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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; This Land Is My Land; Consenting Adults


EPISODE FOUR Lecture Seven: John Locke is both a supporter and detractor from the theory of Libertarianism. Locke argues that in the “state of nature”, before any political structure has been established, every human has certain natural rights to life, liberty -- and property. However, once we agree to enter into society, we are consenting to being governed by a system of laws. And so, Locke argues, even though government is charged with looking after one’s individual rights, it is the majority that defines those rights. Lecture Eight: John Locke on the issue of taxation and consent. How does John Locke square away the conflict between 1) his belief that individuals have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and property and 2) that government – through majority rule – can tax individuals without their consent? Doesn’t that amount to taking an individual’s property without his/her consent? Locke’s answer to that is that we are giving our “implied consent” to taxation laws, by living in society, therefore taxation is legitimate. And, as long as government doesn’t target a particular group for taxation – if it isn’t arbitrary – then taxation isn’t a violation of the fundamental rights of individuals.

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Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do
This Land Is My Land; Consenting Adults
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Series Description

This 12 part series invites viewers to think critically about the fundamental questions of justice, equality, democracy and citizenship. Each week, more than 1,000 students attend the lectures of Harvard University professor and author Michael Sandel, eager to expand their understanding of political and moral philosophy, as well as test long-held beliefs. Students learn about the great philosophers of the past — Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Locke — then apply the lessons to complex and sometimes volatile modern-day issues, including affirmative action, same-sex marriage, patriotism, loyalty and human rights. Sandel's teaching approach involves presenting students with an ethical dilemma — some hypothetical, others actual cases — then asking them to decide "what’s the right thing to do?" He encourages students to stand up and defend their decisions, which leads to a lively and often humorous classroom debate. Sandel then twists the ethical question around, to further test the assumptions behind their different moral choices. The process reveals the often contradictory nature of moral reasoning.

Material co-owned by Harvard and WGBH. Need both consent to reuse for any other purpose. Contact Amy Tonkonogy in Educational Productions. Series release date: 9/20/2009

Program Description


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 “the state of nature,” a time before government and laws were 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?


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? Locke’s 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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Broadcast program

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Social Issues
Chicago: “Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; This Land Is My Land; Consenting Adults,” 05/15/2009, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed January 20, 2019, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_C2FB2903C3334337A8AACAA61D0C8ED7.
MLA: “Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; This Land Is My Land; Consenting Adults.” 05/15/2009. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. January 20, 2019. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_C2FB2903C3334337A8AACAA61D0C8ED7>.
APA: Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; This Land Is My Land; Consenting Adults. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_C2FB2903C3334337A8AACAA61D0C8ED7
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