Why Justice Isn’t Enough

Barry Schwartz

Frequent TED and TEDx speaker Barry Schwartz is Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action. His work explores the social and psychological effects of free-market economic institutions on moral, social, and civic concerns. In the book Practical Wisdom (2011), which Schwartz co-wrote with Kenneth Sharpe, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Political Science, the authors argue that without such wisdom, neither detailed rules nor clever incentives will be enough to solve the problems we face.

Whatever else a good society should be, it should be a just society. But what does it mean to say that a society is just? For most people, a just society is one in which people deserve what they get and people get what they deserve. Whereas it may be possible to achieve the first of these goals, it is not possible to achieve the second. This is true when it comes to admission to selective colleges, and it is true when it comes to any form of material success. Lots of people do not get what they deserve. Aside from merit, success depends on luck. If we appreciate the importance of luck in our own lives, we may be more favorably disposed to helping people who deserve success just as much as we do but haven’t been as lucky.