What's a Fair Start? What Do We Deserve?

Recent Episodes

Debating Same-sex Marriage; The Good Life

Debating Same-sex Marriage; The Good Life

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

The Season 1 finale focuses on same-sex marriage.

60 min.

The Good Citizen; Freedom vs. Fit

The Good Citizen; Freedom vs. Fit

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

Disabled golfer Casey Martin's case against the PGA.

60 min.

Claims of Community; Where Our Loyalty Lies

Claims of Community; Where Our Loyalty Lies

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

Kant's belief in a universal duty to humanity.

60 min.

Arguing Affirmative Action; What's the Purpose?

Arguing Affirmative Action; What's the Purpose?

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

The pros and cons of affirmative action are debated.

60 min.

What's a Fair Start? What Do We Deserve?

What's a Fair Start? What Do We Deserve?

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

Redistributing wealth to help the disadvantaged.

60 min.

A Lesson in Lying; A Deal is a Deal

A Lesson in Lying; A Deal is a Deal

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

The morality of lying and misleading truths.

60 min.


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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 were, whether you grew up in privilege or in poverty. Wouldn’t you want an equal distribution of wealth, or one that maximally benefits whomever happens to be the least advantaged? After all, that might be you. Rawls argues that even meritocracy — a distributive system that rewards effort — doesn’t go far enough in leveling the playing field because those who are naturally gifted will always get ahead. Furthermore, says Rawls, the naturally gifted can’t claim much credit because their success often depends on factors as arbitrary as birth order. Sandel makes Rawls’s point when he asks the students who were first born in their family to raise their hands.

In Part 2, Professor Sandel recaps how income, wealth, and opportunities in life should be distributed, according to the three different theories raised so far in class. He summarizes libertarianism, the meritocratic system, and John Rawls’s egalitarian theory. Sandel then launches a discussion of the fairness of pay differentials in modern society. He compares the salary of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ($200,000) with the salary of television’s Judge Judy ($25 million). Sandel asks, is this fair? According to John Rawls, it is not. Rawls argues that an individual’s personal success is often a function of morally arbitrary facts — luck, genes, and family circumstances — for which he or she can claim no credit. Those at the bottom are no less worthy simply because they weren’t born with the talents a particular society rewards, Rawls argues, and the only just way to deal with society’s inequalities is for the naturally advantaged to share their wealth with those less fortunate.

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