The Harvard 'Justice with Michael Sandel' Thread
On Sunday 11th March 2012 at 10:00AM, NDTV is going to start broadcasting Harvard's brilliant lecture series "Justice" with Michael Sandel ( I think it's of crucial importance to popularise this series, because for most Indians (including me) it's our first ever exposure to moral philosophy (aka ethics) and political philosophy. It is also available on Youtube, the link to the entire playlist is:

In order to promote discussion about the series, I've been putting together the following notes along with timestamps, to allow us to revisit the lectures to look up specific points later on. It is still incomplete - I have not watched the whole series. I'm finding it slow going, so I thought we could "crowd-source" the effort. If you're watching the series, please consider taking down such notes (with timestamps!) as you watch, and then come contribute your effort to this thread. Spread the word!
[+] 3 users Like unsorted's post

(No timestamps for this one, sorry.)

Trolley problem.
Definitions of Consequentialist and Categorical moral reasoning
Risks of studying philosophy

Utilitarianism - Jeremy Bentham
"Maximising utility" - where "utility" means the "balance of pleasure over pain, happiness over suffering"
"The greatest good for the greatest number"
Case: queen vs dudley (murder and cannibalism of the cabin boy)
3 questions raised from the discussion:
1. Do we have certain fundamental rights?
2. Does a fair procedure (lottery in this case) justify any result?
3. What is the moral work of consent (i.e. would it matter if the cabin boy consented)?

analysis of utilitarianism
4': Philip Morris and Ford Pinto studies - cost/benefit analysis
19': Objections to utilitarianism:
1. Fails to adequately respect individual/minority rights
2. Not possible to aggregate all values and preferences into a single uniform measure
23' Thorndike's study

Continuation of objections to utilitarianism
30' Additional objection following point 2 above: Isn't there a distinction between higher and lower pleasures? Bentham said no. "The quantity of pleasure being equal, pushpin [a child's game] is as good as poetry."
33' John Stuart Mill - a later day utilitarian. He attempted to modify the principles to address these objections. Famous book - Utilitarianism.
Mill said the only test of whether a pleasure is higher or lower is which would be preferred by someone who has experienced both.
39' does an experiment by showing 3 excerpts of popular entertainment - Hamlet, Fear Factor and the Simpsons. smile
48': Mill: "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool or the pig are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question."
W.r. to objection no. 1, Mill said utility is still the main way of deciding. It's the "chief part" of justice - things will be better for society if we follow this.

Continuation of Mill. Then moves to Libertarianism
3' Mill said that justice is the most chief part of morality. In the long run if we do justice and if we respect rights, society will be better off.
1. What if making an exception and violating individual rights will make things better in the long run?
2. Let's say he's right. But is that the right/only reason to respect people? (i.e. if I don't, it will make things worse for society - not for the individual person)
5' "Strong theories of rights" - individuals are separate beings worthy of respect. It's a mistake to think about justice by just adding up preferences or values.
6' Libertarianism: "The fundamental individual right is the right to liberty."
8' Libertarianism's view of government:
1. no paternalist legislation (e.g. seat belt laws)
2. no morals legislation (e.g. laws against homosexuality)
3. no redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor (e.g. taxation)
11' discussion about point 3 above
Robert Nozick: What makes income distribution just? - Justice in acquisition, justice in transfer (free market)
13' Bill Gates and Michael Jordan discussion. Nozick said taxation is not just theft but forced labour and slavery - i.e. others benefiting from the fruits of someone else's labour.
Taxation = taking of earnings = forced labour = slavery Therefore Violates principle of self-possession.

28' "Minimal state"??? - libertarian economist Milton Friedman
34' Discussion about various objections to libertarianism:
1. The poor need the money more
2. Taxation by consent of the governed is not coerced
3. The successful owe a debt to society
4. Wealth depends parly on luck so it isn't deserved

John Locke
1' "A natural right to life, liberty and property". "State of nature" - before government and before laws. Natural rights are non-transferrable/inalienable i.e. they can't be given up.
5' One reason we can't "give up" these natural rights - because we are the work of god. Second is through reason.
9' "Every man has a property in his own person" and we own our own labour. Also, whatever we mix our labour with, that is unowned, becomes our property. If you're growing potatoes on unowned land, the land becomes your property too. "As long as there is enough left over for others".
11' Differences between Locke and libertarianism
13' Ttrade-related IPR - drug patent laws. South African govt trying to buy cheap generic drugs from India.
15' Student stuff
22' Intro to the question, what happens to our natural rights once governments and laws come into the picture? Locke said the law of nature should persist even then. But what counts as my life, liberty and property are for governments to define - key point that differentiates this from libertarianism.

27' The question of consent - Locke's second big idea, after private property.
33' The only way to escape from the state of nature is to undertake an act of consent, where you agree to give up the "enforcement" power, and you agree to form a govt/community which will make law and everyone who enters agrees in advance to abide by whatever the majority decides. But the majority still cannot violate your unalienable rights without majority consent.???
35' Discussion about taxation, military conscription etc.
(at this point I got lost... anyone else, please add to this write-up.)
Yet to be done - any takers?


Immanuel Kant
2' Kant rejected utilitarianism. He said that human beings have a certain "dignity", which stems from us being capable of reason. He also said we have the capacity to act freely. He denied Bentham's claim that pain and pleasure are our sovereign masters. He said that our rational capacity makes us special (more than just animals).
6' Kant's notion of "freedom". He said if we're acting according to our natures or desires or fears, we're not really acting freely. He said to act freely means to act autonomously. And to act autonomously means to act according to a law that I give myself. "Heteronomy" - the opposite of autonomy.
9' "To act freely is not to choose the best means to a given end, but to choose the end itself for its own sake". We are instruments rather than authors of the ends we pursue. Kant said it is this that gives humans a special dignity.
12' Kant's answer to Mill's idea that in the long run if we uphold justice and respect dignity of persons then we will maximise happiness -- Even if that were true, the utilitarian is doing these things for the wrong reason. It would be using people as means rather than respecting them as ends in themselves.
13' What makes an action morally worthy? The motive itself. A good will is good in itself. Even if by utmost effort the good will accomplishes nothing, it still itself has value. This motive is duty, and the opposite of this is inclination.
15' Examples and discussion.

30' Kant's three contrasts:
1. Morality: whether your motive is duty vs. inclination
2. Freedom: whether your will is determined autonomously vs. heteronomously
3. Imperative: An "ought", something that comes from reason. Hypothetical (if you want X, then do Y) vs. Categorical (Y is good in itself and therefore necessary).
40' Kant's three versions of the categorical imperative
1. The formula of Universal Law: act only on that maxim/principle whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. This is sometimes wrongly interpreted as appealing to consequences (i.e. consequentialism).
2. The formula of Humanity as End: human beings are themselves and end, that have an absolute value. We should act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person of that of another, never simply as a means, but always at the same time, as an end.
To be completed.
Yet to be done.
Yet to be done.


Affirmative action.
1' Sheryl Hopwood(?) /University of Texas case study
16' 3 different arguments:
1. correcting for educational disadvantage - taking into account not only test scores, but also unequal backgrounds
2. compensating for past wrongs
3. diversity is good - for educational experience for everyone, and for society as whole
20' One objection to the compensatory argument is - it's unfair to hold someone personally accountable for past wrongs in which she was not implicated. i.e. "Collective responsibility".
23' Objection to the diversity argument is from individual rights - is a person's individual right violated if she is "used" i.e. denied admission for the sake of the common good. Rawls however rejected moral desert as the basis of distributive justice.
30' considers the question of whether a university can define its mission however it wants (in the Harvard/UofT case, promoting diversity). In the 1950s, U of T had the opposite mission - it only accepted white students, and argued that its mission was to produce lawyers for Texas (which only had white lawyers). Is that different from haivng a PRO-diversity mission today?
39' key question is - is it possible (and desirable) to detach questions of distributive justice from questions of moral desert and of virtue. Nearly all today - from libertarian to egalitarian - say that justice should NOT be tied to moral desert.
41' Aristotle was different - he explicitly tied justice to mora l desert and virtue. He thought people should get their due. "Justice involves two factors: things and the persons to whom things are assigned. In general we say that persons who are equal should have equal things assigned to them."
47' Aristotle would say the best flutes should go to the best flute players - not for utilitarian reasons, but because that is the purpose of flutes. This is called teleological moral reasoning - i.e. reasoning from the "telos" i.e. the goal, the end. This was consistent with the way they looked at the world back then - even nature was looked at in teleological terms.

Possibly Related Threads...
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  [split] moderation open thread(On affirmative action and not being sexist) Piyush Mishra 29 14,207 09-Sep-2012, 09:14 PM
Last Post: Kanad Kanhere

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)