What is justice?
What is the right thing to do? What is utilitarianism? What can we learn about human moral intuitions and thoughts from trolley problems? Do you change tracks so that a runaway train kills one person instead of five? What about killing the weakest member of a ship crew lost at sea to survive? Should we really weigh the happiness of the majority more heavily? What if they are undemocratic or evil? Can you measure pleasure objectively?
What do individual rights mean for libertarians? Does it make sense to redistribute wealth? Is taxation coercion? What about natural rights? How do they interact with laws of a society? Should rich people pay others to take part in conscription? What is the relationship between justice and patriotism? Is there a collision of free market economics and reproductive rights when it comes to surrogate motherhood? What is the relationship between motives and morality? Is there a categorical imperative? If you believe it is never alright to lie, would you tell a killer where your his intended victim is hiding?
Is Rawls’s veil of ignorance a realistic approach to society and law? Are pay differences between professions fair? How should you deal with societal inequalities? Is affirmative action just? What did Aristotle argue about values and justice? What is the relationship between the value theory of justice and individual rights? Did Aristotle think slavery was justified? What is communitarianism? Is patriotism a virtue or a vice? Is same-sex marriage just? How can we reason about the good life? Can the law be neutral on important issues?
Michael Sandel is Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University and is the instructor of a highly acclaimed and popular course called Justice that covers important moral and legal philosophy and issues with regards to how justice should work. Harvard has put video recordings of his lectures on Youtube, and the playlist can be found here.
These video lectures covers utilitarianism, libertarianism, liberalism, social contract theory, egalitarianism, patriotism, deontology, virtue ethics, Rawls’s theory of justice and communitarianism. The series contain 12 videos and spans about 11 hours. Also check out all the other video lectures on Debunking Denialism.
Sandel starts of this series of video lectures by examining utilitarianism? He introduces the trolley problem and its variations, as well as discuss a historical legal case where the shipwrecked crew on a lost ship decided to eat the cabin boy.
This second video continues the critical analysis of applied utilitarianism by looking at companies who put a price on human life. Which experiences provide the most pleasure? Should we always weigh the happiness of the majority the most, no matter of vile and cruel they are?
Sandel moves on to libertarianism? Is redistribution of wealth in the form of taxation a kind of slavery? What are the arguments for and against libertarianism?
Are there natural rights that are so fundamental that no government should be able to violate them? How does John Locke and classical liberalism handle the issue of taxation?
Is it just for someone to hire a person to fight in their place? How does this relate to modern conscription? Should you be able to buy anything with money? Sandel describes the legal case where a couple paid a surrogate mother who eventually changed her mind. How do the free market relate to informed consent, reproductive rights and the moral status of selling a human life?
Sandel introduces Kant’s deontological ethics. Why did Kant think that duty is an important moral drive? What objections did Kant make against utilitarianism? How does Kantian ethics decide if an action is morally just?
Is it immoral to lie, even if it protects innocent life? What is a social contract and how does Rawls’s theory of justice work? What is a fair agreement and how do we know?
Everyone does not have the same start in life. So how do we handle that? Sandel recapitulates the different moral theories that they have covered so far and contrasts it with the perspective introduced by Rawls.
Is increased diversity a valid moral goal and is affirmative action a just method of accomplishing it? What are the details of Aristotle’s theory of justice? How do values and goals relate to morality?
What are the strengths and weaknesses with Aristotle’s ideas about morality? What is the purpose of golf and should people be able to use golf carts? Can Aristotelian morality handle individual rights? How do we reconcile his ideas about morality with his defense of slavery?
This penultimate video introduces communitarianism. Are there other obligations besides respecting the freedom of other people? Do we have an obligation to membership, solidarity, and loyalty towards our family, country or society? Can these values conflict with larger moral values? Is patriotism something good or bad?
People have different ideas about morality and worth. How do you settle real-world discussions, such as same-sex marriage. Can we decide what rights other people should and should not have without reasoned argument about justice? Can the law be neutral on hard questions? Sandel ends this final lecture by encouraging people to debate moral issues rather than avoiding them.
These video lectures stand out in many important respects: the lecturer is highly pedagogical and extremely engaging, discusses important issues related to justice, makes time for student reaction and debate on a variety of issues and covers an extremely broad range of topics in such a small time.
If you are not all that familiar with the ethical underpinnings of political philosophy or just want a crash course on the history of moral thought, these video lectures are awesome.