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Season 2009 Episode 09.20.09

Putting a Price Tag on Life / How to Measure Pleasre

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Putting a Price Tag on Life / How to Measure Pleasre
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Lecture Three: "Putting a Price Tag on Life" Jeremy Bentham's late 18th century Utilitarian theory -- summed up as "the greatest good for the greatest number" -- is often used today under the name of "cost-benefit analysis." Sandel presents some contemporary examples where corporations used this theory -- which required assigning a dollar value on human lives -- to make important business decisions. This leads to a discussion about the objections to Utilitarianism: is it fair to give more weight to the values of a majority, even when the values of the majority may be ignoble or inhumane? Lecture Four: "How to Measure Pleasure" Sandel introduces J.S. Mill, another Utilitarian philosopher, who argues that all human experience can be quantifiable, and that some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others. Mill argues that if society values the higher pleasures, and values justice, then society as a whole will be better off in the long run. Sandel tests this theory by showing the class three video clips -- from The Simpsons, the reality show Fear Factor and Shakespeare's Hamlet -- then asks students to debate which of the three experiences qualifies as the "highest" pleasure.moreless

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