Sunday, April 25, 2010

Justice with Michael Sandel - Harvard lecture series

Harvard opened its gates on iTunesU and last month I learned about it through Open Culture (a blog you all must follow). Among the supply is Michael Sandel teaching his students about Justice (Justice with Michael Sandel). These sessions are extremely professionally recorded on video and vodcast in 12 issues. In spite of the great video, I would say you will not miss much, if anything at all, if you treat this series as an audio podcast (feed). The point is to hear Sandel and his lively interaction with the students. The few clips and slides can be easily caught without seeing them.

The first lecture video (Moral side of Murder on YouTube) takes the students down the path of consequentialism and utilitarianism. In stead of defining these concepts on morality, Sandel throws carefully tailored cases with moral dilemmas at the students and lets them sort out their evaluations. At this point the aim is to teach them consequentialism and introduce them to utilitarianism and so the cases are designed to let them make decisions about outcomes and the sacrifice of a few for the good of the many. This is continued in the second lecture where finally the opposition is met: categorical ideas of Justice.

I am always surprised how people are willing to take on these cases, especially if they are not based on real occurrences and how they agree to stay within the confines of the question. How can you possibly make decisions about running a trolley into either five workers, or one worker down the road? If you take a bit more time to evaluate these riddles, or if you have done so in the past, it may come as a bit of a disappointment that the students do not challenge Sandel a bit more. In spite of this slight drawback, the advantage is that Sandel remains in total control and has ample to guide even the most inexperienced listener into the tricky world of evaluations of Justice. I will surely take this course on until the end and keep you updated.

More Michael Sandel:
Michael Sandel - LSE / UChannel,
A new politics of the common good,
The bioethics concern,
Morality in Politics,
Morality and the Market,
Michael Sandel - Philosophy Bites.
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