that the university define its mission and design its admissions policy in a way that prizes above all any particular set of qualities—whether academic skills, athletic abilities, or anything else. Once the university defines its mission and sets its admissions standards, you have a legitimate expectation to admission insofar as you meet those standards better than other applicants. Those who finish in the top group of candidates—counting academic promise, ethnic and geographical diversity, athletic prowess, extracurricular activities, community service, and so on—are entitled to be admitted; it would be unfair to exclude them. But no one has a right to be considered according to any particular set of criteria in the first place.

Dworkin’s account of justice in university admissions runs parallel to Rawls’s account of justice in income distribution: It is not a matter of moral desert.

ut from the standpoint of fairness, the two cases stand or fall together. If diversity serves the common good, and if no one is discriminated against based on hatred or contempt, then racial preferences do not violate anyone’s rights. Why not? Because, following Rawls’s point about moral desert, no one deserves to be considered for an apartment or a seat in the freshman class according to his or her merits, independently defined. What counts as merit can be determined only once the housing authority or the college officials define their mission.

The affirmative action debate reflects competing notions of what colleges are for: To what extent should they pursue scholarly excellence, to what extent civic goods, and how should these purposes be balanced? Though a college education also serves the good of preparing students for successful careers, its primary purpose is not commercial. So selling education as if it were merely a consumer good is a kind of corruption.

Tying debates about justice to arguments about honor, virtue, and the meaning of goods may seem a recipe for hopeless disagreement. People hold different conceptions of honor and virtue. The proper mission of social institutions—whether universities, corporations, the military, the professions, or the political community generally—is contested and fraught. So it is tempting to seek a basis for justice and rights that keeps its distance from those controversies.

1. Justice is teleological. Defining rights requires us to figure out the telos (the purpose, end, or essential nature) of the social practice in question. 2. Justice is honorific. To reason about the telos of a practice—or to argue about it—is, at least in part, to reason or argue about what virtues it should honor and reward. The key to understanding Aristotle’s ethics and politics is to see the force of these two considerations, and the relation between them.

Justice discriminates according to merit, according to the relevant excellence.

The purpose of flutes is to produce excellent music. Those who can best realize this purpose ought to have the best ones.

In the ancient world, teleological thinking was more prevalent than it is today. Plato and Aristotle thought that fire rose because it was reaching for the sky, its natural home, and that stones fell because they were striving to get closer to the earth, where they belonged. Nature was seen as having a meaningful order. To understand nature, and our place in it, was to grasp its purpose, its essential meaning.

To explain natural phenomena in terms of purposes, meanings, and ends was now considered naïve and anthropomorphic. Despite this shift, the temptation to see the world as teleologically ordered, as a purposeful whole, is not wholly absent.

That arguments about universities—and cheerleaders and flutes—naturally proceed in this way bears out Aristotle’s point: Arguments about justice and rights are often arguments about the purpose, or telos, of a social institution, which in turn reflect competing notions of the virtues the institution should honor and reward.

To attribute some purpose or end to political community in advance would seem to preempt the right of citizens to decide for themselves. It would also risk imposing values not everyone shares. Our reluctance to invest politics with a determinate telos, or end, reflects a concern for individual freedom. We view politics as a procedure that enables persons to choose their ends for themselves.

For Aristotle, politics is about something higher. It’s about learning how to live a good life. The purpose of politics is nothing less than to enable people to develop their distinctive human capacities and virtues—to deliberate about the common good, to acquire practical judgment, to share in self-government, to care for the fate of the community as a whole.

Aristotle reasons from the purpose of the good to the appropriate way of distributing it. “Those who contribute most to an association of this character” are those who excel in civic virtue, those who are best at deliberating about the common good. Those who are greatest in civic excellence—not the wealthiest, or the most numerous, or the most handsome—are the ones who merit the greatest share of political recognition and influence.

ature makes nothing in vain, and human beings, unlike other animals, are furnished with the faculty of language. Other animals can make sounds, and sounds can indicate pleasure and pain. But language, a distinctly human capacity, isn’t just for registering pleasure and pain. It’s about declaring what is just and what is unjust, and distinguishing right from wrong. We don’t grasp these things silently, and then put words to them; language is the medium through which we discern and deliberate about the good.

Only in political association, Aristotle claims, can we exercise our distinctly human capacity for language, for only in a polis do we deliberate with others about justice and injustice and the nature of the good life. “We thus see that the polis exists by nature and that it is prior to the individual,” he writes in Book I of The Politics.

“Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit.” It’s the kind of thing we learn by doing. “The virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well.”

If moral virtue is something we learn by doing, we have somehow to develop the right habits in the first place. For Aristotle, this is the primary purpose of law—to cultivate the habits that lead to good character. “Legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.”

ractical wisdom is a moral virtue with political implications. People with practical wisdom can deliberate well about what is good, not only for themselves but for their fellow citizens, and for human beings in general. Deliberation is not philosophizing, because it attends to what is changeable and particular. It is oriented to action in the here and now. But it is more than calculation. It seeks to identify the highest human good attainable under the circumstances.

For Aristotle, justice is a matter of fit. To allocate rights is to look for the telos of social institutions, and to fit persons to the roles that suit them, the roles that enable them to realize their nature. Giving persons their due means giving them the offices and honors they deserve and the social roles that accord with their nature.

Let me put the point as delicately as possible: Golfers are somewhat sensitive about the status of their game. It involves no running or jumping, and the ball stands still. No one doubts that golf is a demanding game of skill. But the honor and recognition accorded great golfers depends on their sport being seen as a physically demanding athletic competition. If the game at which they excel can be played while riding in a cart, their recognition as athletes could be questioned or diminished. This may explain the vehemence with which some professional golfers opposed Casey Martin’s bid for a cart. Here is Tom Kite, a twenty-five-year veteran of the PGA Tour, in an op-ed piece in The New York Times:

Debates about justice and rights are often, unavoidably, debates about the purpose of social institutions, the goods they allocate, and the virtues they honor and reward. Despite our best attempts to make law neutral on such questions, it may not be possible to say what’s just without arguing about the nature of the good life.

The principled objection to official apologies is not easy to dismiss. It rests on the notion that we are responsible only for what we ourselves do, not for the actions of other people, or for events beyond our control. We are not answerable for the sins of our parents or our grandparents or, for that matter, our compatriots.

For Kant and Rawls, theories of justice that rest on a certain conception of the good life, whether religious or secular, are at odds with freedom. By imposing on some the values of others, such theories fail to respect persons as free and independent selves, capable of choosing their own purposes and ends. So the freely choosing self and the neutral state go hand in hand: It is precisely because we are free and independent selves that we need a framework of rights that is neutral among ends, that refuses to take sides in moral and religious controversies, that leaves citizens free to choose their values for themselves.

Rawls disagrees: “[T]he structure of teleological doctrines is radically misconceived: from the start they relate the right and the good in the wrong way. We should not attempt to give form to our life by first looking to the good independently defined.”29

The weakness of the liberal conception of freedom is bound up with its appeal. If we understand ourselves as free and independent selves, unbound by moral ties we haven’t chosen, we can’t make sense of a range of moral and political obligations that we commonly recognize, even prize. These include obligations of solidarity and loyalty, historic memory and religious faith—moral claims that arise from the communities and traditions that shape our identity. Unless we think of ourselves as encumbered selves, open to moral claims we have not willed, it is difficult to make sense of these aspects of our moral and political experience.

We all approach our own circumstances as bearers of a particular social identity. I am someone’s son or daughter, someone’s cousin or uncle; I am a citizen of this or that city, a member of this or that guild or profession; I belong to this clan, that tribe, this nation. Hence what is good for me has to be the good for one who inhabits these roles. As such, I inherit from the past of my family, my city, my tribe, my nation, a variety of debts, inheritances, rightful expectations and obligations. These constitute the given of my life, my moral starting point. This is in part what gives my own life its moral particularity.

The contrast with the narrative view of the self is clear. For the story of my life is always embedded in the story of those communities from which I derive my identity. I am born with a past; and to try to cut myself off from that past, in the individualist mode, is to deform my present relationships.

MacIntyre’s narrative conception of the person offers a clear contrast with the voluntarist conception of persons as freely choosing, unencumbered selves. How can we decide between the two? We might ask ourselves which better captures the experience of moral deliberation, but that is a hard question to answer in the abstract. Another way of assessing the two views is to ask which offers a more convincing account of moral and political obligation. Are we bound by some moral ties we haven’t chosen and that can’t be traced to a social contract?

On the liberal conception, obligations can arise in only two ways—as natural duties we owe to human beings as such and as voluntary obligations we incur by consent.43 Natural duties are universal. We owe them to persons as persons, as rational beings. They include the duty to treat persons with respect, to do justice, to avoid cruelty, and so on. Since they arise from an autonomous will (Kant) or from a hypothetical social contract (Rawls), they don’t require an act of consent.

Unlike natural duties, obligations of solidarity are particular, not universal; they involve moral responsibilities we owe, not to rational beings as such, but to those with whom we share a certain history. But unlike voluntary obligations, they do not depend on an act of consent. Their moral weight derives instead from the situated aspect of moral reflection, from a recognition that my life story is implicated in the stories of others.

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

Do we want people to be virtuous? Let us begin then by making them love their country. But how can they love it, if their country means nothing more to them than it does to foreigners, allotting to them only what it cannot refuse to anyone?

irth. The inequality of nations complicates the case for national community. If all countries had comparable wealth, and if every person were a citizen of some country or other, the obligation to take special care of one’s own people would not pose a problem—at least not from the standpoint of justice. But in a world with vast disparities between rich and poor countries, the claims of community can be in tension with the claims of equality. The volatile issue of immigration reflects this tension.

The inequality of nations complicates the case for national community. If all countries had comparable wealth, and if every person were a citizen of some country or other, the obligation to take special care of one’s own people would not pose a problem—at least not from the standpoint of justice. But in a world with vast disparities between rich and poor countries, the claims of community can be in tension with the claims of equality. The volatile issue of immigration reflects this tension.

Is there a moral basis for this reluctance? Yes, but only if you accept that we have a special obligation for the welfare of our fellow citizens by virtue of the common life and history we share. And this depends on accepting the narrative conception of personhood, according to which our identity as moral agents is bound up with the communities we inhabit.

o, if you believe that patriotism has a moral basis, if you believe that we have special responsibilities for the welfare of our fellow citizens, then you must accept the third category of obligation—obligations of solidarity or membership that can’t be reduced to an act of consent.

Obligations of solidarity and membership point outward as well as inward.

ride and shame are moral sentiments that presuppose a shared identity. Americans traveling abroad can be embarrassed when they encounter boorish behavior by American tourists, even though they don’t know them personally.

The capacity for pride and shame in the actions of family members and fellow citizens is related to the capacity for collective responsibility. Both require seeing ourselves as situated selves—claimed by moral ties we have not chosen and implicated in the narratives that shape our identity as moral agents.

With belonging comes responsibility. You can’t really take pride in your country and its past if you’re unwilling to acknowledge any responsibility for carrying its story into the present, and discharging the moral burdens that may come with it.

If the narrative conception of the person is right, however, obligations of solidarity can be more demanding than the liberal account suggests—even to the point of competing with natural duties.

However you judge the choices they made, it is hard to read their stories without coming to this conclusion: the dilemmas they faced make sense as moral dilemmas only if you acknowledge that the claims of loyalty and solidarity can weigh in the balance against other moral claims, including the duty to bring criminals to justice. If all our obligations are founded on consent, or on universal duties we owe persons as persons, it’s hard to account for these fraternal predicaments.

ut this ambition cannot succeed. Many of the most hotly contested issues of justice and rights can’t be debated without taking up controversial moral and religious questions. In deciding how to define the rights and duties of citizens, it’s not always possible to set aside competing conceptions of the good life. And even when it’s possible, it may not be desirable.

In 1993, Rawls published a book, Political Liberalism, that recast his theory in some respects. He acknowledged that, in their personal lives, people often have “affections, devotions, and loyalties that they believe they would not, indeed could and should not, stand apart from. . . . They may regard it as simply unthinkable to view themselves apart from certain religious, philosophical, and moral convictions, or from certain enduring attachments and loyalties.”12 To this extent, Rawls accepted the possibility of thickly constituted, morally encumbered selves. But he insisted that such loyalties and attachments should have no bearing on our identity as citizens. In debating justice and rights, we should set aside our personal moral and religious convictions and argue from the standpoint of a “political conception of the person,” independent of any particular loyalties, attachments, or conception of the good life.

Why should we separate our identity as citizens from our identity as moral persons more broadly conceived? Rawls argues that we should do so in order to respect “the fact of reasonable pluralism” about the good life that prevails in the modern world. People in modern democratic societies disagree about moral and religious questions; moreover, these disagreements are reasonable. “It is not to be expected that conscientious persons with full powers of reason, even after free discussion, will all arrive at the same conclusion.”

1. Recognize only marriages between a man and a woman. 2. Recognize same-sex and opposite-sex marriages. 3. Don’t recognize marriage of any kind, but leave this role to private associations.

Let churches and other religious institutions continue to offer marriage ceremonies. Let department stores and casinos get into the act if they want. . . . Let couples celebrate their union in any way they choose and consider themselves married whenever they want. . . . And, yes, if three people want to get married, or one person wants to marry herself, and someone else wants to conduct a ceremony and declare them married, let ’em.

ut autonomy and freedom of choice are insufficient to justify a right to same-sex marriage. If government were truly neutral on the moral worth of all voluntary intimate relationships, then the state would have no grounds for limiting marriage to two persons; consensual polygamous partnerships would also qualify. In fact, if the state really wanted to be neutral, and respect whatever choices individuals wished to make, it would have to adopt Michael Kinsley’s proposal and get out of the business of conferring recognition on any marriages.

“Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.”

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I favor a version of the third approach. Let me try to explain why.

ut these arguments are impossible to avoid. Justice is inescapably judgmental. Whether we’re arguing about financial bailouts or Purple Hearts, surrogate motherhood or same-sex marriage, affirmative action or military service, CEO pay or the right to use a golf cart, questions of justice are bound up with competing notions of honor and virtue, pride and recognition. Justice is not only about the right way to distribute things. It is also about the right way to value things.

It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud to be Americans.

A more robust public engagement with our moral disagreements could provide a stronger, not a weaker, basis for mutual respect. Rather than avoid the moral and religious convictions that our fellow citizens bring to public life, we should attend to them more directly—sometimes by challenging and contesting them, sometimes by listening to and learning from them. There is no guarantee that public deliberation about hard moral questions will lead in any given situation to agreement—or even to appreciation for the moral and religious views of others. It’s always possible that learning more about a moral or religious doctrine will lead us to like it less. But we cannot know until we try. A politics of moral engagement is not only a more inspiring ideal than a politics of avoidance. It is also a more promising basis for a just society.

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