Justice: What's The Right Thing To Do?

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  • Season 1
    • Debating Same-sex Marriage; The Good Life
      The Season 1 finale focuses on same-sex marriage and the link between law and morality. 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? In Part 2, Professor Sandel asserts that 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 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.moreless
    • The Good Citizen; Freedom vs. Fit
      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. Professor 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. In Part 2, Sandel examines how Aristotle addresses 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.moreless
    • Mind Your Motive; The Supreme Principle of Morality
      Philosopher Immanuel Kant and the moral worth of one's actions are discussed.
    • Claims of Community; Where Our Loyalty Lies
      Professor Sandel presents Kant's objections to Aristotle's theory. Kant believes politics must respect individual freedom. People must always respect other people's freedom to make their own choices-a universal duty to humanity-but for Kant, there is no other source of moral obligation. The discussion of Kant's view leads to an introduction to the communitarian philosophy. 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? In Part 2, Professor Sandel leads a discussion about the arguments for and against obligations of solidarity and membership. 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? Using various scenarios, students debate whether or not obligations of loyalty can ever outweigh universal duties of justice.moreless
    • What's a Fair Start? What Do We Deserve?
      Is it just to tax the rich to help the poor? John Rawls says we should answer this question by asking what principles you would choose to govern the distribution of income and wealth if you did not know who you were, whether you grew up in privilege or in poverty. Wouldn't you want an equal distribution of wealth, or one that maximally benefits whomever happens to be the least advantaged? After all, that might be you. Rawls argues that even meritocracy - a distributive system that rewards effort - doesn't go far enough in leveling the playing field because those who are naturally gifted will always get ahead. Furthermore, says Rawls, the naturally gifted can't claim much credit because their success often depends on factors as arbitrary as birth order. Sandel makes Rawls's point when he asks the students who were first born in their family to raise their hands. In Part 2, Professor Sandel recaps how income, wealth, and opportunities in life should be distributed, according to the three different theories raised so far in class. He summarizes libertarianism, the meritocratic system, and John Rawls's egalitarian theory. Sandel then launches a discussion of the fairness of pay differentials in modern society. He compares the salary of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor ($200,000) with the salary of television's Judge Judy ($25 million). Sandel asks, is this fair? According to John Rawls, it is not. Rawls argues that an individual's personal success is often a function of morally arbitrary facts - luck, genes, and family circumstances - for which he or she can claim no credit. Those at the bottom are no less worthy simply because they weren't born with the talents a particular society rewards, Rawls argues, and the only just way to deal with society's inequalities is for the naturally advantaged to share their wealth with those less fortunate.moreless
    • Arguing Affirmative Action; What's the Purpose?
      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. The second half hour focuses on Aristotle, who disagrees with Rawls and Kant. When considering matters of distribution, Aristotle argues one must consider the goal, the end, the purpose of what is being distributed. Justice is a matter of fitting a person's virtues with an appropriate role. And the highest political offices should go to those with the best judgment and the greatest civic virtue.moreless
    • A Lesson in Lying; A Deal is a Deal
      Immanuel Kant believed that telling a lie, even a white lie, is a violation of one's own dignity. Professor Sandel asks students to test Kant's theory with this hypothetical case: if your friend were hiding inside your home, and a person intent on killing your friend came to your door and asked you where he was, would it be wrong to tell a lie? This leads to a video clip of one of the most famous, recent examples of dodging the truth: President Clinton talking about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. In Part 2, Sandel introduces the modern philosopher, John Rawls, who argues that a fair set of principles would be those principles we would all agree to if we had to choose rules for our society and no one had any unfair bargaining power.moreless
    • Hired Guns; Motherhood: For Sale
      During the Civil War, men drafted into war had the option of hiring substitutes to fight in their place. Professor Sandel asks students whether they consider this policy just. Many do not, arguing that it is unfair to allow the affluent to avoid serving and risking their lives by paying less privileged citizens to fight in their place. This leads to a classroom debate about war and conscription. Is today's voluntary army open to the same objection? Should military service be allocated by the labor market or by conscription? What role should patriotism play, and what are the obligations of citizenship - is there a civic duty to serve one's country? And are utilitarians and libertarians able to account for this duty? In part two, Professor Sandel examines the principle of free-market exchange in light of the contemporary controversy over reproductive rights. Sandel begins with a humorous discussion of the business of egg and sperm donation. He then describes the case of "Baby M" - a famous legal battle in the mid-eighties that raised the unsettling question, "Who owns a baby?" In 1985, a woman named Mary Beth Whitehead signed a contract with a New Jersey couple, agreeing to be a surrogate mother in exchange for a fee of $10,000. However, after giving birth, Ms. Whitehead decided she wanted to keep the child, and the case went to court. Sandel and students debate the nature of informed consent, the morality of selling a human life, and the meaning of maternal rights.moreless
    • This Land Is My Land; Consenting Adults
      In Part 1, Professor Sandel explores philosopher John Locke's belief that individuals have certain rights - to life, liberty, and property - which were given to us as human beings in the "the state of nature," a time before government and laws were created. According to Locke, our natural rights are governed by the law of nature, known by reason, which says that we can neither give them up nor take them away from anyone else. In Part 2, Sandel raises the question: If we all have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, how can a government enforce tax laws passed by the representatives of a mere majority? Doesn't that amount to taking some people's property without their consent? Locke's response is that we give our "tacit consent" to obey the tax laws passed by a majority when we choose to live in a society.moreless
    • Free to Choose; Who Owns Me?
      With humorous references to Bill Gates and Michael Jordan, Sandel introduces the libertarian notion that redistributive taxation - taxing the rich to give to the poor - is akin to forced labor. In part 2, students first discuss the arguments behind redistributive taxation. If you live in a society that has a system of progressive taxation, aren't you obligated to pay your taxes? Don't many rich people often acquire their wealth through sheer luck or family fortune? A group of students dubbed "Team Libertarian" volunteers to defend the libertarian philosophy against these objections.moreless
    • Putting a Price Tag on Life; How to Measure Pleasure
      Today, companies and governments often use Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian logic under the name of "cost-benefit analysis." Sandel presents some contemporary cases in which cost-benefit analysis was used to put a dollar value on human life, giving rise to several objections. In the second half of the program, Sandel introduces J.S. Mill, a utilitarian philosopher who attempts to defend utilitarianism against the objections raised by critics of the doctrine. Mill argues 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. Mill's idea is that the higher pleasure is always the pleasure preferred by a well-informed majority. Sandel tests this theory by playing video clips from three very different forms of entertainment: Shakespeare's Hamlet, the reality show Fear Factor, and The Simpsons.moreless
    • The Moral Side of Murder; The Case for Cannibalism
      The morality of murder and cannibalism are the focus of the opener of the series, in which Harvard professor Michael Sandel lectures his class about moral dilemmas.
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