By Marie Willis,2014-10-16 10:17
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    01 The Moral Side of Murder / The Case for Cannibalism 02 Putting a Price Tag on Life / How to Measure Pleasure 03 Free to Choose / Who Owns Me?

    04 This Land is my Land / Consenting Adults

    05 Hired Guns? / For Sale: Motherhood

    06 Mind Your Motive / The Supreme Principle of Morality 07 A Lesson in Lying / A Deal is a Deal

    08 What’s a Fair Start? / What Do We Deserve? 09 Arguing Affirmative Action / What's the Purpose? 10 The Good Citizen / Freedom vs. Fit

    11 The Claims of Community / Where Our Loyalty Lies" 12 Debating Same-sex Marriage / The Good Life Episode One


If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2)

    doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothingwhat would you do? What would be the right thing to do? That’s the

    hypothetical scenario Professor Michael Sandel uses to launch his course on moral

    reasoning. After the majority of students votes for killing the one person in order to save the lives of five others, Sandel presents three similar moral conundrumseach one artfully

    designed to make the decision more difficult. As students stand up to defend their conflicting

    choices, it becomes clear that the assumptions behind our moral reasoning are often contradictory, and the question of what is right and what is wrong is not always black and white.


    Sandel introduces the principles of utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, with a famous nineteenth century legal case involving a shipwrecked crew of four. After nineteen days lost

    at sea, the captain decides to kill the weakest amongst them, the young cabin boy, so that the

    rest can feed on his blood and body to survive. The case sets up a classroom debate about

    the moral validity of utilitarianismand its doctrine that the right thing to do is whatever

produces "the greatest good for the greatest number."

Episode Two


    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. The cases give rise to several objections to the utilitarian logic of seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Should we always give more weight to the happiness of a majority, even if the majority is cruel or ignoble? Is it possible to

    sum up and compare all values using a common measure like money?


    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. Students debate

    which experience provides the higher pleasure, and whether Mill’s defense of utilitarianism is successful.

Episode Three


    Sandel introduces the libertarian conception of individual

    rights, according to which only a minimal state is justified.

    Libertarians argue that government shouldn’t have the power to enact laws that 1) protect people from themselves, such as seat belt laws, 2) impose some people’s moral values on society as a whole, or 3) redistribute income from the rich to the poor. Sandel explains the

    libertarian notion that redistributive taxation is akin to forced labor with references to Bill Gates and Michael Jordan.


Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick makes the case that taxing the wealthyto pay for

    housing, health care, and education for the pooris a form of coercion. Students first discuss

    the arguments behind redistributive taxation. Don’t most poor people need the social services

    they receive in order to survive? 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.

Episode Four


    The philosopher John Locke believes that individuals have

    certain rights so fundamental that no government can ever take them away. These rightsto life, liberty and propertywere 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. Sandel wraps up the lecture by raising a question: what happens to our natural rights

    once we enter society and consent to a system of laws?


    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. Therefore, taxation is legitimate and compatible with individual rights, as long as it applies to everyone and does not arbitrarily single anyone out.

Episode Five