Boston College / Challenge of Justice
Michael Sandel / Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
and Videos in connection with topics in the book
1) What three areas of concern around which Sandel thinks justice revolves? Do you agree with these
three? Are there others that you would propose?
Sandel thinks that justice revolves around respecting freedom (letting people choose for themselves
what to do with their lives), maximizing welfare (giving people what they want and incentivizing them
to work hard for it), and promoting virtue (“cultivating the attitudes and dispositions, the qualities of
character, on which a good society depends” [pg 8]).
He also says that justice revolves around the way that we distribute the things we prize – income and
wealth, duties and rights, powers and opportunities, and offices and honors (pg 19).
2) What does Sandel say is the method or process of moral reasoning? Why does he propose this
particular way? Do you agree or disagree?
We start with an opinion about what the right thing is to do, then we reflect on why we think this, then
we are confused when we are put into a situation that conflicts our view, so we try to reconfigure our
opinion and figure out a new one or justify the old one. It is basically a “dialectic between our judgments
about particular situations and the principles we affirm on reflection” (pg 28). Sandel also says that,
“moral reflection is not a solitary pursuit but a public endeavor” (pg 28).
3) Why do you think people were so outraged when the economic markets collapsed in late summer,
2007? Sandel offers his reasons; what are yours?
Sandel says that people were so outraged because the government gave rewards to people who failed to
do their jobs correctly and hurt people who were the most vulnerable.
4) Sandel gives examples for most of the concepts that he introduces. As you were reading, did any of
your own experiences or knowledge of others’ experiences come to mind?
1) Is the way that Sandel describes utilitarianism consistent with your own prior understandings and
uses of the word? If not, what had you previously thought utilitarianism was?
2) What are some basic principles of utilitarianism?
• Morality = costs – benefits
• Morality has to do with the proper way for human beings to treat each other
• The morality of an action depends solely on the consequences it brings about
• Certain duties and rights should command our respect
3) In utilitarian thinking, how are pleasures measured? Maximizing happiness of a group/society as a whole
4) What is the difference between act and rule utilitarianism? Why was this distinction introduced
into utilitarian thought? How did Mill alter Bentham’s philosophy?
In act utilitarianism, the principle is applied directly to the selection of particular actions under particular
circumstances. In rule utilitarianism, the principle is applied to the selection of a set of rules, whic