Michael Sandel

When We Demand Rights We Automatically Expand the Federal Role

Michael J. Sandel (born March 5, 1953) 

Is an American political philosopher and a professor at Harvard University. He is best known for the Harvard course "Justice", which is available to view online, and for his critique of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice in his first book, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.




Sandel was born in Minneapolis to a Jewish family, which moved to Los Angeles when he was thirteen. A high achiever, he was the President of his senior class at Palisades High School (1971), graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University with a Bachelor's degree in politics (1975), and received his doctorate from Balliol College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, where he studied under philosopher Charles Taylor.


Philosophical views


Michael J. Sandel's voice
Recorded June 2009 from the BBC Radio 4 programme the Reith Lectures
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Sandel subscribes to a certain version of communitarianism (although he is uncomfortable with the label), and in this vein he is perhaps best known for his critique of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. Rawls' argument depends on the assumption of the veil of ignorance, which he claims allows us to become "unencumbered selves".

Sandel's view is that we are by nature encumbered to an extent that makes it impossible even in the hypothetical to have such a veil. Some examples of such ties are those with our families, which we do not make by conscious choice but are born with, already attached. Because they are not consciously acquired, is it impossible to separate oneself from such ties. Sandel believes that only a less-restrictive, looser version of the veil of ignorance should be postulated. Criticism such as Sandel's inspired Rawls to subsequently argue that his theory of justice was not a "metaphysical" theory but a "political" one, a basis on which an overriding consensus could be formed among individuals and groups with many different moral and political views.



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