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
PART ONE: THE MORAL SIDE OF MURDER
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 nothing—what 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 conundrums—each 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.
PART TWO: THE CASE FOR CANNIBALISM
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 utilitarianism—and its doctrine that the right thing to do is whatever
produces "the greatest good for the greatest number."
PART ONE: PUTTING A PRICE TAG ON LIFE
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?
PART TWO: HOW TO MEASURE PLEASURE
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.
PART ONE: FREE TO CHOOSE
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.
PART TWO: WHO OWNS ME?
Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick makes the case that taxing the wealthy—to pay for
housing, health care, and education for the poor—is 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.
PART ONE: THIS LAND IS MY LAND
The philosopher John Locke believes that individuals have
certain rights so fundamental that no government can ever take them away. These rights—to life, liberty and property—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. 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?
PART TWO: CONSENTING ADULTS
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.
PART ONE: HIRED GUNS
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?
PART TWO: MOTHERHOOD: FOR SALE
In this lecture, 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.
PART ONE: MIND YOUR MOTIVE
Professor Sandel introduces Immanuel Kant, a challenging
but influential philosopher. Kant rejects utilitarianism. He
argues that each of us has certain fundamental duties and rights that take precedence over
maximizing utility. Kant rejects the notion that morality is about calculating consequences. When we act out of duty—doing something simply because it is right—only
then do our actions have moral worth. Kant gives the example of a shopkeeper who passes
up the chance to shortchange a customer only because his business might suffer if other customers found out. According to Kant, the shopkeeper’s action has no moral worth, because he did the right thing for the wrong reason.
PART TWO: THE SUPREME PRINCIPLE OF MORALITY
Immanuel Kant says that insofar as our actions have moral worth, what confers moral worth is our capacity to rise above self-interest and inclination and to act out of duty. Sandel tells the
true story of a thirteen-year old boy who won a spelling bee contest, but then admitted to the judges that he had, in fact, misspelled the final word. Using this story and others, Sandel
explains Kant’s test for determining whether an action is morally right: to identify the principle
expressed in our action and then ask whether that principle could ever become a universal law that every other human being could act on.
PART ONE: A LESSON IN LYING
Immanuel Kant’s stringent theory of morality allows for no
exceptions. 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? If
so, would it be moral to try to mislead the murderer without actually lying? 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.
PART TWO: A DEAL IS A DEAL
Sandel introduces the modern philosopher John Rawls and his theory of a “hypothetical social
contract.” Rawls argues that principles of justice are the outcome of a special kind of agreement. They are the principles we would all agree to if we had to choose rules for our society and no one had any unfair bargaining power. According to Rawls, the only way to
ensure that no one has more power than anyone else is to imagine a scenario where no one knows his or her age, sex, race, intelligence, strength, social position, family wealth, religion, or even his or her goals in life. Rawls calls this hypothetical situation a “veil of
ignorance.” What principles would we agree to behind this “veil of ignorance”? And would these principles be fair? Professor Sandel explains the idea of a fair agreement with some humorous examples of actual contracts that produce unfair results.
PART ONE: WHAT’S A FAIR START?
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