Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

A production of  
  

Claims of Community; Where Our Loyalty Lies

Professor Sandel presents Kant’s objections to Aristotle’s theory. Kant believes politics must respect individual freedom. People must always respect other people’s freedom to make their own choices—a universal duty to humanity—but for Kant, there is no other source of moral obligation. The discussion of Kant’s view leads to an introduction to the communitarian philosophy. Communitarians argue that, in addition to voluntary and universal duties, we also have obligations of membership, solidarity, and loyalty. These obligations are not necessarily based on consent. We inherit our past, and our identities, from our family, city, or country. But what happens if our obligations to our family or community come into conflict with our universal obligations to humanity?

In Part 2, Professor Sandel leads a discussion about the arguments for and against obligations of solidarity and membership. Do we owe more to our fellow citizens that to citizens of other countries? Is patriotism a virtue, or a prejudice for one’s own kind? If our identities are defined by the particular communities we inhabit, what becomes of universal human rights? Using various scenarios, students debate whether or not obligations of loyalty can ever outweigh universal duties of justice.

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ABOUT JUSTICE: WHAT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO?

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A coproduction of WGBH and Harvard University, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? invites viewers to think critically about the fundamental questions of justice, equality, democracy, and citizenship. Each week, more than 1,000 students attend the lectures of Harvard professor and author Michael Sandel (shown), eager to expand their understanding of political and moral philosophy, as well as test long-held beliefs. Students learn about the great philosophers of the past — Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Locke — then apply the lessons to complex and sometimes volatile modern-day issues, including affirmative action, same-sex marriage, patriotism, loyalty, and human rights.

Sandel presents students with ethical dilemmas — some hypothetical, others actual cases — then asks them to decide "what’s the right thing to do?" He encourages students to stand up and defend their decisions, which leads to a lively and often humorous classroom debate. Sandel then twists the ethical question around, to further test the assumptions behind their different moral choices. The process reveals the often contradictory nature of moral reasoning.

 

    

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