Michael Sandel

Michael Sandel (1953-) is a political philosopher and a professor at Harvard University.


Sandel graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University in 1975, and received his doctorate from Balliol College at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he studied under Charles Taylor.

Philosophical views

Sandel subscribes to the theory of communitarianism (although he is uncomfortable with the label), and in this vein he is perhaps best known for his critique of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice. Rawls' argument depends on the assumption of the veil of ignorance, which 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 the ties we make with our families, which we do not make by conscious choice but are born with them already attached. Because they are not consciously applied, these ties are impossible to separate from someone. Sandel believes that only a less-restrictive, looser version of the veil of ignorance can be possible. Rawls's argument, however, depends on the fact that the veil is restrictive enough that we make decisions without knowing who will be affected by these decisions, which of course is impossible if we are already attached to people in the world.

Teaching: "Justice"

Sandel has taught the famous "Justice course at Harvard for two decades. More than 10,000 students have taken the course, making it one of the most highly attended in Harvard's history. The fall 2007 class was the largest ever at Harvard, with a total of 1,115 students. It is also offered online for students nationwide through the Harvard Extension School. Sandel also co-teaches with Douglas Melton "Ethics and Biotechnology" a seminar considering the ethical implications of a variety of biotechnological procedures and possibilities.

Public service

Sandel previously served on the George W. Bush administration's President's Council on Bioethics.


Sandel is the author of multiple publications including "Democracy's Discontent" and "Public Philosophy". His Public Philosophy, is a collection of essays published over the years, examining the role of morality and justice in American political life. Particularly insightful is his commentary on the role of moral values and civic community on the American electoral process--a relevant and much-debated aspect of the 2004 election and current political discussion. Sandel's latest book, "The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering," was published in 2007.


External links

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