Michael Sandel argues that justice and the common good are fundamentally linked. He defines the common good as a “concern for the whole” (263). He explores definitions of justice in terms of maximizing utility or welfare, ensuring freedom of choice, and lastly—the definition he favors—cultivating virtue and concern for the common good. In regard to maximizing the welfare of a group Sandel argues that this reduces justice to a calculation so that much of its value is lost. He states that justice defined by freedom of choice is good in that it takes our fundamental human rights seriously, but fails because it does not force people to question their own choices which affect the quality of the common life we have in a community. He argues that to have a just society, the people that make up the society have to agree on what “the common good” is, and to create an environment in which people can safely and constructively disagree. In fewer words, justice is “about the right way to value things” (261).
While reading this text the following sentence resonated with me: “If a just society requires a strong sense of community, it must find a way to cultivate in citizens a concern for the whole, a dedication to the common good” (263). I think having a strong sense of community is one of the most important factors in working toward a common good. In a community where people can voice their greatest concerns and opinions about the social issues that affect them, the community can work toward a solution that respects and values each person.
The parts of the reading that did not resonate with me were the example choices Sandel made when arguing about the faults in freedom of choice. In regard to same sex marriage Sandel states that using the freedom of choice approach is inadequate because it depends on defining marriage. He argues that a decision cannot be made on nonjudgements. The marriage argument ultimately asks what marriages are worthy of honor. While I think that Sandel does not favor freedom of choice because it in a way sidesteps confronting social issues, I do think it is important that the freedom of choice is respected within a community that addresses social issues.
I found this reading to be relevant to the work that all of the MICAH fellows are doing this summer at their partner organizations because we are all working in some way toward justice and the common good. If common good is concern for the whole then I think my service at St. Anthony’s works to that end. The mission of St. Anthony’s is to provide the marginalized members of the Tenderloin community with the dignity and respect everyone deserves. By listening to their stories and hearing their needs, we are working toward a good for the community.