Monday, June 17, 2013

Summary of Justice

One of the issues affecting humanity in different civilizations that has gained increased preeminence in the modern day is the issue of justice. There are different perspectives of what constitute justice in sociology; nevertheless, the different perspectives of justice agree that an effective framework of justice should be founded upon moral correctness that is based upon principles of ethics, law, judiciousness, fairness and natural law. In his book Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? Michael Sandel, a professor at Harvard University, reviews the ideologies by a number of renowned political thinkers concerning the phenomenon of justice. He then offers an analysis of three perspectives of justice: the utilitarian perspective, justice connected to freedom and justice connected to virtue. In his deliberations Sandel is able to analyze a number of controversial issues such as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriages as depicted in the different frameworks of justices that he describes. This paper aims at analyzing the descriptions of justice by Michael Sandel as well as the weaknesses and strengths that characterize the application of each perspective. The first perspective of justice that Sandel describes is that of utilitarianism accredited John Stuart Miller. Sandel (p. 19) describes the utilitarianism model of justice as that whose main interest is to ensure the wellbeing and welfare of those affected. This model of justice is based on the presupposition that whatever results in the best consequences for those in question is just. In his description of this model of justice Sandel (p. 19) describes individuals such as Milton Friedman who is a proponent of the free market since it leads to greater stability of financial systems in contrast to other economies. Sandel (p. 19) states “Why do we care [about prosperity]….the most obvious answer is that we think prosperity makes us better off than we would otherwise be- as individuals and society. Prosperity matters, in other words, because it contributes to our welfare”. There are a strengths and weaknesses associates with this perception of justice. According to Sandel (p. 35-36) the greatest strength of the welfare approach to justice is the fact that it ensures the optimal happiness of the majority and reduces pain to the most minimal level possible. Nevertheless, there are major weaknesses in this approach. Sandel argues that in the quest for the optimal consequences of the majority the society may at times have to engage in immoral acts such as torture and mob justice. Sandel (p. 40) claims that “Suppose the only way to induce the terrorist suspect to talk is to torture his younger daughter-who has no knowledge of her father’s nefarious activities-. Would it be morally permissible to do so”? Sandel (p. 37) also reveals that this model of justice has a propensity to ignore the views and rights of the minority people since they tend to be marginalized by the majority whose welfare is emphasized. The second perspective of justice described by Sandel (p. 20) is that which perceives the rights and freedoms of individuals as basic to justice. This is the model of justice that is supported by a majority of libertarians. The main principles of this model of justice is the fact that justice can only be achieved when every person in society is presented with what they are entitled to in spite of whether it lead to the best outcome [welfare] or not. Sandel (p. 20) posits that “The approach to justice that begins with freedom is a capacious school…leading the laissez-faire camp are free-market libertarians who believe that justice consists in respecting and upholding voluntary choices made by consenting adults. The fairness camp contains theorists of a more egalitarian bent”. In similar manner to the utilitarian perspective of justice described by Sandel, there are a strengths and weaknesses associates with this perception of justice. The major strength as indicated by Sandel (p. 261) is the fact that it esteems the freedoms of individuals. The first weakness as described by Sandel (p. 74) is the fact that this perspective of justice may take the concept of personal liberty and freedom too far. It may, for example, lead to cannibalism, that is, the practice of humans eating humans. Sandel claims that “Cannibalism between consenting adults poses the ultimate risk for the libertarian principle of self-ownership and the idea of justice that follows from it …It is an extreme form of assisted suicide…if the libertarian claim is right, banning consensual cannibalism is unjust, a violation of the right to liberty”. In addition to this, Sandel argues that the freedom approach to justice causes people to engage in debasing exchanges particularly in the free market context. Despite these arguments by Sandler, it is noteworthy that libertarianism does not allege that it has taken in the entire concept of morality. As a matter of fact, libertarianism acknowledges the fact that not all of a person’s rights can be said to be morally tolerable. Rather than acknowledge this, counter argument, Sandel claims that the government has a responsibility of being neutral when judging between competing moral perspectives; nevertheless he argues that neutrality is unsustainable particularly in the issue of abortion. Sandel (p. 251) claims that “…and few would maintain that government should let parents decide for themselves whether to kill their children So the “pro-choice” position in the abortion debate is not really neutral on the underlying moral and theological question”. The third form model of justice that Sandel describes is that related to virtue which is accredited to Aristotle’s perceptions of a “good society” (Sandel (p. 197-199). It is noteworthy that this is the perspective of justice that Sandel prefers. Sandel reveals that there are a number of virtues that the government in particular and the human society in general, ought to instill in its people so as to ensure the prevalence of justice. According to Sandel (p. 20) “The idea of legislating morality in 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”. The major strength of the model of justice based on virtue is the fact that it promotes equality for all in the society regardless of whether they are members of the minority or majority group. Nevertheless, it has a weakness in that it imposes morals on people who may at times have conflicting perceptions of what entails morality. Sandel (p. 260) describes his own perception of justice. After revealing the predicaments that the Western society is challenged with, Sandel deliberates in detail upon the concept of affirmative action by discussing in detail all the arguments that have been forwarded by opponents and proponents of affirmative action. Sandel (p. 261) is convinced that the problems in the West are as a consequence of the perception that politics and public deliberations on what constitutes a “good life” should be neutral. Sandel is opposed against this perception and claims that it leads to a fractured society and ignoring differences that exist between people in society rather than addressing them with the intention of bringing about reconciliation. Sandel’s perception of a just state is that the state ought to determine what a good life for its citizens is; this is however an unlikeable description of society since there is a probability of states being dictatorial. In conclusion, in spite of its noble intentions, Sandel’s view of justice is not easily acceptable due to the fact it does not dwell absolutely on the description of “justice” and the idea of the state that it describes is unappealing. However, despite the model of justice suggested by Sandel being unappealing, the book by Sandel is not only an interesting read but also very valuable in shedding light on issues of justice. The different theories of justice are described in detail and illustrated by very effective real life examples. References Sandel, J. Michael: Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? London: Penguin Books (2010)