Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

A production of  
  

Debating Same-sex Marriage; The Good Life

The Season 1 finale focuses on same-sex marriage and the link between law and morality. If principles of justice depend on the moral or intrinsic worth of the ends that rights serve, how should we deal with the fact that people hold different ideas and conceptions of what is good? Students address this question in a heated debate about whether same-sex marriage should be legal. Can we settle the matter without discussing the moral permissibility of homosexuality or the purpose of marriage?

In Part 2, Professor Sandel asserts that government can't be neutral on difficult moral questions, such as same-sex marriage and abortion, and asks why we shouldn't deliberate all issues—including economic and civic concerns—with that same moral and spiritual aspiration. In his final lecture, Professor Sandel eloquently makes the case for a new politics of the common good. Engaging, rather than avoiding, the moral convictions of our fellow citizens may be the best way of seeking a just 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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