Michael J. Sandel shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us to make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions.
From time immemorial -- or at least since Spike Lee's 1989 movie Do the Right Thing -- men and women have asked, like the subtitle of Michael Sandel's book, "What's the right thing to do?" Every year a thousand or so Harvard undergraduates seeking an answer to this question sign up for Moral Reasoning 22: Justice, Professor Sandel's renowned introductory course and the most popular offering in that university's history. What they learn there is of some consequence for the rest of us. After all, the next most popular course at Harvard is Social Analysis 10: Principles of Economics, from which legions of students annually emerge, like former Harvard president (and economics professor) Lawrence Summers, utterly sure of themselves, contemptuous of moral reasoning, and primed to lead their country into the financial abyss. Unless "Justice" manages to infiltrate "Principles of Economics" -- and not only at Harvard -- America is likely to languish in moral and financial bankruptcy for a long time.