What would you do ...?

A few months back, I got to know about this lecture series called Justice - delivered at Harvard by Michael Sandel. It came highly recommended and from the first episode on I was hooked on to it. Through a series of lectures given at the historic Sanders Theatre, Sandel takes us through a number of moral questions with ramifications in everyday life and much beyond that.

[Photo Credit: Sun Yat-Sen Business School

He starts off grabbing his students' and viewers' interest by putting forward a situation which translates into a question - "Would you kill one man to save five?" Turns out, the answer is not as simple as it may sound. I would have put the exact question that he puts forward but I would want you to enjoy the lecture.

[Photo Credit: Infosys Science Foundation]
The lectures do get dense as we proceed through the series, and it cannot be heard as one of those things that run in the background while you tend your daily work. True to its name, it is a lecture and therefore demands the attention that a lecture requires.

I found the series remarkable in the way it takes us through actual theories/thoughts put forward by philosophers on issues of morality and justice and in the way it elicits responses and comments from the students sitting in the hall. Honestly, it makes me want to go to Harvard and study this.

In one such lecture, Michael Sandel takes the famous Queen vs Dudley & Stephens case where a group of shipwrecked crew resorted to cannibalism to survive. These sessions do not provide answers to questions - they provide fodder to the mind to ask more questions and find one's own answers.

There are also important point for someone who is interested in honing his political philosophy understanding as Michael Sandel takes us through the hoops of free will - does it really exist or is it really total in a society?, he talks about utilitarianism - its proposal of maximizing utility and the pitfalls in such a thought. I think this closely touches the concept of majoritarianism and is hence worthy of further study. He also introduces us to the veil of ignorance - a very powerful concept who modern usage was developed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice. A Theory of Justice, in itself, is a work worth studying. I hope I get the time to do that. 

Listening to these lectures and many others has helped me realize that a lot of our opinions are based on perceptions, which unfortunately, more often than not are not rooted in facts e.g. our calmour for meritocracy is mostly based out of the idea that there is no better way to level the playing field than judge people on their abilities - forgetting that abilities and opportunities do not present themselves in the same way for everyone, if they manifest at all. Study of data and a deeper study brings us to some discomfiting conclusions.

Strongly recommended!

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