The Social Justice Concept in the Book Justice: what is the Right Thing to Do?

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In Michael J. Sandel’s book Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?, Sandel discusses moral questions in which there are split opinions. He offers new perspectives to controversial issues. His purpose seems to be to display different views to what is right and what is wrong. It depicts just how difficult it is to figure what is right especially for more political issues and ideas having to do with value of human lives. I am a part of the majority which has reacted positively to this book. Sandel has opened my mind to new ideas and has changed my mind on certain topics or at least has provoked more thought into many topics. I feel that as a result I will do more research and make sure that I investigate thoroughly into each side of arguments.

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I intend to look into some of Sandel’s main arguments and evaluate how strong they are. Does he argue his point well? I will analyze his claims and narrow them down to one central claim. I will point to where Sandel have the best arguments and where does he fail to convince the reader. I can apply some of my own opinions and personal experiences to some of his discussions.

Background Information

Michael J. Sandel is a well known philosopher this Justice book is simply one of his works. He wrote the book to accompany his lecture at Harvard University which became so popular that he decided to create online lectures to give his lectures more exposure. He has become an internationally recognized philosopher as he has given his opinion on global issues. He has taken his lectures all around the world where they have been attended by thousands. Sandel has even received prestigious recognitions for his philosophical ideas. Also, it’s important to note that he worked as the President’s Bioethics council. So knowing what the right thing to do played a huge role in his job. He has taken difficult and complex philosophy to the global public.


In chapter one, Sandel acknowledges many real life issues which people argue about. One of them being the morality of price gouging during natural disasters. Many believe that it is wrong to raise prices on things that people need during natural disasters. Others believe that since it is a free market the seller and buyers should be allowed to make any deals they want. Some people even made laws restricted price gouging. What these people don’t realize is that you can “allow price gouging in hopes of attracting an army of roofers and contractors from far and wide..”(Sandel 8). Another issue that he goes into is whether soldiers who suffer from ptsd deserve to get the Purple Heart which assists them by giving them more resources. It was ruled that they don’t because it’s not a physical injury that sheds blood. Reason being that it needs to be an injury intentionally caused by enemy forces. Sandel argues this reason by stating, “one of the most common injuries recognized with the Purple Heart has been a punctured eardrum” (Sandel 10). This injury is also not intentionally caused by enemies but they are still recognized.

In chapter two, Sandel goes more into Utilitarianism. Sandel argues that when it comes to questions morals we need to ask, “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?” (Sandel 33). Utilitarians would say that morality is balancing pleasure and happiness over pain.

An example given is the proposition of putting homeless beggars into a workhouse and out of the streets. This way even if the beggars suffer unhappiness it is less suffering than the people that are unhappy seeing them out on the street. This way of thinking doesn’t feel right because you’re trying to measure emotions and sacrificing a large amount of people who have nothing at fault for other people that could do something to help instead of shoving them into a workhouse. Sandel argues against Utilitarianism because then that means that some cruel situations are justified. Things such as the ancient Romanian practice of throwing Christians to lions for entertainment. Utilitarians would say yes the Christians are suffering and being killed but there are so many more people getting entertainment and happiness from it. that is wrong there no reason to be killing people for fun. Killing is a fundamentally wrong thing to do.

In chapter three we look into Libertarianism who the author says would would be the kind of people to object to redistribution of wealth because it “violates their liberty to do with their money whatever they please” (Sandel 59). They basically claim that everyone has the right to do what they want and that we should all respect each other no matter what it is we want to do. Also ownership plays a key role in their opinion.

In chapter four the author discusses markets and morals. One of the main topics he writes about is whether it’s right to hire soldiers or for people to hire soldiers to replace them if they don’t want to go through with their draft. Some argue that it is a democratic responsibility to oblige if you have drafted. It is your civil duty to help your country. While others might say that it is okay to hire them if they are willing to do it it is not wrong. Sandel claims that in order to answer questions like these we need to learn about “the basis and scope of the civic obligation” (Sandel 91).


Overall, I think the book does a great job at provoking thought in the reader’s mind. It reviews different ways that people look at morals and justice. It displays why people believe such things. If people perceive morals in different ways that is why there is so many issues trying to figure out what is the right thing to do. Everyone has a different perspective on what it means to be moral. The book doesn’t necessarily tell you what is the right thing to do, but I don’t think that’s its main purpose. It is meant to make you realize how much thinking and research goes into figuring out what is right and wrong. Sometimes different sides both have compelling arguments and at that pint its up to you to decide what your opinion is. Although the author does put down certain ways of looking at morals because they seem to have holes in their claims.

I believe that Sandel’s central lesson is to display how difficult it is to answer questions of morality especially when it comes to politics. Is there really aright and wrong? Each person has their definition of what is right so there is not one way to define it. For example, even great philosophers like Aristotle and Plato have contradicting ideas. Some agree with one while others agree with the other.

First of all, I think Sandel does a great job at organizing all of this information. A lot of his examples are contemporary so it’s easy for his readers to comprehend. His very first argument about price gouging is very thought provoking because one might think that it’s logical for it be wrong to over price supplies during natural disasters. It’s a great point that if they are priced higher it will encourage suppliers to come down to the affected areas and help. Also something else think about is if the supplies are priced at regular price there won’t be enough for everyone. For instance water bottles. If a pack is priced at three dollars a family will most likely take as many packs as possible because usually it’s uncertain how long they will be in trouble or without water. Soon stores would be out of stock. This would be unfair because some families will have a stock of water even if they don’t need it all and other families will either have travel more to find water or will be left with no water supply.

Another great discussion is the Trolley question. Is it fair to sacrifice a large man that is not involved in order to save five workers who willingly signed up for a risky job? I don’t think that it is fair because they know that they are risking their lives. On the other hand, the fat man never consented to risking or sacrificing his life. It is funny that the author suggests if it would be the right thing to do if you didn’t have physically push the man off the bridge but only pull a lever. That made me think that maybe we also evaluate if things are right or wrong based on how guilty we would feel. We don’t necessarily measure things technically. We don’t think 5 lives over 1 life, we think what would make me feel less guilty. Another example of this is the most recent election. Many people claimed that they had to choose the less of two evils, referring to Clinton and Trump. Apparently people felt guilty for voting for ither but they had to choose which was right.

The proposition of rounding up beggars into workhouses is something I don’t agree with. The author explains the moral principle well when he says that people who are in favor of this believe that there should be a balance of happiness and pain. More happiness than pain, sounds right doesn’t it? It does until you apply it to cases like these. the beggars are probably not out on the street voluntarily. The people walking by and feeling sympathy or feeling disgust are most likely not suffering as much as the beggars are. The author does have some weakness in this argument because what if most Utilitarians wouldn’t do this? What if they had a different solution to balance out the pain and happiness?

All those people suffering from sympathy because they feel bad looking at the beggars can solve their pain y helping out the beggars. They can feed them and help them find jobs. This would make both people happy and their would less pain. The people who are disgusted would have less beggars to walk by because the sympathizers helped them out.

Another common argument is whether people think it’s right to torture a terrorist in order potentially stop another terrorist attack that would kill a lot more people. Many people say yes because if you can save a lot of people by sacrificing one person who might be the cause of their deaths why not do it? Other people see torture as an inhumane act similar to killing. I agree with the author that many other things go into deciding what you would do in this situation. Time is huge factor, if you had to choose quickly wether you were gonna try to save many people by stopping a bomb. If the terrorist might know where the threat is most people would be quick to resort to torture to get it out of them.

This reminds me of movie scenes where characters are pressured by time to save people. They are usually the good character but time pushes them act against their morals. You might see them put a gun up to an enemy’s head and force them to give more information. But, if you notice most of them never end up having to kill the enemy. They do torture them emotionally or physically, but in these fictional story lines they usually get the information they need without having to torture them too much and they get to save the person. In real life one might not even have the right person. they might not know there the danger is located and you could be torturing someone without reason to.

Redistribution of wealth is still a huge debate to this day. It is hard to decide whether it is right to do this. On one hand, you want to fix the inequality, but on the other hand you don’t want to take away money from people who have most likely worked for it. The author makes a great point in saying that it will discourage them from working if they know that their money will be taken away. You can also argue that they might be encouraged to work more because they want to have more money so they will work more to make up for the money that will be taken away.


LI would suggest that people continue to read this book. It gives you a lot more insight into what it’s like for politicians or for people that have the power to make laws and declare what the right thing is. There are so many perspectives and it could be hard to choose what is better to do. This matters because people need to research and think deeply into these questions. Look at the possible views and decide which one you agree with. Moral principles sometimes see logical and harmless but can sometimes apply to real life in horrible ways like the Christians being thrown to lions.

All in all, Sandel is definitely a philosopher that digs deep into questions of morality and everyone should follow him in that even if you don’t agree with what personally thinks is right or wrong.

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The Social Justice Concept in The Book Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?. (2022, Sep 06). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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