Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Justice ~ by Michael J. Sandel

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? ~ by Michael J. Sandel, 2009
What are our obligations to others as people in a free society?  Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth?  Is it possible, or desirable, to legislate morality? Is killing sometimes morally required?  Do individual rights and the common good conflict?  Should government tax the rich to help the poor?  Is the free market fair?  Michael J. Sandel’s “Justice” course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard.
"Justice" is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history.  Harvard has opened its classroom to the world.  Professor Michael Sandel challenges us with difficult moral dilemmas and asks our opinion about the right thing to do.  He then asks us to examine our answers in the light of new scenarios.  The results are often surprising, revealing that important moral questions are never black and white.   This course also addresses the hot topics of our day — affirmative action, same-sex marriage, patriotism and rights, torture, stealing a drug that your child needs to survive.  Notice that each of these twelve classes has two topics, which we'll discuss separately.

Harvard class videos
Harvard assigned readings
About the author
Harvard faculty page
1a ~ The Moral Side of Murder
1b ~ The Case for Cannibalism
2a ~ Putting a Price Tag on Life
2b ~ How to Measure Pleasure
3a ~ Free to Choose
3b ~ Who Owns Me?
4a ~ This Land is my Land
4b ~ Consenting Adults
5a ~ Hired Guns?
5b ~ Motherhood: For Sale
6a ~ Mind Your Motive
6b ~ The Supreme Principle of Morality
7a ~ A Lesson in Lying
7b ~ A Deal is a Deal
8a ~ What's a Fair Start?
8b ~ What Do We Deserve?
9a ~ Arguing Affirmative Action
9b ~ What's the Purpose?
10a ~ The Good Citizen
10b ~ Freedom vs. Fit
11a ~ The Claims of Community
11b ~ Where Our Loyalty Lies
12a ~ Debating Same-sex Marriage
12b ~ The Good Life

You are welcome to watch Harvard's video, do the readings they provide (not all episodes have related readings), and come here to see what's being said.  You can answer earlier questions as well as the current one.

Here's your first question:   Does morality interest you enough that you'll join us in exploring the ideas?  (Answer this one in the comments below.)


Bonnie Jacobs said...

Once again, let's study a book — slowly. Who's with me on this one?

alisonwonderland said...

I'm totally in!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Yay, Alison! Shirley got the book after we discussed the chapter on "Justice" when we read Diana Butler Bass's Christianity for the Rest of Us last fall.

And Donna has found her copy of the book from reading it a few years ago.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Shirley said... (in an email)

The book and lecture series are great as is, but having the discussion by Book Buddies will make it even better.

alisonwonderland said...

I picked up a copy of Justice from the library and have started to read the first chapter. I think this is going to be a very thought-provoking course of study!

Shirley said...

I should have kept better notes on the reading that I've done so far (first chapter and a couple of pages into the second). I have watched the first two class lectures. Sandel's lectures demonstrate an amazing talent for teaching--I'm especially impressed at his ability to do so for a large audience with such respect for his students. I wonder if his teaching style is typical for Harvard and other prestigious universities or if he is exceptional even for them. Do others plan to watch the lecture before or after reading each chapter? I am so slow at reading that I hadn't planned to also read the supplemental readings, but your links sure make it convenient and tempting.
Thank you, Bonnie, for opening this up for our group especially since it is a re-read for you and Donna.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Shirley, the nice thing about the video links is that you can always come back and watch them later. Since our discussion will always be here, even years from now (Blogger willing), you can comment on anything at any time.

Allison, I'm glad you have the book now. We had a lot of excellent discussion in our face-to-face group when we did this in 2009.

Donna and I will be at a video taping with Liz Curtis Higgs in Nashville tomorrow morning, so we're going this afternoon and stay overnight. I'll get our first questions up as soon as I can, hopefully this week. No hurry about starting our discussion, though. I just want to have it there for everybuddy.

caboose said...

(1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing, even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing

I pray never to have the need to make such a decision. Killing one person would be the choice I would make. I pose a question: what is the meaning of morality?
To me it means right or wrong, your conscious speaks to you when you are making a wrong decision. Behavior is a persons actions right or wrong .Responsibility means obligation to ourselves how we act. Our principles create are personality, our ethics is what we have learned good or bad, it makes us who we are today. I believe our values have changed significantly over the past fifty years and our children and grandchildren our confused and disoriented seeing our world today, here in America.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

This excerpt is from an article by Thomas Friedman on The Professors' Big Stage:

I was picked up at Logan Airport by my old friend Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, which is launching March 12 as the first humanities offering on the M.I.T.-Harvard edX online learning platform. When he met me at the airport I saw he was wearing some very colorful sneakers.

“Where did you get those?” I asked. Well, Sandel explained, he had recently been in South Korea, where his Justice course has been translated into Korean and shown on national television. It has made him such a popular figure there that the Koreans asked him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a professional baseball game — and gave him the colored shoes to boot! Yes, a Harvard philosopher was asked to throw out the first pitch in Korea because so many fans enjoy the way he helps them think through big moral dilemmas.

Sandel had just lectured in Seoul in an outdoor amphitheater to 14,000 people, with audience participation. His online Justice lectures, with Chinese subtitles, have already had more than 20 million views on Chinese Web sites, which prompted The China Daily to note that “Sandel has the kind of popularity in China usually reserved for Hollywood movie stars and N.B.A. players.”

NOTE: Donna and Jane and I went to hear Thomas Friedman in November:

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I ran across an article about Michael Sandel: "Capitalism is killing our morals, our future."

He has a new best-seller, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Today “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel.

Shirley said...

Thanks for the info on Sandel's new book and the article. Too bad more don't question the wisdom of our market society. The article's author's comment that Sandel's problem is that he is too optimistic as those in power are not going to yield and give up their control in order to do the right thing. The reference that not only have the powerful taken over the power of our country, but claim to be following God's will is a sad commentary in itself.

Do you plan to read the new book? That would be great if he has another online course.

I'm still reading Justice. I'm slow, but enjoying it.

Current favorite reads relate to methods used by Montessori. Perhaps if more followed this lead and encouraged respect both for the child and for individuals there would be greater hope for our society.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Donna gave me his new book for my birthday, which was last Friday, so I'll read it eventually. (Thanks, Donna.)

Shirley said...

That is a good friend! I need to pick up the pace and finish the first book so that I can join in if you post about the second one.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

First, I need to post questions for the rest of this FIRST book. I'll try to get another set of questions posted today or tomorrow.

Shirley said...

I mentioned this online lecture series to my brother who is visiting from Maryland and he told me about a class he's taking at John Hopkins University on the history of the Supreme Court. He's able to retain names and facts much better than I am which would help. He has always been one who appreciates and takes advantage of all of the opportunities that are available in his area. I felt rather wimpy that I'm taking this long just to finish this book and forgetting so much of it while he's reading so much more, attending author lectures, etc. Oh well, he hasn't finished ANY quilts. :)

I do appreciate all that you share about books to enrich my life even though it's the armchair approach!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Michael Sandel, three days ago:

Shirley said...

That was quite a heavy article which I didn't fully understand (it merited more time than I was willing to spend at this time).

Two of the comments that especially interested me was that Sandel does not think economics is a science. The way some college classes (e.g., economics and sociology) spent their intro info explaining why they were a science always made me quite skeptical. I also liked the commentary about the experiments of paying students to read or get good grades. I agree that it quickly changes what should be something done because of the student's interest in learning to something that requires payment.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

You are right, Bonnie, that one of the nice things about blogging is that people can read your posts and comment on them, even though it is years in the future. Here I am, on the cusp of 2020, reading Justice for the first time, and now I have the opportunity to watch the author's lectures and to read your thoughts, questions, and discussions about this book.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

My biggest takeaway from the book and the series of lectures is a feeling of hope for the future. I loved seeing and hearing the young students articulate their thoughts about justice. These are best and brightest, true, but they aren't just out there shouting at each other. I also took away the realization that, despite the hold of the free market economy on our country (it's more important than democracy to most people, I'm afraid), there are many, many things that we as a world can agree upon that should not have a market value. The cardinal at my bird feeder right now, for example. I can't pay him money to bring him to my feeder. The love I have for family and friends isn't something that can be bought. It makes me feel quietly happy to know that I'm slightly outside that system.