WGBH Openvault

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; Mind Your Motive; The Supreme Principle of Morality

05/15/2009

EPISODE SIX Lecture Eleven: Professor Sandel introduces Immanuel Kant – one of the most challenging and difficult thinkers in his course. Kant believes we, as individuals, are sacred and the bearer of rights, but not because we own ourselves. Rather, it is our capacity to reason and choose freely that makes us unique, that sets us apart from mere animals. And when we act out of duty (doing something because it is right) only then do our actions have moral worth. Sandel uses the example of a shopkeeper who passes up the chance to shortchange a customer only because he worries it would hurt his business. That wouldn’t be considered a moral action, according to Kant, because he wasn’t doing the right thing ... for the right reason. Lecture Twelve: Immanuel Kant says that in so far as our actions have moral worth, what confers moral worth is precisely our capacity to rise above self-interest and inclination and to act out of duty. Sandel tells the true story of a 13-year old boy who won a spelling bee contest, but then admitted to the judges that he had, in fact, misspelled the final word. Using this story and others, Sandel explains Kant’s test for determining whether an action is morally right: when making a decision, imagine if the moral principle behind your actions became a universal law that everyone had to live by. Would that principle, as a universal law, benefit everyone?


License Clip

More material is available from this program at the WGBH Archive. If you are a researcher interested in accessing the collection at WGBH, please email archive_requests@wgbh.org.

Undigitized item: Request Digitization

Untranscribed item: Request Transcription

Series
Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do
Program
Mind Your Motive; The Supreme Principle of Morality
Program Number

106

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

PART ONE: MIND YOUR MOTIVE

Professor Sandel introduces Immanuel Kant, a challenging but influential philosopher. Kant rejects utilitarianism. He argues that each of us has certain fundamental duties and rights that take precedence over maximizing utility. Kant rejects the notion that morality is about calculating consequences. When we act out of duty—doing something simply because it is right—only then do our actions have moral worth. Kant gives the example of a shopkeeper who passes up the chance to shortchange a customer only because his business might suffer if other customers found out. According to Kant, the shopkeeper’s action has no moral worth, because he did the right thing for the wrong reason.

PART TWO: THE SUPREME PRINCIPLE OF MORALITY

Immanuel Kant says that insofar as our actions have moral worth, what confers moral worth is our capacity to rise above self-interest and inclination and to act out of duty. Sandel tells the true story of a thirteen-year old boy who won a spelling bee contest, but then admitted to the judges that he had, in fact, misspelled the final word. Using this story and others, Sandel explains Kant’s test for determining whether an action is morally right: to identify the principle expressed in our action and then ask whether that principle could ever become a universal law that every other human being could act on.

Duration

00:56:46

Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type

Video

Genres
Educational
Topics
Social Issues
Citation
Chicago: “Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; Mind Your Motive; The Supreme Principle of Morality,” 05/15/2009, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed December 10, 2016, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D89D7430938C44F1955A0AF8606A34E2.
MLA: “Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; Mind Your Motive; The Supreme Principle of Morality.” 05/15/2009. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. December 10, 2016. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D89D7430938C44F1955A0AF8606A34E2>.
APA: Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; Mind Your Motive; The Supreme Principle of Morality. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_D89D7430938C44F1955A0AF8606A34E2
If you have more information about this item, we want to know! Please contact us, including the URL.