Liberalism and Limited Justice

Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught political philosophy since 1980. He is the author of Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge University Press), Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1996), Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics (Harvard University Press, 2005), and The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (Harvard University Press, 2007). His writings have also appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and The New York Times. The recipient of three honorary degrees, he has received fellowships from the Carnegie Corporation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Ford Foundation. From 2002 to 2005, he served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics, a national council appointed by the President to examine the ethical implications of new biomedical technologies. A summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brandeis University (1975), Sandel received his doctorate from Oxford University (D.Phil.,1981), where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He lives with his wife and two sons in Brookline, Massachusetts.
  • Transcript


Question: What are you best known for?

Michael Sandel: Well my first book was “Liberalism and the Limited Justice”. And it was an attempt to respond to the philosophical account … the great philosophical account of liberalism that had been provided by John Rawls – a former colleague here at Harvard – probably the greatest political philosopher of the 20th Century, certainly in the Anglo-American world. And his book came out in 1971, which was four years before I went off to England to graduate school. And it was the most important, and the most impressive philosophical account of the moral basis of American liberalism. And in many ways I found it very compelling and inspiring. But my first book was actually a critique of John Rawls’ version of liberalism. And the main argument was that contemporary liberalism didn’t take adequate account of the role of moral and spiritual questions in political life, and conceived the individual to narrowly as not sufficiently bound up with claims of community, and history, and tradition. So that was my first book, and that … some people, they liked to describe my position as communitarian which, in some ways, I can understand, but I’m not completely comfortable with. And so the liberal … debate flourished in … sort of in political philosophy during the 1980s. And so I think I was first identified with that debate.

Recorded on: 6/12/07