Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; Lesson In Lying, A; A Deal Is A Deal
EPISODE SEVEN Lecture Thirteen: Immanuel Kant’s stringent theory of morality allows for no exceptions; he believed that telling a lie, even a white lie, is a violation of one’s own dignity. His theory is put to the test with a hypothetical case. If your friend was hiding inside your home, and a killer knocked on your door asking where he was, what could you say to him – without lying – that would also save the life of your friend? This leads to a discussion of “misleading truths” – and the example of how President Clinton used precise language to deny having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, without outright lying to the public. Lecture Fourteen: Sandel introduces the modern philosopher John Rawls and his theory of a “hypothetical contract”. Rawls argues that the only way to achieve the most just and fair principles of governance is if all legislators came to the bargaining table in a position of equality. Imagine if they were all behind a “veil of ignorance” -- if their individual identities were temporary unknown to them (their race, class, personal interests) and they had to agree on a set of laws together. Then and only then, Rawls argues, could a governing body agree upon truly fair principles of justice.
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- Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do
- Lesson In Lying, A; A Deal Is A Deal
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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
PART ONE: A LESSON IN LYING
Immanuel Kant’s stringent theory of morality allows for no exceptions. Kant believed that telling a lie, even a white lie, is a violation of one’s own dignity. Professor Sandel asks students to test Kant’s theory with this hypothetical case: if your friend were hiding inside your home, and a person intent on killing your friend came to your door and asked you where he was, would it be wrong to tell a lie? If so, would it be moral to try to mislead the murderer without actually lying? This leads to a discussion of the morality of “misleading truths.” Sandel wraps up the lecture with a video clip of one of the most famous, recent examples of dodging the truth: President Clinton talking about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
PART TWO: A DEAL IS A DEAL
Sandel introduces the modern philosopher John Rawls and his theory of a “hypothetical social contract.” Rawls argues that principles of justice are the outcome of a special kind of agreement. They are the principles we would all agree to if we had to choose rules for our society and no one had any unfair bargaining power. According to Rawls, the only way to ensure that no one has more power than anyone else is to imagine a scenario where no one knows his or her age, sex, race, intelligence, strength, social position, family wealth, religion, or even his or her goals in life. Rawls calls this hypothetical situation a “veil of ignorance.” What principles would we agree to behind this “veil of ignorance”? And would these principles be fair? Professor Sandel explains the idea of a fair agreement with some humorous examples of actual contracts that produce unfair results.
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- Chicago: “Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; Lesson In Lying, A; A Deal Is A Deal,” 05/15/2009, GBH Archives, accessed April 2, 2023, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_35AD1F4DB7364C869BB98EAB422FD9AC.
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- APA: Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do; Lesson In Lying, A; A Deal Is A Deal. Boston, MA: GBH Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_35AD1F4DB7364C869BB98EAB422FD9AC