Michael Sandel's Course on JusticeThe fabled course on "Justice" (aka Moral Reasoning 22) that Michael Sandel has been teaching at Harvard since 1980 is now available in a video version that you can access online or on PBS. Harvard and WBGH Boston co-produced the series of twelve hour-long episodes.1
Each episode is divided into two half-hour segments, as summarized in the listing below. Please note that the brief descriptions I give here the barest sketches of the content. Fuller synopses are provided at the "Justice" website. The dates in the listing let you know when a particular episode becomes available online. The first two episodes are already available, and a new episode will be added each Sunday through November 29.
The Twelve Episodes of "Justice"
- 9/13 The Moral Side of Murder
Would you kill one person if you knew doing so would save five other people?
The Case for Cannibalism
Is the principle of utilitarianism right? Should we always do what ever will produce "the greatest good for the greatest number"?
- 9/20 Putting a Price Tag on Life
Is it possible to put a price on a person's life? If so, how exactly do you do it? Do you follow the principle of utilitarianism? some other principle?
How to Measure Pleasure
Is John Stuart Mill right that utilitarianism is compatible with protection of individual rights?
- 9/27 Free to Choose
What are the arguments for and against libertarianism?
Who Owns Me?
Is progressive taxation defensible?
- 10/4 This Land is My Land
How valid is John Locke's view that all people have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property?
Is Locke right that tax laws passed by a majority, but not by 100% of the people in a society, are legitimate?
- 10/11 Hired Guns
Should a nation's army be formed via conscription, or on a volunteer basis?
Motherhood for Sale
Is surrogate motherhood OK?
- 10/18 Mind Your Motive
Is Kant right that a good act has moral worth only if it is done for the right reason, namely out of a recognition of duty?
The Supreme Principle of Morality
Is Kant's concept of the categorical imperative sound? (The categorical imperative directs us to "identify the principle expressed in [an] action, and then ask whether that principle could ever become a universal law that every other human being could act on.")
- 10/25 A Lesson in Lying
When, if ever, is lying OK? When is being misleading equivalent to lying?
A Deal is a Deal
Is John Rawls right that we can derive fair principles only if we do so by imagining ourselves behind a "veil of ignorance" that prevents us from knowing our own personal socio-economic position?
- 11/1 What's a Fair Start?
Is Rawls right that the only fair distribution of income, wealth, and opportunities is one that is equal for all members of society?
What Do We Deserve?
A recap that compares libertarianism, the meritocratic principle, and John Rawls's views concerning the distribution of income, wealth, and life opportunities.
- 11/8 Arguing Affirmative Action
What are the pros and cons of affirmative action?
What's the Purpose?
Is Aristotle right that "justice is a matter of fitting a person's virtues with an appropriate role"?
- 11/15 The Good Citizen
Is Aristotle right that "those citizens who contribute most to the purpose of the community are the ones who should be most rewarded?" What is the purpose of any given community?
Freedom vs. Fit
Does Aristotle give too little consideration to individual rights?
- 11/22The Claims of Community
Do people have obligations to their community, above and beyond obligations to humanity in general?
Where Our Loyalty Lies
Can obligations of loyalty to a community or country outweigh universal duties?
- 11/29 Debating Same Sex Marriage
How do you decide if same sex marriage is OK?
The Good Life
"Is it necessary to reason about the good life in order to decide what rights people have and what is just? If so, how is it possible to argue about the nature of the good life?"
The video for each episode is accompanied by a number of collateral resources:
- Synopses of the two segments
- A public discussion circle (forum)
- A particular justice or fairness issue on which you can vote Yes or No
- A quiz to help you review
- A short list of related readings
- Two discussion guides, one at the beginner level, the other advanced
- Teaser questions for the next episode
If you'd like to watch a trailer for the "Justice" course, with beautiful footage shot in Harvard's Sanders Theater, you can go here.
As a final note, if you're interested in knowing more about Sandel's book to accompany the course, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?", published this month, you can read about it here.
1 As explained in an article in the September 26, 2009 edition of the New York Times, the video footage of class sessions comes from 2005 and 2006.