Monday, June 04, 2012

What Money Can't Buy

I've just posted a short (400 word) review of Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy over on Amazon.

I should say that the review is written for the book's popular audience, rather than professional philosophers. If I were reviewing it for an academic journal (and I do intend to write a longer, if not more academic, review at some point), then I would probably be a bit harsher about the lack of real argumentation.

Sandel's message is simply that we need to think about the appropriate limits of markets, but he doesn't explicitly put forward his own recommendations, preferring to fall back on the idea that they are a matter for public debate. Nor does he demonstrate that markets do corrupt other practices in a way that would convince someone who does not accept this. The appeal to social understandings - as with Walzer's Spheres of Justice - is essentially an appeal to intuitions that may be contested.

Nonetheless, as popular philosophy I think the book works well. While one can detect continuities with Sandel's other works, and implicit criticisms of Rawls-style universalist liberalism (particularly in Sandel's emphasis that public debate should draw upon moral visions of the good life), none of this is necessary. It's accessibly written and something that I hope gets widely read. To say that anything that brings political philosophy to a wider audience would be an exaggeration (in case, for instance, it was really bad), but this I think is an admirable popularisation of ideas developed elsewhere (for instance by Walzer and Satz).

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