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Wisdom Level:  Beginner

Overview:

‘Justice’ is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history. Professor Michael Sandel hosts a series of talks that discuss various ethical and moral challenges where our views about right and wrong will often blur depending on the circumstances.

Commentary:

PART ONE: THIS LAND IS MY LAND

The philosopher John Locke believes that individuals have certain rights so fundamental that no government can ever take them away. These rights—to life, liberty and property—were given to us as human beings in the state of nature, a time before government and laws were ever 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. Sandel wraps up the lecture by raising a question: what happens to our natural rights once we enter society and consent to a system of laws?

PART TWO: CONSENTING ADULTS

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? Lockes 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. Therefore, taxation is legitimate and compatible with individual rights, as long as it applies to everyone and does not arbitrarily single anyone out.

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