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These and other questions are at the heart of Michael Sandel's Justice. Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at . Justice What S The Right Thing To Do. Topics Justice, Michael Sandel, eng pdf , download, liberalism, capitalism, democracy, kurfku. [Michael J Sandel] -- Examines the meaning of justice in a variety of situations Edition/Format: eBook: Document: English: First pbk. editionView all editions.
This book is a searching, lyrical exploration of the meaning of justice, one that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, patriotism and dissent, the moral limits of markets—Sandel dramatizes the challenge of thinking through these con? Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise—an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.
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Michael J. Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering Justice: At a gas station in Orlando, they were selling two-dollar bags of ice for ten dollars. Lacking power for refrigerators or air-conditioning in the middle of August, many people had little choice but to pay up.
Downed trees heightened demand for chain saws and roof repairs. Some led to successful lawsuits. But in market societies, the economists observed, prices are set by supply and demand. If ice fetches ten dollars a bag when Floridians are facing power outages in the August heat, ice manufacturers will find it worth their while to produce and ship more of it. There is nothing unjust about these prices, Sowell explained; they simply reflect the value that downloaders and sellers choose to place on the things they exchange.
Letting them go about their business will. This is not the normal free market situation where willing downloaders freely elect to enter into the marketplace and meet willing sellers, where a price is agreed upon based on supply and demand.
In an emergency, downloaders under duress have no freedom. Their downloads of necessities like safe lodging are forced. Is it wrong for sellers of goods and services to take advantage of a natural disaster by charging whatever the market will bear? If so, what, if anything, should the law do about it? Should the state prohibit price gouging, even if doing so interferes with the freedom of downloaders and sellers to make whatever deals they choose?
Welfare, Freedom, and Virtue These questions are not only about how individuals should treat one another. They are also about what the law should be, and about how society should be organized. They are questions about justice.
To answer them, we have to explore the meaning of justice. Each of these ideas points to a different way of thinking about justice. The standard case for unfettered markets rests on two claims—one about welfare, the other about freedom. First, markets promote the welfare of society as a whole by providing incentives for people to work hard supplying the goods that other people want.
In common parlance, we often equate welfare with economic prosperity, though welfare is a broader concept that can include noneconomic aspects of social well-being.
Second, markets respect individual freedom; rather than impose a certain value on goods and services, markets let people choose for themselves what value to place on the things they exchange.
Not surprisingly, the opponents of price-gouging laws invoke these two familiar arguments for free markets. How do defenders of price gouging laws respond? First, they argue that the welfare of society as whole is not really served by the exorbitant prices charged in hard times. Even if high prices call forth a greater supply of goods, this benefit has to be weighed against the burden such prices impose on those least able to afford them.
Proponents of pricegouging laws argue that any estimate of the general welfare must include the pain and suffering of those who may be priced out of basic necessities during an emergency. Second, defenders of price-gouging laws maintain that, under certain conditions, the free market is not truly free. So to decide whether price-gouging laws are justified, we need to assess these competing accounts of welfare and of freedom. But we also need to consider one further argument.
Much public support for price-gouging laws comes from something more visceral than welfare or freedom. Such sentiments are often dismissed as atavistic emotions that should not interfere with public policy or law.
It gestures at a moral argument worth taking seriously. Outrage of this kind is anger at injustice. But implicit in his comment is something like the following argument, which might be called the virtue argument: Greed is a vice, a bad way of being, especially when it makes people oblivious to the suffering of others.
More than a personal vice, it is at odds with civic virtue. In times of trouble, a good society pulls together. Rather than press for maximum advantage, people look out for one another. A society in which people exploit their neighbors for financial gain in times of crisis is not a good society. Excessive greed is therefore a vice that a good society should discourage if it can.
By punishing greedy behavior rather than rewarding it, society affirms the civic virtue of shared sacrifice for the common good. To acknowledge the moral force of the virtue argument is not to insist that it must always prevail over competing considerations. Repair the roofs now and the social fabric later. It is also about virtue—about cultivating the attitudes and dispositions, the qualities of character, on which a good society depends.
Some people, including many who support price-gouging laws, find the virtue argument discomfiting. The reason: It seems more judgmental than arguments that appeal to welfare and freedom. The question is whether, or to what extent, people are free rather than coerced. The virtue argument, by contrast, rests on a judgment that greed is a vice that the state should discourage. But who is to judge what is virtue and what is vice?
In the face of these worries, many people hold that government should be neutral on matters of virtue and vice; it should not try to cultivate good attitudes or discourage bad ones. So when we probe our reactions to price gouging, we find ourselves pulled in two directions: 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? According to the textbook account, this question divides ancient and modern political thought.
In one important respect, the textbook is right. Aristotle teaches that justice means giving people what they deserve. And in order to determine who deserves what, we have to determine what virtues are worthy of honor and reward.
By contrast, modern political philosophers—from Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century to John Rawls in the twentieth century—argue that the principles of justice that define our rights should not rest on any particular conception of virtue, or of the best way to live.
So you might say that ancient theories of justice start with virtue, while modern theories start with freedom. And in the chapters to come, we explore the strengths and weaknesses of each. For if we turn our gaze to the arguments about justice that animate contemporary politics—not among philosophers but among ordinary men and women—we find a more complicated picture.
But underlying these arguments, and sometimes contending with them, we can often glimpse another set of convictions—about what virtues are worthy of honor and reward, and what way of life a good society should promote.
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. What Wounds Deserve the Purple Heart? On some issues, questions of virtue and honor are too obvious to deny. Consider the recent debate over who should qualify for the Purple Heart. Since , the U. Since the beginning of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, growing numbers of veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and treated for the condition.
Symptoms include recurring nightmares, severe depression, and suicide. At least three hundred thousand veterans reportedly suffer from traumatic stress or major depression.
Advocates for these veterans have proposed that they, too, should qualify for the Purple Heart. Since psychological injuries can be at least as debilitating as physical ones, they argue, soldiers who suffer these wounds should receive the medal.
Veterans suffering from mental disorders and psychological trauma would not be eligible, even though they qualify for governmentsupported medical treatment and disability payments. The Pentagon offered two reasons for its decision: Taken by themselves, its reasons are unconvincing.
In the Iraq War, one of the most common injuries recognized with the Purple Heart has been a punctured eardrum, caused by explosions at close range.
And while traumatic disorders may be more difficult to diagnose than a broken limb, the injury they inflict can be more severe and long-lasting. As the wider debate about the Purple Heart revealed, the real issue is about the meaning of the medal and the virtues it honors.
What, then, are the relevant virtues? Unlike other military medals, the Purple Heart honors sacrifice, not bravery. It requires no heroic act, only an injury inflicted by the enemy. The question is what kind of injury should count. But Tyler E. Boudreau, a former Marine captain who favors including psychological injuries, offers a compelling analysis of the dispute.
He attributes the opposition to a deep-seated attitude in the military that views post-traumatic stress as a kind of weakness. Sadly, as long as our military culture bears at least a quiet contempt for the psychological wounds of war, it is unlikely those veterans will ever see a Purple Heart. At the heart of the disagreement are rival conceptions of moral character and military valor.
Those who insist that only bleeding wounds should count believe that post-traumatic stress reflects a weakness of character unworthy of honor.
And to answer that question, we have to assess competing conceptions of character and sacrifice. It might be argued that military medals are a special case, a throwback to an ancient ethic of honor and virtue.
These days, most of our arguments about justice are about how to distribute the fruits of prosperity, or the burdens of hard times, and how to define the basic rights of citizens. In these domains, considerations of welfare and freedom predominate.
Bailout Outrage The public furor over the financial crisis of —09 is a case in point. For years, stock prices and real estate values had climbed. The reckoning came when the housing bubble burst. Wall Street banks and financial institutions had made billions of dollars on complex investments backed by mortgages whose value now plunged.
Once proud Wall Street firms teetered on the edge of collapse. The stock market tanked, devastating not only big investors but also ordinary Americans, whose retirement accounts lost much of their value. But there seemed no alternative. The banks and financial firms had grown so vast and so entwined with every aspect of the economy that their collapse might bring down the entire financial system.
Their reckless bets enabled by inadequate government regulation had created the crisis. But here was a case where the welfare of the economy as a whole seemed to outweigh considerations of fairness. Congress reluctantly appropriated the bailout funds. Then came the bonuses.
Shortly after the bailout money began to flow, news accounts revealed that some of the companies now on the public dole were awarding millions of dollars in bonuses to their executives.
The most egregious case involved the American International Group A. This time, the outrage was not about tendollar bags of ice or overpriced motel rooms. It was about lavish rewards subsidized with taxpayer funds to members of the division that had helped bring the global financial system to near meltdown. Something was wrong with this picture. Although the U. A full-page headline in the tabloid New York Post captured the sentiments of many: House of Representatives sought to claw back the payments by approving a bill that would impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid to employees of companies that received substantial bailout funds.
At the heart of the bailout outrage was a sense of injustice. Even before the bonus issue erupted, public support for the bailout was hesitant and conflicted. Americans were torn between the need to prevent an economic meltdown that would hurt everyone and their belief that funneling massive sums to failed banks and investment companies was deeply unfair. To avoid economic disaster, Congress and the public acceded.
But morally speaking, it had felt all along like a kind of extortion. Underlying the bailout outrage was a belief about moral desert: The reason may be less obvious than it seems. Consider two possible answers—one is about greed, the other about failure.
One source of outrage was that the bonuses seemed to reward greed, as the tabloid headline indelicately suggested. The public found this morally unpalatable. Not only the bonuses but the bailout as a whole seemed, perversely, to reward greedy behavior rather than punish it.
The derivatives traders had landed their company, and the country, in dire financial peril—by making reckless investments in pursuit of ever-greater profits. Having pocketed the profits when times were good, they saw nothing wrong with million-dollar bonuses even after their investments had come to ruin. Greed is a vice, a bad attitude, an excessive, single-minded desire for gain. But is there any reason to assume that the recipients of bailout bonuses are any greedier now than they were a few years ago, when they were riding high and reaping even greater rewards?
Wall Street traders, bankers, and hedge fund managers are a hard-charging lot. The pursuit of financial gain is what they do for a living. Whether or not their vocation taints their character, their virtue is unlikely to rise or fall with the stock market.
One obvious difference is that bailout bonuses come from the taxpayer while the bonuses paid in good times come from company earnings. If the outrage is based on the conviction that the bonuses are undeserved, however, the source of the payment is not morally decisive. But it does provide a clue: This takes us to the heart of the complaint. 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. Notwithstanding his passing reference to greed, President Obama understood that rewarding failure was the deeper source of dissonance and outrage.
In announcing limits on executive pay at companies receiving bailout funds, Obama identified the real source of bailout outrage: This is America. And we certainly believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset—and rightfully so—are executives being rewarded for failure, especially when those rewards are subsidized by U. At the height of the bonus furor, Grassley said in an Iowa radio interview that what bothered him most was the refusal of the corporate executives to take any blame for their failures.
But he did want them to accept responsibility for their failure, to show contrition, and to offer a public apology. Were the CEOs and top executives of the big banks and investment firms really to blame for the financial crisis?
Testifying before congressional committees investigating the financial crisis, they insisted they had done all they could with the information available to them. But it also raises a far-reaching question about failure, success, and justice.
If the weather is to blame for the bad years, how can it be that the talent, wisdom, and hard work of bankers, traders, and Wall Street executives are responsible for the stupendous returns that occurred when the sun was shining? Confronted with public outrage over paying bonuses for failure, the CEOs argued that financial returns are not wholly their own doing, but the product of forces beyond their control.
They may have a point. Surely the end of the cold war, the globalization of trade and capital markets, the rise of personal computers and the Internet, and a host of other factors help explain the success of the financial industry during its run in the s and in the early years of the twenty-first century. In , CEOs at major U. Most of them work hard and bring talent to their work. But consider this: In , CEOs earned only 42 times what their workers did.
Or do pay differentials reflect contingencies unrelated to talents and skills? Or compare the level of executive compensation in the United States with that in other countries. CEOs at top U. Or do these differences also reflect factors unrelated to the effort and talent that executives bring to their jobs?
But the argument over the bonuses raises questions about who deserves what when times are good. Do the successful deserve the bounty that markets bestow upon them, or does that bounty depend on factors beyond their control? And what are the implications for the mutual obligations of citizens—in good times and hard times? Whether the financial crisis will prompt public debate on these broader questions remains to be seen. Three Approaches to Justice To ask whether a society is just is to ask how it distributes the things we prize—income and wealth, duties and rights, powers and opportunities, offices and honors.
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. Each of these ideals suggests a different way of thinking about justice. Some of our debates reflect disagreement about what it means to maximize welfare or respect freedom or cultivate virtue. Others involve disagreement about what to do when these ideals conflict.
Political philosophy cannot resolve these disagreements once and for all. But it can give shape to the arguments we have, and bring moral clarity to the alternatives we confront as democratic citizens. This book explores the strengths and weaknesses of these three ways of thinking about justice.
We begin with the idea of maximizing welfare. For market societies such as ours, it offers a natural starting point. Much contemporary political debate is about how to promote prosperity, or improve our standard of living, or spur economic growth. Why do we care about these things? The most obvious answer is that we think prosperity makes us better off than we would otherwise be—as individuals and as a society.
Prosperity matters, in other words, because it contributes to our welfare. To explore this idea, we turn to utilitarianism, the most influential account of how and why we should maximize welfare, or as the utilitarians put it seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Next, we take up a range of theories that connect justice to freedom. Most of these theories emphasize respect for individual rights, though they disagree among themselves about which rights are most important.
The idea that justice means respecting freedom and individual rights is at least as familiar in contemporary politics as the utilitarian idea of maximizing welfare. For example, the U. Bill of Rights sets out certain liberties—including rights to freedom of speech and religious liberty—that even majorities may not violate.
And around the world, the idea that justice means respecting certain universal human rights is increasingly embraced in theory, if not always in practice. The approach to justice that begins with freedom is a capacious school. In fact, some of the most hard-fought political arguments of our time take place between two rival camps within it—the laissezfaire camp and the fairness camp.
Leading the laissez-faire camp are free-market libertarians who believe that justice consists in respecting and upholding the voluntary choices made by consenting adults.
The fairness camp contains theorists of a more egalitarian bent. They argue that unfettered markets are neither just nor free. In their view, justice requires policies that remedy social and economic disadvantages and give everyone a fair chance at success. Finally, we turn to theories that see justice as bound up with virtue and the good life.
In contemporary politics, virtue theories are often identified with cultural conservatives and the religious right. The idea of legislating morality is anathema to many citizens of liberal societies, as it risks lapsing into intolerance and coercion.
But the notion that a just society affirms certain virtues and conceptions of the good life has inspired political movements and arguments across the ideological spectrum.
They often begin with concrete situations. Often the disagreements are among partisans or rival advocates in the public realm. Sometimes the disagreements are within us as individuals, as when we find ourselves torn or conflicted about a hard moral question. But how exactly can we reason our way from the judgments we make about concrete situations to the principles of justice we believe should apply in all situations?
What, in short, does moral reasoning consist in? The Runaway Trolley Suppose you are the driver of a trolley car hurtling down the track at sixty miles an hour. Up ahead you see five workers standing on the track, tools in hand. You feel desperate, because you know that if you crash into these five workers, they will all die. Suddenly, you notice a side track, off to the right.
There is a worker on that track, too, but only one. You realize that you can turn the trolley car onto the side track, killing the one worker, but sparing the five.
What should you do? Now consider another version of the trolley story. This time, you are not the driver but an onlooker, standing on a bridge overlooking the track. This time, there is no side track. Down the track comes a trolley, and at the end of the track are five workers. The trolley is about to crash into the five workers. You feel helpless to avert this disaster—until you notice, standing next to you on the bridge, a very heavy man.
You could push him off the bridge, onto the track, into the path of the oncoming trolley. He would die, but the five workers would be saved. You consider jumping onto the track yourself, but realize you are too small to stop the trolley.
Would pushing the heavy man onto the track be the right thing to do? It would be terribly wrong to push the man onto the track. 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? It does seem cruel to push a man to his death, even for a good cause. But is it any less cruel to kill a man by crashing into him with a trolley car? Perhaps the reason it is wrong to push is that doing so uses the man on the bridge against his will.
He was just standing there. But the same could be said of the person working on the side track. He was just doing his job, not volunteering to sacrifice his life in the event of a runaway trolley. It might be argued that railway workers willingly incur a risk that bystanders do not. Maybe the moral difference lies not in the effect on the victims—both wind up dead—but in the intention of the person making the decision. But the same is true in the pushing case.
The death of the man you push off the bridge is not essential to your purpose. All he needs to do is block the trolley; if he can do so and somehow survive, you would be delighted. Or perhaps, on reflection, the two cases should be governed by the same principle.
Both involve a deliberate choice to take the life of one innocent person in order to prevent an even greater loss of life. Perhaps your reluctance to push the man off the bridge is mere squeamishness, a hesitation you should overcome. Pushing a man to his death with your bare hands does seem more cruel than turning the steering wheel of a trolley. But doing the right thing is not always easy.
We can test this idea by altering the story slightly. Suppose you, as the onlooker, could cause the large man standing next to you to fall onto the track without pushing him; imagine he is standing on a trap door that you could open by turning a steering wheel. No pushing, same result. Would that make it the right thing to do? Or is it still morally worse than for you, as the trolley driver, to turn onto the side track?
It is not easy to explain the moral difference between these cases—why turning the trolley seems right, but pushing the man off the bridge seems wrong. But notice the pressure we feel to reason our way to a convincing distinction between them—and if we cannot, to reconsider our judgment about the right thing to do in each case. We sometimes think of moral reasoning as a way of persuading other people. But it is also a way of sorting out our own moral convictions, of figuring out what we believe and why.
Some moral dilemmas arise from conflicting moral principles. For example, one principle that comes into play in the trolley story says we should save as many lives as possible, but another says it is wrong to kill an innocent person, even for a good cause. Confronted with a situation in which saving a number of lives depends on killing an innocent person, we face a moral quandary. We must try to figure out which principle has greater weight, or is more appropriate under the circumstances.
Other moral dilemmas arise because we are uncertain how events will unfold. Hypothetical examples such as the trolley story remove the uncertainty that hangs over the choices we confront in real life. This makes such stories imperfect guides to action. But it also makes them useful devices for moral analysis. The Afghan Goatherds Consider now an actual moral dilemma, similar in some ways to the fanciful tale of the runaway trolley, but complicated by uncertainty about how things will turn out: Shortly after the special forces team took up a position on a mountain ridge overlooking the village, two Afghan farmers with about a hundred bleating goats happened upon them.
With them was a boy about fourteen years old. The Afghans were unarmed. The American soldiers trained their rifles on them, motioned for them to sit on the ground, and then debated what to do about them. On the one hand, the goatherds appeared to be unarmed civilians. On the other hand, letting them go would run the risk that they would inform the Taliban of the presence of the U.
The only choice was to kill them or let them go free. We have a right to do everything we can to save our own lives. The military decision is obvious. To turn them loose would be wrong. But my trouble is, I have another soul. My Christian soul. And it was crowding in on me. Something kept whispering in the back of my mind, it would be wrong to execute these unarmed men in cold blood. He cast the deciding vote to release them. One of his three comrades had abstained.
It was a vote he came to regret. About an hour and a half after they released the goatherds, the four soldiers found themselves surrounded by eighty to a hundred Taliban fighters armed with AKs and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Taliban fighters also shot down a U. Luttrell, severely injured, managed to survive by falling down the mountainside and crawling seven miles to a Pashtun village, whose residents protected him from the Taliban until he was rescued. In retrospect, Luttrell condemned his own vote not to kill the goatherds. I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant.
The deciding vote was mine, and it will haunt me till they rest me in an East Texas grave. Would they simply go on their way, or would they alert the Taliban? But suppose Luttrell knew that freeing the goatherds would lead to a devastating battle resulting in the loss of his comrades, nineteen American deaths, injury to himself, and the failure of his mission?
Would he have decided differently? For Luttrell, looking back, the answer is clear: Given the disaster that followed, it is hard to disagree.
Killing the three Afghans would have saved the lives of his three comrades and the sixteen U. But which version of the trolley story does it resemble? Would killing the goatherds be more like turning the trolley or pushing the man off the bridge? The fact that Luttrell anticipated the danger and still could not bring himself to kill unarmed civilians in cold blood suggests it may be closer to the pushing case. And yet the case for killing the goatherds seems somehow stronger than the case for pushing the man off the bridge.
This may be because we suspect that—given the outcome—they were not innocent bystanders, but Taliban sympathizers. Consider an analogy: We would still need to know who his enemies were, and why he wanted to kill them. If we learned that the workers on the track were members of the French resistance and the heavy man on the bridge a Nazi who had sought to kill them by disabling the trolley, the case for pushing him to save them would become morally compelling.
It is possible, of course, that the Afghan goatherds were not Taliban sympathizers, but neutrals in the conflict, or even Taliban opponents, who were forced by the Taliban to reveal the presence of the American troops. Suppose Luttrell and his comrades knew for certain that the goatherds meant them no harm, but would be tortured by the Taliban to reveal their location. The Americans might have killed the goatherds to protect their mission and themselves.
But the decision to do so would have been more wrenching and morally more questionable than if they knew the goatherds to be pro-Taliban spies.
Moral Dilemmas Few of us face choices as fateful as those that confronted the soldiers on the mountain or the witness to the runaway trolley. But wrestling with their dilemmas sheds light on the way moral argument can proceed, in our personal lives and in the public square.
Life in democratic societies is rife with disagreement about right and wrong, justice and injustice. Some people favor abortion rights, and others consider abortion to be murder. Some believe fairness requires taxing the rich to help the poor, while others believe it is unfair to tax away money people have earned through their own efforts.
Some defend affirmative action in college admissions as a way of righting past wrongs, whereas others consider it an unfair form of reverse discrimination against people who deserve admission on their merits. Some people reject the torture of terror suspects as a moral abomination unworthy of a free society, while others defend it as a last resort to prevent a terrorist attack. Elections are won and lost on these disagreements. The so-called culture wars are fought over them.
Given the passion and intensity with which we debate moral questions in public life, we might be tempted to think that our moral convictions are fixed once and for all, by upbringing or faith, beyond the reach of reason. But if this were true, moral persuasion would be inconceivable, and what we take to be public debate about justice and rights would be nothing more than a volley of dogmatic assertions, an ideological food fight.
At its worst, our politics comes close to this condition. But it need not be this way. Sometimes, an argument can change our minds.
How, then, can we reason our way through the contested terrain of justice and injustice, equality and inequality, individual rights and the common good? This book tries to answer that question. One way to begin is to notice how moral reflection emerges naturally from an encounter with a hard moral question. We start with an opinion, or a conviction, about the right thing to do: Confronted with this tension, we may revise our judgment about the right thing to do, or rethink the principle we initially espoused.
As we encounter new situations, we move back and forth between our judgments and our principles, revising each in light of the other. This turning of mind, from the world of action to the realm of reasons and back again, is what moral reflection consists in. This way of conceiving moral argument, as a dialectic between our judgments about particular situations and the principles we affirm on reflection, has a long tradition.
It goes back to the dialogues of Socrates and the moral philosophy of Aristotle. But notwithstanding its ancient lineage, it is open to the following challenge: If moral reflection consists in seeking a fit between the judgments we make and the principles we affirm, how can such reflection lead us to justice, or moral truth? Suppose Luttrell and his comrades knew for certain that the goatherds meant them no harm, but would be tortured by the Taliban to reveal their location.
The Americans might have killed the goatherds to protect their mission and themselves. But the decision to do so would have been more wrenching and morally more questionable than if they knew the goatherds to be pro-Taliban spies.
Moral Dilemmas Few of us face choices as fateful as those that confronted the soldiers on the mountain or the witness to the runaway trolley.
But wrestling with their dilemmas sheds light on the way moral argument can proceed, in our personal lives and in the public square. Life in democratic societies is rife with disagreement about right and wrong, justice and injustice.
Some people favor abortion rights, and others consider abortion to be murder. Some believe fairness requires taxing the rich to help the poor, while others believe it is unfair to tax away money people have earned through their own efforts. Some defend affirmative action in college admissions as a way of righting past wrongs, whereas others consider it an unfair form of reverse discrimination against people who deserve admission on their merits.
Some people reject the torture of terror suspects as a moral abomination unworthy of a free society, while others defend it as a last resort to prevent a terrorist attack. Elections are won and lost on these disagreements. The so-called culture wars are fought over them. Given the passion and intensity with which we debate moral questions in public life, we might be tempted to think that our moral convictions are fixed once and for all, by upbringing or faith, beyond the reach of reason.
But if this were true, moral persuasion would be inconceivable, and what we take to be public debate about justice and rights would be nothing more than a volley of dogmatic assertions, an ideological food fight. At its worst, our politics comes close to this condition. But it need not be this way. Sometimes, an argument can change our minds. How, then, can we reason our way through the contested terrain of justice and injustice, equality and inequality, individual rights and the common good?
This book tries to answer that question. One way to begin is to notice how moral reflection emerges naturally from an encounter with a hard moral question. Confronted with this tension, we may revise our judgment about the right thing to do, or rethink the principle we initially espoused. As we encounter new situations, we move back and forth between our judgments and our principles, revising each in light of the other.
This turning of mind, from the world of action to the realm of reasons and back again, is what moral reflection consists in.
This way of conceiving moral argument, as a dialectic between our judgments about particular situations and the principles we affirm on reflection, has a long tradition. It goes back to the dialogues of Socrates and the moral philosophy of Aristotle. But notwithstanding its ancient lineage, it is open to the following challenge: If moral reflection consists in seeking a fit between the judgments we make and the principles we affirm, how can such reflection lead us to justice, or moral truth?
Even if we succeed, over a lifetime, in bringing our moral intuitions and principled commitments into alignment, what confidence can we have that the result is anything more than a self-consistent skein of prejudice? The answer is that moral reflection is not a solitary pursuit but a public endeavor.
It requires an interlocutor—a friend, a neighbor, a comrade, a fellow citizen. Sometimes the interlocutor can be imagined rather than real, as when we argue with ourselves.
But we cannot discover the meaning of justice or the best way to live through introspection alone. All they ever see is the play of shadows on the wall, a reflection of objects they can never apprehend.
Only the philosopher, in this account, is able to ascend from the cave to the bright light of day, where he sees things as they really are. Socrates suggests that, having glimpsed the sun, only the philosopher is fit to rule the cave dwellers, if he can somehow be coaxed back into the darkness where they live. He is right, I think, but only in part.
The claims of the cave must be given their due. If moral reflection is dialectical—if it moves back and forth between the judgments we make in concrete situations and the principles that inform those judgments—it needs opinions and convictions, however partial and untutored, as ground and grist.
A philosophy untouched by the shadows on the wall can only yield a sterile utopia. When moral reflection turns political, when it asks what laws should govern our collective life, it needs some engagement with the tumult of the city, with the arguments and incidents that roil the public mind. Debates over bailouts and price gouging, income inequality and affirmative action, military service and same-sex marriage, are the stuff of political philosophy.
They prompt us to articulate and justify our moral and political convictions, not only among family and friends but also in the demanding company of our fellow citizens. More demanding still is the company of political philosophers, ancient and modern, who thought through, in sometimes radical and surprising ways, the ideas that animate civic life—justice and rights, obligation and consent, honor and virtue, morality and law.
But their order of appearance is not chronological. This book is not a history of ideas, but a journey in moral and political reflection. Its goal is not to show who influenced whom in the history of political thought, but to invite readers to subject their own views about justice to critical examination—to figure out what they think, and why.
Their ship, the Mignonette, had gone down in a storm, and they had escaped to the lifeboat, with only two cans of preserved turnips and no fresh water. He was an orphan, on his first long voyage at sea. Sadly, it was not to be. From the lifeboat, the four stranded sailors watched the horizon, hoping a ship might pass and rescue them. For the first three days, they ate small rations of turnips.
On the fourth day, they caught a turtle. They subsisted on the turtle and the remaining turnips for the next few days. And then for eight days, they ate nothing. By now Parker, the cabin boy, was lying in the corner of the lifeboat. He had drunk seawater, against the advice of the others, and become ill.
He appeared to be dying. On the nineteenth day of their ordeal, Dudley, the captain, suggested drawing lots to determine who would die so that the others might live.
But Brooks refused, and no lots were drawn. The next day came, and still no ship was in sight. Dudley told Brooks to avert his gaze and motioned to Stephens that Parker had to be killed. Dudley offered a prayer, told the boy his time had come, and then killed him with a penknife, stabbing him in the jugular vein.
Brooks emerged from his conscientious objection to share in the gruesome bounty. For four days, the three men fed on the body and blood of the cabin boy. And then help came. The three survivors were picked up. Upon their return to England, they were arrested and tried. Dudley and Stephens went to trial.
They freely confessed that they had killed and eaten Parker. They claimed they had done so out of necessity. Suppose you were the judge. How would you rule? To simplify things, put aside the question of law and assume that you were asked to decide whether killing the cabin boy was morally permissible.
The strongest argument for the defense is that, given the dire circumstances, it was necessary to kill one person in order to save three. Had no one been killed and eaten, all four would likely have died. Parker, weakened and ill, was the logical candidate, since he would soon have died anyway.
And unlike Dudley and Stephens, he had no dependents. His death deprived no one of support and left no grieving wife or children. This argument is open to at least two objections: First, it can be asked whether the benefits of killing the cabin boy, taken as a whole, really did outweigh the costs. To anyone appalled by the actions of Dudley and Stephens, the first objection will seem a tepid complaint.
It accepts the utilitarian assumption that morality consists in weighing costs and benefits, and simply wants a fuller reckoning of the social consequences. If the killing of the cabin boy is worthy of moral outrage, the second objection is more to the point. It rejects the idea that the right thing to do is simply a matter of calculating consequences—costs and benefits.
It suggests that morality means something more—something to do with the proper way for human beings to treat one another. These two ways of thinking about the lifeboat case illustrate two rival approaches to justice. The first approach says the morality of an action depends solely on the consequences it brings about; the right thing to do is whatever will produce the best state of affairs, all things considered.
The second approach says that consequences are not all we should care about, morally speaking; certain duties and rights should command our respect, for reasons independent of the social consequences. 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? In fact, it exerts a powerful hold on the thinking of policy-makers, economists, business executives, and ordinary citizens to this day. Bentham, 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. Bentham arrives at his principle by the following line of reasoning: We are all governed by the feelings of pain and pleasure. The utilitarian philosophy recognizes this fact, and makes it the basis of moral and political life.
Maximizing utility is a principle not only for individuals but also for legislators. In deciding what laws or policies to enact, a government should do whatever will maximize the happiness of the community as a whole. What, after all, is a community? Citizens and legislators should therefore ask themselves this question: If we add up all of the benefits of this policy, and subtract all the costs, will it produce more happiness than the alternative?
Every moral argument, he claims, must implicitly draw on the idea of maximizing happiness. People may say they believe in certain absolute, categorical duties or rights. But they would have no basis for defending these duties or rights unless they believed that respecting them would maximize human happiness, at least in the long run.
He proposed a number of projects designed to make penal policy more efficient and humane. One was the Panopticon, a prison with a central inspection tower that would enable the supervisor to observe the inmates without their seeing him.
He suggested that the Panopticon be run by a private contractor ideally himself , who would manage the prison in exchange for the profits to be made from the labor of the convicts, who would work sixteen hours per day.
Recent years have seen a revival, in the United States and Britain, of the idea of outsourcing prisons to private companies. The plan, which sought to reduce the presence of beggars on the streets, offers a vivid illustration of the utilitarian logic. Bentham observed, first of all, that encountering beggars on the streets reduces the happiness of passersby, in two ways.
For tenderhearted souls, the sight of a beggar produces the pain of sympathy; for hardhearted folk, it generates the pain of disgust.
Either way, encountering beggars reduces the utility of the general public. So Bentham proposed removing beggars from the streets and confining them in a workhouse. But Bentham does not neglect their utility. He acknowledges that some beggars would be happier begging than working in a poorhouse. But he notes that for every happy and prosperous beggar, there are many miserable ones.
He concludes that the sum of the pains suffered by the public is greater than whatever unhappiness is felt by beggars hauled off to the workhouse.
But Bentham proposed a way to make his pauper management plan entirely self-financing. Any citizen who encountered a beggar would be empowered to apprehend him and take him to the nearest workhouse. Next to prostitutes and loose women, place the aged women.
It was meant simply to promote the general welfare by solving a problem that diminished social utility. His scheme for pauper management was never adopted. But the utilitarian spirit that informed it is alive and well today. Objection 1: Individual Rights The most glaring weakness of utilitarianism, many argue, is that it fails to respect individual rights.
By caring only about the sum of satisfactions, it can run roughshod over individual people. But this means that the utilitarian logic, if consistently applied, could sanction ways of treating persons that violate what we think of as fundamental norms of decency and respect, as the following cases illustrate: Throwing Christians to lions In ancient Rome, they threw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum for the amusement of the crowd.
Imagine how the utilitarian calculus would go: Yes, the Christian suffers excruciating pain as the lion mauls and devours him. But think of the collective ecstasy of the cheering spectators packing the Coliseum.
If enough Romans derive enough pleasure from the violent spectacle, are there any grounds on which a utilitarian can condemn it? The utilitarian may worry that such games will coarsen habits and breed more violence in the streets of Rome; or lead to fear and trembling among prospective victims that they, too, might one day be tossed to the lions.
If these effects are bad enough, they could conceivably outweigh the pleasure the games provide, and give the utilitarian a reason to ban them. Is torture ever justified? A similar question arises in contemporary debates about whether torture is ever justified in the interrogation of suspected terrorists. Consider the ticking time bomb scenario: Imagine that you are the head of the local CIA branch.
You capture a terrorist suspect who you believe has information about a nuclear device set to go off in Manhattan later the same day. In fact, you have reason to suspect that he planted the bomb himself. Would it be right to torture him until he tells you where the bomb is and how to disarm it? The argument for doing so begins with a utilitarian calculation. Torture inflicts pain on the suspect, greatly reducing his happiness or utility.
But thousands of innocent lives will be lost if the bomb explodes. This is not to say that utilitarians necessarily favor torture. Some utilitarians oppose torture on practical grounds. They argue that it seldom works, since information extracted under duress is often unreliable. So pain is inflicted, but the community is not made any safer: there is no increase in the collective utility. Or they worry that if our country engages in torture, our soldiers will face harsher treatment if taken prisoner.
This result could actually reduce the overall utility associated with our use of torture, all things considered. These practical considerations may or may not be true. As reasons to oppose torture, however, they are entirely compatible with utilitarian thinking. They do not assert that torturing a human being is intrinsically wrong, only that practicing torture will have bad effects that, taken as a whole, will do more harm than good.
Some people reject torture on principle. They believe that it violates human rights and fails to respect the intrinsic dignity of human beings. Their case against torture does not depend on utilitarian considerations.
They argue that human rights and human dignity have a moral basis that lies beyond utility. Numbers do seem to make a moral difference. It is one thing to accept the possible death of three men in a lifeboat to avoid killing one innocent cabin boy in cold blood. But what if thousands of innocent lives are at stake, as in the ticking time bomb scenario?
What if hundreds of thousands of lives were at risk? The utilitarian would argue that, at a certain point, even the most ardent advocate of human rights would have a hard time insisting it is morally preferable to let vast numbers of innocent people die than to torture a single terrorist suspect who may know where the bomb is hidden.
As a test of utilitarian moral reasoning, however, the ticking time bomb case is misleading. It purports to prove that numbers count, so that if enough lives are at stake, we should be willing to override our scruples about dignity and rights.
And if that is true, then morality is about calculating costs and benefits after all. But the torture scenario does not show that the prospect of saving many lives justifies inflicting severe pain on one innocent person.
Recall that the person being tortured to save all those lives is a suspected terrorist, in fact the person we believe may have planted the bomb. The moral force of the case for torturing him depends heavily on the assumption that he is in some way responsible for creating the danger we now seek to avert. Or if he is not responsible for this bomb, we assume he has committed other terrible acts that make him deserving of harsh treatment.
The moral intuitions at work in the ticking time bomb case are not only about costs and benefits, but also about the non-utilitarian idea that terrorists are bad people who deserve to be punished. We can see this more clearly if we alter the scenario to remove any element of presumed guilt.
Would it be morally permissible to do so? I suspect that even a hardened utilitarian would flinch at the notion. But this version of the torture scenario offers a truer test of the utilitarian principle. It sets aside the intuition that the terrorist deserves to be punished anyhow regardless of the valuable information we hope to extract , and forces us to assess the utilitarian calculus on its own. The city of happiness The second version of the torture case the one involving the innocent daughter brings to mind a short story by Ursula K.
Le Guin. It has one locked door, and no window. The child is feebleminded, malnourished, and neglected. It lives out its days in wretched misery. They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. They all know that it has to be there.