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Sandel on Freedom of Choice and Justice

Here’s a letter that I just sent to the Washington Post:

Michael Gerson rightly praises philosopher Michael Sandel for attending to difficult moral questions (“Giving democracy a dose of clarity,” October 28).  Gerson, however, too quickly accepts Sandel’s reason for rejecting freedom of choice as supplying, in Sandel’s words, “an adequate basis for a just society.”

Contrary to Sandel’s assumption, the justice of freedom of choice doesn’t require the absence of family, religious, or other ties that bind each of us in non-economic ways – in non-calculating ways – to other people and to various ideals.  Instead, the justice of freedom of choice springs from the fact that, regardless of how strongly Jones is constrained by ‘non-calculated’ influences to reject certain options out-of-hand, no other person is in as good a position as is Jones to make sound choices for Jones.

Freedom of choice won’t propel anyone to a bliss point.  But it will protect each individual from the injustice of being coerced by others into serving persons and causes that he or she chooses not to serve.  In our imperfect vale, that’s the best justice that we can hope for.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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