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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: THE CLAIMS OF COMMUNITY

Professor Sandel presents Kants objections to Aristotles theory. Kant believes politics must respect individual freedom. People must always respect other peoples freedom to make their own choices—a universal duty to humanity—but for Kant, there is no other source of moral obligation. The discussion of Kants view leads to an introduction to the communitarian philosophy. Communitarians argue that, in addition to voluntary and universal duties, we also have obligations of membership, solidarity, and loyalty. These obligations are not necessarily based on consent. We inherit our past, and our identities, from our family, city, or country. But what happens if our obligations to our family or community come into conflict with our universal obligations to humanity?

PART TWO: WHERE OUR LOYALTY LIES

Professor Sandel leads a discussion about the arguments for and against obligations of solidarity and membership. Do we owe more to our fellow citizens than to citizens of other countries? Is patriotism a virtue, or a prejudice for one’s own kind? If our identities are defined by the particular communities we inhabit, what becomes of universal human rights? Using various scenarios, students debate whether or not obligations of loyalty can ever outweigh universal duties of justice.

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