Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

A production of  
  

This Land Is My Land; Consenting Adults

In Part 1, Professor Sandel explores philosopher John Locke's belief that individuals have certain rights — to life, liberty, and property — which 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.

In Part 2, Sandel raises the question: 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.

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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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