Part 1 - Putting a Price Tag on Life: Today, companies and governments often use Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian logic under the name of “cost-benefit analysis.” Sandel presents some contemporary cases in which cost-benefit analysis was used to put a dollar value on human life. The cases give rise to several objections to the utilitarian logic of seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Should we always give more weight to the happiness of a majority, even if the majority is cruel or ignoble? Is it possible to sum up and compare all values using a common measure like money? Part 2 - How to Measure Pleasure: Sandel introduces J.S. Mill, a utilitarian philosopher who attempts to defend utilitarianism against the objections raised by critics of the doctrine. Mill argues that seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number” is compatible with protecting individual rights, and that utilitarianism can make room for a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Mill’s idea is that the higher pleasure is always the pleasure preferred by a well-informed majority. Sandel tests this theory by playing video clips from three very different forms of entertainment: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the reality show Fear Factor, and The Simpsons. Students debate which experience provides the higher pleasure, and whether Mill’s defense of utilitarianism is successful.
Justice is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history, having taught more than 14,000 students over the course of two decades. In this course, 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—and Sandel shows us that we can revisit familiar controversies with a fresh perspective. Each lecture in this course has two parts as well as related readings and discussion guides.
Harvard University, founded in 1636, is America's oldest Ivy League university. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard consists of an undergraduate program, the College, as well as 13 other graduate level schools and institutes offering top-ranked programs in fields such as Medicine, Business, and Law. Notable alumni include former U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, poet Robert Frost, architect Frank Gehry, songwriter Leonard Bernstein, and comedian Conan O'Brien.