Professor Michael Sandel presents a series of lectures from his Harvard undergraduate course in Political Philosophy.
Professor Michael Sandel presents the first in a series of lectures from his Harvard undergraduate course in Political Philosophy. He explores the morality of murder and asks whether there can ever be a case for killing.
In the second in a series of lectures drawn from Harvard professor Michael Sandel's famous undergraduate course on justice, he introduces the British utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, with reference to an infamous 19th century legal case from Victorian England - the shipwreck of the Mignonette.
After nineteen days lost at sea, the ship's captain decided to kill the weakest amongst the survivors - the young cabin boy - so that the rest could feed on his blood and body. The case sets up a classroom debate about the moral validity of utilitarianism and its doctrine of the right thing to do being whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest number.
In the third in a series of lectures drawn from Harvard professor Michael Sandel's famous undergraduate course on the philosophy of justice, he introduces the British philosopher John Stuart Mill and compares the artistic merits of Shakespeare and The Simpsons.
Mill argued that seeking the greatest good for the greatest number is compatible with protecting individual rights, and that utilitarianism can make room for a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Sandel tests Mill's theory that that the higher pleasure is that which is preferred by a well-informed majority by playing video clips from three very different forms of entertainment - Shakespeare's Hamlet, the reality show Fear Factor and The Simpsons. Students debate their own preferences and whether Mill's defense of utilitarianism is successful.
Do we all have a categorical duty to tell the truth, even to a murderer? The fourth of Michael Sandel's famous lectures on the philosophy of justice looks at the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose stringent theory of morality allowed for no exceptions. Kant believed that telling a lie, even a white lie, was a violation of one's own dignity.
Sandel tests Kant's theory with his famous hypothetical scenario, The Killer at Your Door. If a friend were hiding inside your home and a person intent on killing them came to your door and asked you where they were, would it be wrong to tell a lie? If so, would it be moral to try to mislead the murderer without actually lying to them? This leads to a discussion of the morality of misleading truths.
Sandel wraps up the lecture with a video clip of one of the most famous recent examples of dodging the truth - President Clinton talking about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
The fifth of Harvard professor Michael Sandel's lectures on the philosophy of justice focuses on a simple but controversial question - is it just to tax the rich to help the poor?
The American philosopher John Rawls argued that in order to work out a fair social system, one must start from an imaginary position where everyone has the same opportunity to succeed in life. But is this ever possible in the real world? Sandel polls his students to find out how many of them are first-borns, and makes an intriguing discovery.
The sixth of Michael Sandel's famous lectures on the philosophy of justice looks at the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the rules of golf.
Aristotle believed that the purpose of politics was to promote and cultivate the virtue of a country's citizenry. He argued that those citizens who contribute most to the purpose of the community are the ones who should be most rewarded. But how do we really know the purpose of a community, or a practice?
All this leads to a contemporary debate about golf and the case of Casey Martin, a disabled golfer who sued the PGA after it declined his request to use a golf cart on the PGA Tour.
What really is the purpose of golf and is a player's ability to walk the course essential to the game?
The seventh of Harvard professor Michael Sandel's famous lectures on the philosophy of justice looks at the issue of individual rights and the freedom to choose. If our place in society is determined by where we best fit, doesn't that eliminate personal choice? What if I am best suited to do one kind of work, but I want to do another?
Sandel addresses one of the most glaring objections to Aristotle's views on freedom, his defence of slavery as a fitting social role for certain human beings. Students discuss other objections to Aristotle's theories and debate whether his philosophy overly restricts the freedom of individuals.
In the final episode of Harvard professor Michael Sandel's famous series of lectures on the philosophy of justice, he raises two questions. Is it necessary to reason about the good life in order to decide what rights people have and what is just? And if so, how is it possible to argue about the nature of the good life?
Students explore these questions with a discussion about the relation of law and morality, as played out in public controversies over same-sex marriage and abortion.
Sandel concludes the series by making the point that, in many cases, the law can't be neutral on hard moral questions. Engaging rather than avoiding the moral convictions of our fellow citizens may be the best way of seeking a just society.
PART ONE: ARGUING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
Sandel describes the 1996 court case of a white woman named Cheryl Hopwood who was denied admission to a Texas law school, even though she had higher grades and test scores than some of the minority applicants who were admitted. Hopwood took her case to court, arguing the school’s affirmative action program violated her rights. Students discuss the pros and cons of affirmative action. Should we try to correct for inequality in educational backgrounds by taking race into consideration? Should we compensate for historical injustices such as slavery and segregation? Is the argument in favor of promoting diversity a valid one? How does it size up against the argument that a student’s efforts and achievements should carry more weight than factors that are out of his or her control and therefore arbitrary? When a university’s stated mission is to increase diversity, is it a violation of rights to deny a white person admission?
PART TWO: WHAT’S THE PURPOSE?
Sandel introduces Aristotle and his theory of justice. Aristotle disagrees with Rawls and Kant. He believes that justice is about giving people their due, what they deserve. When considering matters of distribution, Aristotle argues one must consider the goal, the end, the purpose of what is being distributed. The best flutes, for example, should go to the best flute players. And the highest political offices should go to those with the best judgment and the greatest civic virtue. For Aristotle, justice is a matter of fitting a person’s virtues with an appropriate role.
PART ONE: THE GOOD CITIZEN
Aristotle believes the purpose of politics is to promote and cultivate the virtue of its citizens. The telos or goal of the state and political community is the “good life”. And those citizens who contribute most to the purpose of the community are the ones who should be most rewarded. But how do we know the purpose of a community or a practice? Aristotle’s theory of justice leads to a contemporary debate about golf. Sandel describes the case of Casey Martin, a disabled golfer, who sued the PGA after it declined his request to use a golf cart on the PGA Tour. The case leads to a debate about the purpose of golf and whether a player’s ability to “walk the course” is essential to the game.
PART TWO: FREEDOM VS. FIT
How does Aristotle address the issue of individual rights and the freedom to choose? If our place in society is determined by where we best fit, doesn’t that eliminate personal choice? What if I am best suited to do one kind of work, but I want to do another? In this lecture, Sandel addresses one of the most glaring objections to Aristotle’s views on freedom—his defense of slavery as a fitting social role for certain human beings. Students discuss other objections to Aristotle’s theories and debate whether his philosophy overly restricts the freedom of individuals.
Part 1 – THE CLAIMS OF COMMUNITY
Communitarians argue that, in addition to voluntary and universal duties, we also have obligations of membership, solidarity, and loyalty. These obligations are not necessarily based on consent. We inherit our past, and our identities, from our family, city, or country. But what happens if our obligations to our family or community come into conflict with our universal obligations to humanity?
Part 2 – WHERE OUR LOYALTY LIES
Do we owe more to our fellow citizens that to citizens of other countries? Is patriotism a virtue, or a prejudice for one’s own kind? If our identities are defined by the particular communities we inhabit, what becomes of universal human rights?
Part 1 – DEBATING SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
If principles of justice depend on the moral or intrinsic worth of the ends that rights serve, how should we deal with the fact that people hold different ideas and conceptions of what is good? Students address this question in a heated debate about whether same-sex marriage should be legal. Can we settle the matter without discussing the moral permissibility of homosexuality or the purpose of marriage?
Part 2 – THE GOOD LIFE
Sandel believes government can’t be neutral on difficult moral questions, such as same-sex marriage and abortion, and asks why we shouldn’t deliberate all issues—including economic and civic concerns—with that same moral and spiritual aspiration. In his final lecture, Professor Michael Sandel eloquently makes the case for a new politics of the common good. Engaging, rather than avoiding, the moral convictions of our fellow citizens may be the best way of seeking a just society.