Michael Sandel on Justice #4
I said last time that Michael Sandel seemed to be saying that John Rawls would give institutions like colleges and housing authorities the right to define their mission how they like, and that applicants only have the right to fair treatment in accordance with that mission.
I didn’t think Rawls’s theory did imply that, because Rawls would still say that institutions had an obligation to behave in accordance with justice.
Sandel goes on to say that
schools, universities, occupations, professions [and] public offices … are not free to define their mission just any way they please.
But according to Sandel this is because such institutions
are defined, at least in part, by the distinctive goods they promote. … Certain goods are appropriate to certain social institutions, and to ignore these goods in allocating roles can be a kind of corruption.
I agree that institutions are not free to define their mission how they please. But I do not see anything in Rawls’s theory to imply that he thinks they are. It may also be true that part of what makes institutions what they are is the distinctive goods they promote. But this doesn’t seem, or need, to be anything fundamental to the concept of justice. Perhaps Rawls’s liberal egalitarianism leads to the creation and maintenance of institutions which promote distinctive goods? That is certainly plausible.
But not all institutions are good in themselves. Schools and colleges and may promote distinctive goods, but what distinctive goods does a concentration camp promote?
I think this is why I stopped agreeing with Sandel. At this point in the book he’s trying to persuade his readers that there is a gap in liberal egalitarianism which needs to be filled by something more Aristotelian. There may be a gap, but I cannot see the one Sandel claims.
To be continued…
© Chris Lawrence 2011.