Tu Quoque: Michael Sandel on the Corruption Wrought by MoneyPosted on the 25 May 2012 by Philosopher's Beard
Now I have many issues about Sandel's status as a philosophical guru. He is popular because his Aristotelian style of argument has an affinity with our commonsense moral reasoning, and because his practised glibness means the awfulness of his arguments and research are not readily apparent. Properly understood, his Aristotelian metaphysical views of politico-morality are narrow, outdated and distasteful. They lead, I think, to his lack of respect for individual freedom and democratic values, and general illiberalism. And also to his communitarianism (which reminds me of the imaginary medieval Catholic communities that Charles Taylor is always wittering on about). Then there is his misuse of social scientific research in a partial and self-serving way (to support - but never test - his claims). Above all there is the lack of self-reflection that allows all this pre-Enlightenment bumpf to hang together.
One of these days I will put all this together in a proper critique. For now I just want to make a quick and dirty attack on his personal moral character (!).
How seriously should we take Mr Sandel's analysis of the corrupting influence of the market? Seriously enough to apply to the "Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government" himself? From the Boston Review I quote,
"The corruption objection is about institutional integrity. This objection points out that higher education not only equips students for remunerative jobs, but that it also embodies certain ideals—the pursuit of truth, the promotion of scholarly and scientific excellence, the advancement of humane teaching and learning, the cultivation of civic virtue. Although all universities need money to pursue their ends, allowing fundraising needs to predominate runs the risk of distorting these ends and corrupting the norms that give universities their reason for being. That the corruption objection is about integrity—the fidelity of an institution to its constitutive ideals—is suggested by the familiar charge of 'selling out'."
Here is what Mr Sandel said when he sold out to a hedge-fund manager and his wife: "I am honored to be named the first Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor," said Sandel. "Named professorships are a vital, tangible link between the University's most devoted supporters and the faculty's research and teaching." (Harvard Gazette October 24, 2002)
What does this ad hominem critique imply? Any or all of the following:
1. Sandel doesn't understand the implications of his own theory. In particular he doesn't understand how it may apply to himself (bad philosopher)
2. He's a hypocrite, though he may not know it (bad ethicist)
3. His corruption theory is not adequate to the complexities of the real world. Thus any applications are prone to being arbitrary and polemical (and also self-serving and dangerous).
I don't think I will be buying his book.
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