When I arrived at Harvard, I wanted to design a course in political theory that would have interested me, back when I was started out, in a way that the standard things didn’t.
If you pay a child a dollar to read a book, as some schools have tried, you not only create an expectation that reading makes you money, you also run the risk of depriving the child for ever of the value of it. Markets are not innocent.
The responsibility of political philosophy that tries to engage with practice is to be clear, or at least accessible.
Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life.
To argue about justice is unavoidably to argue about virtues, about substantive moral and even spiritual questions.
The simplest way of understanding justice is giving people what they deserve. This idea goes back to Aristotle. The real difficulty begins with figuring out who deserves what and why.
Whether you’re a libertarian liberal or a more egalitarian liberal, the idea is that justice means being non-judgmental with respect to the preferences people bring to public life.
One of the appeals of markets, as a public philosophy, is they seem to spare us the need to engage in public arguments about the meaning of goods. So markets seem to enable us to be non-judgmental about values. But I think that’s a mistake.
I find this in all these places I’ve been travelling – from India to China, to Japan and Europe and to Brazil – there is a frustration with the terms of public discourse, with a kind of absence of discussion of questions of justice and ethics and of values.
I almost became a political journalist, having worked as a reporter at the time of Watergate. The proximity to those events motivated me, when I wound up doing philosophy, to try to use it to move the public debate.