BOOK REVIEW: On the Priority of Justice. LIBERALISM AND THE LIMITS OF JUSTICE. By Michael J. Sandel + Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1985 Texas Law Review
Texas Law Review

BOOK REVIEW: On the Priority of Justice.


New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Pp. ix, 191. $ 29.50. ++

+ Assistant Professor of Government, Harvard University.

++ Hereinafter cited by page number only.

May, 1985

63 Tex. L. Rev. 1569


Reviewed by William Powers *


I. Introduction

Michael Sandel's Liberalism and the Limits of Justice is a critique of a particular approach to moral and political philosophy that he calls "deontological liberalism." Deontological liberalism is a position associated with the works of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, and Rawls' major book, A Theory of Justice, 1 is the primary focus of Sandel's analysis.

An understanding of Sandel's critique of Rawls requires an understanding of deontological liberalism, and this in turn requires an understanding of another basic approach to the question of what makes a society just or good, namely, utilitarianism. According to utilitarianism, of all the acts that a person can perform, the right act is the one that produces the greatest amount of happiness among human beings, counting everyone equally, and taking into account long-range as well as short-range consequences of actions. 2 In this sense, utilitarianism is a particular version of consequentialism, the view that the moral propriety of an act is judged in terms of its consequences. Consequentialist theories differ among themselves according to their differing views about what constitutes good consequences. Utilitarianism, the most prominent among consequentialist theories, asserts that human happiness defines what is good.

A standard objection to consequentialism, however, is that it cannot account for our strongly held beliefs about rights and justice. Opponents of utilitarianism argue that some acts are unjust, regardless of their consequences, because they violate rights. For example, a completely consistent utilitarian judge who knows a defendant is ...
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