Justice - What Is the Right Thing To Do?

Episode 7. As we saw in the previous episode, the essence of Kant's categorical imperative is its absolute and universally binding force: since the moral status of our actions does not depend on consequences or contingent conditions, the moral law admits of no exceptions. One of the famous objections to Kant's theory came from the philosopher Benjamin Constant's case of the inquiring murder: you hide your friend in your house because a murderer is trying to kill him; the murderer knocks on your door and asks you if you know where your friend is. Kant tells us that it is always wrong to lie, but can it really be moral to betray your friend for the sake of honesty? Kant was consistent enough to bite the bullet, and not for any trivial reason...

Professor Sandel uses the famous case of Bill Clinton's attempt to dodge the question regarding his marital infidelity to begin a discussion and analysis of white lies and misleading truths in light of Kant's moral theory and his distinction of human beings' dual nature as empirical and intelligible agents.

The second lecture provides an introduction to John Rawls' idea that principles of justice would be those agreed to by mutually disinterested rational beings in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. This is a hypothetical scenario that points to the need to preclude any purely subjective and morally arbitrary considerations that might motivate individuals to enter the social contract with the prospect of securing some unfair advantage for themselves.

In presenting the basic idea behind Rawls' contractarianism, Professor Sandel provides a series of amusing examples of real and imaginary cases, mixed with an analysis of the conditions that could render contracts morally binding. As always, nothing is as obvious as it seems at first glance.


Episode list: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
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