Sunday, July 1, 2012

Justice by Michael Sandel

Justice by Michael Sandel.
A book review.

Consider a hypothetical scenario when you are in your home and a murderer with the intent of killing everyone in the house walks in. Your friend is hiding somewhere in the house. The murderer asks you if there is anyone else in the house. What should your response be? Should you lie to save your friend? Or should you always speak the truth? Now suppose you are living in an ideal world, there is no greed, everybody is happy, people treat each other with respect, there is fairness, equality and no discrimination and all good things that you can think off in this ideal world. Will your response now be different to the above question? 

Michael Sandel takes several examples, some hypothetical and some based on real life events, to give us an idea of justice, its meaning, its motives and its aims.  In the book, Justice, the author gives an overview of various ideologies (or rather view points) that are proposed to provide a framework for Justice. Every ideology is followed by a discussion on how the ideology is applied,  what are its benefits and then followed by its shortcomings. Both pros and cons are shared with related case studies which makes one think, which makes one apply and it brings out the notion of justice. 

What makes an action Just ?  If i pose this question, the majority answer would be - it depends. But it is not an acceptable answer in a practical world where two different parties can reach to a totally opposite conclusion by following their reasoning.  I strongly believe that there should be objectives that we as a society should strive for and a just action is one that helps us realize that ideal. But what should those ideals be? Michael Sandel explores this question by examining  theories of Utilitarianism, Kant's, Rawls theory of  justice, Aristotle's theory of telos, libertarian , egalitarian and many such principles. 

Justice does a good job in conveying the essence of most theories. It is very accessible to lay men who as it breaks down complex notions into ideas that are quite tangible. Even though it is quite an academic subject, Michael does not come out as didactic. With the help of practical case studies, the listener is forced to think through as Michael observes different explanations. In terms of tone, one can feel the bias of the author while explaining some principles but if you agree with him, like me, it doesn't bother much.  

Coming back to the murderer case described above, a careful observer will object that if there is indeed an ideal world, it will not have any murderer, so that is a contradiction. But that is not the point. The point is that do we all agree that Justice should take us to an ideal world? Should we forgo our principles of speaking truth in case of an extremity. Where does it lead us if we chose such a path? In my personal belief, i regard that the just path is not an easy path. A just path often poses more difficulties in short term but it will pay out in long term. A just decision even though is a hard one, we must still take it because it is the right thing to do. What is a right thing is indeed a big question but i believe that if each one of us imagine an ideal just world, we will all end up to the same world and the right thing is the one that helps us move towards that world. 

Read Justice if you want to know about the leading ideologies that has been practiced till present day.  Read the book if you want to know where you should invest your energy for an in-depth study. The audio books runs little over 6 hrs and is a fabulous way to spend time while commuting to office or going on a long distance road trip. 

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