Topic Name Description
Course Introduction Page Course Syllabus
Page Course Terms of Use
1.1: Metaethics, Normative Ethics, and Applied Ethics URL Steve McCartney and Rick Parent’s Ethics in Law Enforcement: “Chapter 2: Ethical Systems”

This chapter outlines the three broad categories of ethical systems normative ethics, applied ethics, and meta-ethics. Use the navigation arrows on the right and left side of the page to move forward through the eleven sections in this chapter. By the end of this reading, you will be able to define the three broad ethical systems and describe several approaches to ethics. Be sure you have a good understanding of the important approaches for Unit 1: deontology, consequentialism, and natural law.

1.2: Investigating Our Moral Intuitions URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "The Moral Side of Murder"

Watch the first half of this video until 24:12. Compare your own intuitions about the cases introduced with those voiced by the students in the video. Also, note the definition of moral skepticism introduced here. This video lecture presents a classic moral dilemma: whether it may be morally permissible to commit murder - or to allow someone to die - if it is certain that doing so will prevent an even worse catastrophe.

1.3: From Moral Intuitions to Moral Principles and Back Again URL University of Hong Kong's Critical Thinking Web: Professor Jonathan Chan's "Tutorial U06: Reflective Equilibrium”

Read this tutorial about the process of reflective equilibrium in moral reasoning. This account and the diagram that accompanies it represent the process of moral reasoning that takes place in Sandel's class discussion, in which we deliberate between principles and particular cases, revising each in the light of the other.

1.4: Consequentialist Ethics and Bentham's Utilitarianism URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "The Case for Cannibalism"

Watch the rest of this lecture, starting at 24:13. This lecture introduces Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian moral principle. Through the case of the shipwrecked crew, Sandel demonstrates that, far from abstract puzzles, moral dilemmas are real life problems, which demand that we strive toward coherent moral codes that can be agreed upon for social and legal purposes.

URL Wikipedia: "R v Dudley and Stephens"

Read this description of the famous Queen v. Dudley and Stephens case. As you read, consider whether you agree with the ruling in this case, and if you would rule differently, as well as why you would do so. This text discusses the famous lifeboat case, which established the legality of choosing to murder out of necessity. Although the details of the case are quite graphic, this fact itself may serve as a prompt for many of us to revise our initial intuitions about the moral status of killing one to save many others.

Page PhilosophyPages: Garth Kemerling's "Utilitarianism, J.S. Mill"

Read this introduction to Utilitarianism and John Stuart Mill.

URL Jeremy Bentham's Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation: "Chapter I: Of the Principle of Utility"

Read the first chapter, "Of the Principle of Utility," from this 1780 text in which Bentham justifies the principle that the morality of our actions depends on the consequences produced. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham was the first to formalize the moral principle that whether our actions are right or wrong is a matter of the consequences they produce (i.e. how much happiness and how much unhappiness results from them). It is important to note that, although Bentham places a lot of emphasis on the pleasure and pain experienced by the individual person, he is not recommending that our laws should be guided purely by individual hedonism, but by a collective responsibility to improve the happiness of everyone in society.

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Putting a Price Tag on Life"

Watch this lecture until 24:11. Here, Sandel introduces some important objections to Bentham's version of utilitarianism. If Bentham is right about utility being measurable, and even quantifiable, then this would seem to justify the practices of some governments and corporations in taking a dollars and cents approach to human life, which strikes many people as being in itself unethical.

1.5: Pitfalls of Consequentialist Ethics and Mill's Utilitarianism URL The Business Ethics Workshop, v1.0: "Chapter 3, Section 2: Utilitarianism: The Greater Good"

Read this article which presents difficulties with calculating benefits and various utilitarian responses to those difficulties. Be able to define hedonistic and idealistic utilitarianism, soft and hard utilitarianism, and the difference between act and rule.

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "How to Measure Pleasure"

Watch the rest of this lecture, starting at 24:12. Despite some powerful objections raised against it, some version of utilitarianism still seems plausible, since it seems to explain a large number of cases to our satisfaction. In this lecture, Sandel introduces John Stuart Mill's improved version of utilitarianism, which attempts to reconcile a consequentialist ethical principle with the notion of individual and minority rights. The importance of a well-informed majority for Mill's view raises questions that are fundamental to the success of a democratic society.

Page John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism

Read the first two chapters of Mill's Utilitarianism, "General Remarks" and "What Utilitarianism Is." After you are done reading, ask yourself if you are able to define the principle of utility, describe the difference between higher and lower pleasures according to Mill, and describe actions which are of a generally injurious class.

Note that, while the text is original, we have divided Mill's original paragraphs into smaller pieces to make this text easier for you to read online.

1.6: Alternatives to Consequentialist Ethics URL Introduction to the Law of Property, Estate Planning and Insurance, v1.0: "Chapter 2, Section 2: Major Ethical Perspectives"

Read this description of Utilitarianism in relation to other ethical theories. After reading, be sure you are able to define deontology, describe social contract theory, and discuss the role of virtue in ethical matters.

URL Wikipedia: "Deontological Ethics"

We will look at deontology in more depth in Unit 3, but for now, read this basic introduction and notice the basic contrast between deontology and consequentialism. Note: Utilitarianism is a type or a subset of consequentialism. Do you think there are duties apart from consequences?

Page Joseph M. Magee's "St. Thomas Aquinas on the Natural Law"

Saint Thomas Aquinas offers a theory of natural law that is rooted in eternal and divine law. Notice again how Aquinas' natural law differs from consequentialism. Do you think there are any eternal natural laws?

Page Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica: Part I-II (Pars Prima Secundae), Question 94, Articles 4-6

Read Articles 4, 5, and 6 of Question 94. Be able to explain the following concepts: speculative reason, practical reason, natural law, whether the natural law is the same for all, whether the natural law can be changed, and whether the natural law can ba abolished from the hearts of us as human beings. Do you agree with Aquinas' description of a natural law? How does it relate to deontology and consequentialism?

Page Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham City Jail"

In this famous letter, King makes a distinction between just laws and unjust laws and refers to the moral law, or the eternal law, as the basis for distinguishing between just and unjust laws. Notice how Martin Luther King draws upon the idea of a natural law to defend civil rights for all in this famous letter. Would you agree that segregation laws violate the natural law?

2.1: Individual and the State: Plato's Crito Page Yale University: Stephen Smith's "Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Crito"

Watch this lecture, which gives a background for the social and political theory given by Plato in the dialogue between Socrates and Crito. Socrates explains to Crito why he feels that he must remain in prison and carry out the death sentence of the court of Athens. Crito hopes that Socrates will simply leave Athens and go to live in another Greek city-state like Sparta. Socrates feels this would be wrong; above all, Socrates respects the law (the government and the courts of Athens). To disobey the law is wrong, even if he feels the death sentence they gave him is unfair.

URL Wikipedia: "Theory of Forms"

Read this description of Plato's theory of the forms. What does Plato mean by "forms"?; How does this relate to justice? What does the ideal state have to do with justice?

URL Wikipedia: "Republic (Plato)"

Read this summary of Plato's Republic. Pay particular attention to the summary of Books 6,7, and 8; the Theory of Universals; to the definition of justice; and to the Ideal City. What are the four types of government which Plato rejects, and why does he reject them?

Page Garth Kemerling's "Plato: The State and the Soul"

Read this article.

Page Garth Kemerling's "Plato: Education and the Value of Justice"

Read this article.

Book Plato's Republic

Read Book V through Book VIII from this edition of Plato's Republic. For this and the following reading, pay attention to how both the translator of Republic and Mr. Kemerling treat the following concepts: justice, ideal forms, and the ideal city. Notice also the concept of the Ideal Form of the Good. What would a perfect city look like? Is this part of understanding justice and right in our own world?

2.2: Libertarianism as an Alternative Approach to the Question of Rights URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Free to Choose"

Watch this lecture until 27:20. Sandel introduces the position of libertarianism as an alternative to utilitarianism. Notice that the everyday understanding of libertarianism may or may not match what philosophers mean by libertarianism: while there is a libertarian political party in the United States, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines libertarianism as a specific moral or ethical view, which assumes that agents have self-ownership and the freedom to acquire property rights and external goods and status. We have just seen how Mill argues that we should respect individual rights because it is good for the whole of society in the long run. In other words, Mill holds that individual rights are to be valued for their utility. Libertarianism, by contrast, assigns a more fundamental role to individual rights, holding that they should be valued in and of themselves, and because of this, the state should be limited in its power to restrict our right to individual liberty.

URL Wikipedia: "Milton Friedman"

Read this article, which provides an overview of Milton Friedman's life, his economic theory, and his political positions.

Page Freedom and Flourishing: Winton Bates' "What Did Milton Friedman Have to Say About Human Flourishing?"

Read this article, which also shows the relation between Milton Friedman's economic theories and broader ethical matters.

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Who Owns Me?"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 27:21 to the end. As you watch, consider if taxation is an obligation that we have to our fellow citizens to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number, or if it is instead an unwarranted violation of our individual rights. In this lecture, Sandel introduces the question of taxation as a test for the libertarian view of individual rights. Taxation is a case in which the state redistributes property (money) throughout society.

URL Wikipedia: "Robert Nozick"

Robert Nozick offered philosophical arguments defending the same type of freedom Friedman advocates. Notice that he is critical of utilitarianism.

URL Wikipedia: "Anarchy, State, and Utopia"

Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick's most influential work, offers his suggestion of the best type of government. List the ways Nozick's ideal government would differ from Plato's.

2.3: John Locke and Fundamental Individual Rights URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "This Land Is Your Land"

Watch this lecture until 25:11. Here, Sandel introduces the conception of individual rights via the arguments of the philosopher John Locke. Locke's idea that human beings have certain fundamental rights (life, liberty, and property) by virtue of a natural law has supplied a central justification for the legal protection of individual rights, since he advanced it in the late seventeenth century. Sandel also takes pains to place Locke's views in relation to those of contemporary libertarians.

Page "Democratic Values: Liberty, Equality, Justice"

As you read, consider the European movement laid the groundwork for the ideals of American governments. From where did John Locke think governments derive their authority to rule?

Page PhilosophyPages: Garth Kemerling's "Locke: Social Order"

Read this overview of Locke's political theory. What is the role of government with regards to property?

URL John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: "Chapters 1-5"

Read Chapters 1-5 of Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. How does Locke describe the state of nature in Chapter 2, Section 4? Look to Chapter 2, Section 6, for a discussion of limitations on the state of nature. In Chapter 5, Sections 26-30 attempt to answer how it is that Locke thinks we claim ownership of the goods of the earth.

URL John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: "Chapters 8-11"

Read Chapters 8-11 of Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. In Chapter 8, sections 95-99, how is it that Locke thinks a community or a government is formed? Why does Locke think human beings would agree to this in Chapter 9?

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Consenting Adults"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 25:12. Consider this question: if taxes are part of a government system instead of a state of nature, then why should we have to pay them? Sandel uses Locke's account of natural rights and state formation in order to reassess the question of whether taxation amounts to an infringement of an individual's natural right to his or her property. For Locke, natural rights are something that we possess inherently from the state of nature. Taxes are part of a system of government that comes after that natural state. Compare Sandel and Locke's ideas on the consent of the governed to the notion of obedience to the state given in the Crito dialogue.

URL John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: "Chapters 18 and 19"
Read Chapters 18 and 19 of Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. In what ways does Locke explain that a government might be dissolved?
Unit 2 Discussion URL Unit 2 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. One of the most controversial areas of government power in recent years is eminent domain law. In eminent domain cases, a family may find themselves without their home, because their local government decides it is needed for a new building project or oil pipeline. Given what you now know about Locke's theory of property, is this a legitimate power of the government? Why, or why not? Explain your response.
  2. Is the theory of property advanced by Locke the only possible theory of property? Consider how Locke's theory relates to Native American conceptions of man's relationship to the land. Is it possible that Locke's theory can be misused to justify inappropriate policies?
  3. A complicated area of international law involves intellectual property rights. Some argue that with the advent of the internet, material should be made more widely available and intellectual property should become an outdated concept. Do you agree or disagree, given the theories of property and labor in this unit?
3.1: The Morality of the Market URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Hired Guns?"

Watch this lecture until 27:06. Consider the following question: is it an abuse of the government's power for it to order citizens to risk their lives in the military? In this lecture, Sandel calls the libertarian conception of self-ownership, along with the Lockean conception of consent, into question by confronting it with the controversial case of military conscription. The problem is further complicated by the fact that military conflicts take place within a market economy. This aspect of the problem is brought out in the Civil War practice in which the wealthy hired less affluent citizens to fight in their place.

Page Rationally Speaking: Massimo Pigliucci's "Michael Sandel on Markets and Morals"

This article is a reaction to Michael Sandel's ideas on the moral limits of markets. What things do you think money should not buy? What principle should legislators use to write laws about these matters?

3.2: The Morality of Surrogate Motherhood: The Case of Baby M URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "For Sale: Motherhood"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 27:07 to the end. While you watch, consider this question: Whose rights take precedence, those of the mother, or those of the child? Motherhood immediately presents a complication to the general theory of natural rights. Everyone who is familiar with the debate over abortion knows this. The matter becomes yet more complicated when motherhood, and in a sense, children, are exchanged on the free market. In this lecture, Sandel introduces the case of Baby M, in which a surrogate mother's claim to the baby she has carried came into conflict with the claim of the baby's biological father.

Page Kyle R. Wood's "In the Matter of Baby M., 109 N.J. 396 (1988)"

Read this description of the Baby M case from the New Jersey Supreme Court.

URL Wikipedia: "Baby M"

Additional description of the case of Baby M.

3.3: Humans Organs as Commodities File Ehtuish Ehtuish's "Ethical Controversies in Organ Transplantation" from Understanding the Complexities of Kidney Transplantation, Jorge Ortiz and Jason Andre, Eds.

Read this article describing the ethical questions surrounding kidney transplants. List the ethical dilemmas which arise surrounding the donation and scarcity of kidneys. Write a one paragraph position paper about one of those issues, arguing for your position with concrete arguments.

3.4: Grounding Moral Action in Rational Principles: Immanuel Kant URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Mind Your Motive"

Watch this lecture until 28:25. Michael Sandel introduces a third major approach to morality: Immanuel Kant's deontological, or duty-based, ethics. In contrast to the utilitarian philosophers, Kant holds that an action's consequences are not what make it right or wrong. We need to focus on the principle on which the action was based. Kant's view is similar to Locke's in that he ascribes fundamental rights to persons, but what really sets Kant apart is his insistence that even if we do the right thing, we have not acted morally unless we have also acted for the right reason.

Page Yale University: Tamar Szabó Gendler's "Deontology"

Watch this lecture from 21:17. The lecture introduces Kant's moral theory and his conception of duty, maxims of action, and categorical imperatives. Kant believes that actions should be guided by principles.

URL Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals: Preface and First Section

Read the Preface and First Section of Kant's 1785 text about morality. Try to answer the following questions in your own words:

    • What does Kant say is the only thing good without qualification?
    • What types of actions does Kant reject as examples of pure duty?
    • What are the three propositions of morality?

What Kant argues here is that the only absolutely good thing in the world is good will, or the human desire to act morally, and that this desire is only possible for us because we are rational beings. According to Kant, we have an absolute duty to act on the basis of the moral principles that stem from our rationality. This is, in fact, what separates us from animals, and is why Kant so opposes the utilitarian view, which seems to make human beings slaves of their desire for pleasure and aversion to pain.

Page Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "The Supreme Principle of Morality"

Watch this lecture from 28:26 to the end. Pay attention to the distinction Sandel draws between hypothetical and categorical imperatives, since this is what sets Kant apart from the utilitarian philosophers. Sandel breaks down some of the complexity of Kant's moral philosophy by illustrating the major contrasts Kant uses to develop it. While he gives three different versions of his categorical imperative, Kant considers it to be a singular rational principle for deciding how to act. As long as we follow the categorical imperative, we are acting out of duty, and we are respecting ourselves and others as rational beings.

3.5: Kant's Metaphysics of Morals URL Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals: Second Section and Third Section

Read the second section of Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (which many call his "Groundwork").

Kant states that five things are clear:

  1. The origin of moral concepts is entirely a priori based in reason.
  2. Moral concepts cannot be abstracted from empirical knowledge.
  3. The non-empirical, pure, nature of moral concepts dignify them as being supreme practical principles.
  4. This value of moral concepts as pure and thus good practical principles is reduced if any empirical knowledge is added in.
  5. One must derive for oneself and apply these moral concepts also from pure reason – unmixed with empirical knowledge.

Do these claims seem to be as clear and correct to you as they do to Kant? What is Kant referring to in his concept of the categorical imperative?

Kant gives a second version of the categorical imperative which he the practical imperative. Interpreters sometimes call it the imperative of dignity or imperative of human dignity. Can you describe this version of the categorical imperative?

Kant says these two versions of the categorical imperative ultimately say the same thing. Why do you think he believes this?

Unlike our study of hypothetical examples in this course, Kant believes that morality is not something we can derive from examples. He wants to find universal principles of morality that spring wholly from reason and not from experience. This is why he calls his system the metaphysics of morals. In the second section, Kant decries utilitarian moral theories and puts forward his own, absolutely binding moral principle: the categorical imperative.

In Kant's ethical theory, a categorical imperative is a universal command, a principle everyone should follow in any situation. If we choose command such as "always tell the truth" to represent a moral rule we all should follow, it has the status of a categorical imperative, and is therefore a duty. Kant's examples in this section are meant to show that we can only consider actions to be truly moral when they are motivated by the duty to follow this imperative.

What does Kant mean by autonomy and heteronomy? Kant gives a third version of the categorical imperative in this section. Here, Kant is concerned that our principles of morality must come from ourselves and from our own rationality. However, he thinks about our rationality in universal terms, not as our own individual persuasion or opinion. Rationality and rational morality is always an objective science for Kant.

In the third section of his Groundwork, Kant presents his view of what human freedom consists of, namely, following our rational principles rather than being guided by our appetite for pleasure and our desire to avoid pain. Because Kant bases freedom and morality on rationality, this means that to be free is to be moral. In other words, to be free is to be bound by our duty to ourselves.

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "A Lesson in Lying"

Watch this lecture until 22:29. As you watch, consider whether you you agree with Kant's belief that it is never morally permissible to lie. Kant's idea that duty and autonomy are compatible seems to be counter-intuitive. In this lecture, Sandel helps us make sense of this view, and applies it to the example of lying. Ordinarily, many of us believe that lying is never morally permissible, unless doing so will help avert a greater harm. Kant famously denies this view. He asserts that even if we believe a great harm will result from our failure to lie, the lie is immoral because it means we will have failed to respect a moral law that springs from our rationality.

URL The Business Ethics Workshop, v1.0: "Chapter 2, Section 3: Immanuel Kant: The Duties of the Categorical Imperative"

Read this section, which shows some of the difficulties of an objective, "categorical" approach. Do the circumstances affect the morality of lying, or is it always wrong to lie? Is it really lying if Weinstein chooses not to write the book? Is there conflict between telling the truth and the imperative of dignity in Weinstein's dilemma?

Unit 3 Discussion URL Unit 3 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. Kant's critics complain that his theory often leaves us with two conflicting duties. Imagine a student who is finishing their college degree, who learns their mother has been diagnosed with cancer. The student's first instinct is to go home to take care of their mother. However, what if their mother asks them to stay in college to complete their degree program? How would Kant advise us to choose between these two conflicting duties (to their mother and to finish school)?

  2. In the past, doctors would often fail to tell a patient the truth about a diagnosis. For example, a doctor might decide to wait to tell a patient that they have a terminal illness until after the patient returns from a highly-anticipated vacation. Many communities would consider this decision to withhold medical information from a patient to be unethical and a violation of the patient's right to participate in their own treatment. Do doctors have a duty to tell their patients the truth, no matter what, even if the information might cause them great pain and suffering (or ruin a vacation)? Why, or why not?

  3. A famous Kantian example concerns two shopkeepers. One shopkeeper always gives correct change because they feel they should do so, even when they are tempted to do otherwise. Another shopkeeper always gives correct change because they want their customers to like them so they can receive their vote during an upcoming city council election. For Kant, the first shopkeeper, who lacks an external motivation to do the right thing, is more morally praiseworthy. Does this same distinction apply to companies? Should companies always act from the right intention even if doing so may decrease their profits or market share? Why, or why not?
4.1: Social Contract Theory in Historical Focus: Thomas Hobbes Book Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan: Chapters 13-15

Read Chapters 13, 14, and 15 from Hobbes' Leviathan. He describes what people are like in the absence of authority, especially government authority. Hobbes finds that life before a social contract is inherently negative but that people will tend to seek social contracts and peace. He finds that there are laws of nature, and these laws of nature will mitigate our destructive tendencies in the end.

Page The Sovereign State: Hobbes' Leviathan

Watch this lecture, which gives a background on Hobbes' view of the state of nature and human nature before the social contract.

Book Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan: Chapters 17-18

Read Chapters 17 and 18 from Hobbes' Leviathan. Hobbes describes the civil society and common wealth that results when people form a social contract with their government. Individuals in this relationship with their government give up some of their rights to the sovereign, or to the great leviathan made up of the citizens as a whole.

Page Contract & Commonwealth: Thomas Hobbes

Watch this lecture, which gives additional information about the transition from life in Hobbes' state of nature to life in the social contract.

Page Locke versus Hobbes

Read this article, which contrasts Hobbes' views with those of Locke. What is the difference between Locke's view of the state of nature and Hobbes' view? What is the difference between Locke's and Hobbes' conception of the social contract?

4.2: Social Contract Theory without the Contract: John Rawls URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "A Deal Is a Deal"

Watch this lecture from 22:30 to the end. In this lecture, Sandel discusses the concept of social contracts, social compacts, and mutual agreements in civil society. He compares these to the kinds of agreements that are the hallmark of justice for Rawls and the foundation of civil society for Locke and Hobbes. Just laws, or laws that are in accordance with justice, come from these kinds of agreements. For Kant, contracts that generate justice are "ideas of reason." This allows Kant to provide an objective basis for contracts and laws, which is a way to describe laws as over and above subjective preferences.

Page Bill Soderberg: "John Rawls on Just War"

The following remarks were delivered by Bill Soderberg at the Peace and Justice Studies Association Annual Conference on October 16, 2015. Professor Soderberg describes John Rawls' overall approach to justice and his views on just war in particular. There are two principles to notice from Rawls' Theory of Justice: the veil of ignorance and the difference principle. What do each of these mean? What does ius ad bellum mean? What is ius in bello? Notice Rawls' eight principles on whether to go to war and his six principles on conduct within war. List three of each and comment on whether or not you think these principles concerning war are right.

URL John Rawls' A Theory of Justice

Read pages 1-7 of these excerpts from John Rawls' 1971 text. Stop when you reach the subheading on page 7, "Two Principles of Justice." Rawls aims to provide a theory of justice that is even more general than that of Locke or Kant, since it is based on purely hypothetical original position. How would we choose to organize society, if we had no idea what position we would have in it? Rawls' idea is that we should try to make it as fair as possible so that no matter what position we ended up in, we would have the same resources and chances as everyone else.

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "What's a Fair Start?"

Watch this lecture until 24:35. As you watch, consider what a genuinely fair society would look like. One plausible answer is that it would be a society in which everyone had an equal opportunity to succeed. Societies in which success is a function of each individual's abilities, or meritocracies, gives an unfair advantage to those who are born into positions of privilege or greater natural ability. According to Rawls, the technique of reasoning from the original position demonstrates that social benefits will always need to be redistributed in order to benefit the least well-off.

URL John Rawls' A Theory of Justice

Read pages 7-14 of these excerpts, beginning with the subheading on page 7, "Two Principles of Justice." In these selections, Rawls presents his two principles of justice. Firstly, everyone should have an equal right to basic freedoms. Secondly, resources and institutions should be arranged to benefit the least well-off to create equality of opportunity. These principles are a far cry from the minimal government intervention libertarians advocate.

4.3: The Question of Distributive Justice URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "What Do We Deserve?"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 24:36 to the end. Contingencies will always exist that make the social playing field uneven. As you watch, ask yourself: should we as a society allow these inequalities to continue, or should we try to correct for them? This lecture deals with a highly divisive issue, namely whether the wealth of the most successful members of society should be redistributed through taxation to benefit the most disadvantaged. Sandel examines the libertarian, meritocratic, and egalitarian approaches to this question, and he asks students to decide which one they think is the most just.

URL Wikipedia: "Restorative Justice"

Read this article, which describes key differences between retributive and restorative justice. In social and political philosophy, there are traditionally two major types of justice: distributive justice describes how status, wealth, and goods in society are portioned out and retributive justice describes punishments, penalties, and restitution for situations where someone wrongs someone else and breaks a social contract.

In recent years, retributive justice theory has been contrasted with restorative justice: retributive justice focuses on punishment and penalty, while restorative justice focuses on restitution and restoring community relationships.

Page Monica Pocora's "The Restorative Justice System: An Alternative to the Official Criminal System"

Read this article which describes restorative justice. What are the benefits of this approach over retributive justice? What are some of the pitfalls or risks?

Page Harvard Kennedy School, Shorenstein Center and Carnegie-Knight Initiative: Journalist's Resource: "U.S. Income Inequality Highest Since the Great Depression"

The income gap that exists in the United States between the highest and lowest earners has increased. Read this article which was written in March 2016 and respond to the following questions: To which era of modern American history is the current level of income inequality frequently compared? What events tend to precipitate the widening of income inequality? What percentage of wealth in the United States do the top 20 percent earners own? The bottom 20 percent earners?

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Arguing Affirmative Action"

Watch this lecture until 25:50. In this lecture, Sandel tackles the controversial policy of affirmative action as a form of distributive justice. The question is, does affirmative action create a more just society by helping a disadvantaged group compete on a more level playing field, or is it, as its opponents claim, a form of reverse racism, because it singles out one group for special treatment?

File United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: Cheryl J. Hopwood v. State of Texas

Read the following segments from the United States Court of Appeals' decision in the case of Hopwood v. Texas: sections I, II, and III (A.) on pages 1–34. Then, skip ahead and read part VI on pages 67–70. This U.S. Court of Appeals decision involved a group of white students who sued the University of Texas School of Law on the grounds that the school selected several minority students instead of them despite the fact that they had superior academic qualifications. The plaintiffs argued that the law school discriminated against them based on their race. The court decided in their favor, although the decision was later overturned. The court's statement provides a reasoned argument for the idea that affirmative action constitutes racial discrimination.

File The Supreme Court of the United States: Grutter v. Bollinger

Read the syllabus of Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision handed down in Hopwood.  What did Grutter argue in the case?  Did the Court uphold her argument or reject it?  Who must analyze government racial qualifications?  Is student body diversity a compelling state interest?  What is a narrowly tailored plan?

Page Race, Racism and the Law: Fran Lisa Buntman's "Race, Reputation, and the Supreme Court"

The following article is excerpted from Race, Reputation, and the Supreme Court: Valuing Blackness and Whiteness by Fran Lisa Buntman. What is the impact of blackness and whiteness on reputation and in the legal system?

Page Philosophy, et cetera: Richard Chappell's "Racial Profiling"

Read Professor Chappell's remarks on the ethical difficulties with racial profiling. What is the difference in considering an individual versus a group?

Unit 4 Discussion URL Unit 4 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. During times of financial crisis, some governments choose to use debtor's prisons to punish and deter those who default on their debts. Is this a legitimate use of the government's power to punish those who break social contracts, according to Hobbes and Rawls? Why, or why not?

  2. In the past, governments would deny fire department services to certain community members who had to purchase annual subscriptions from private fire departments as a form of fire insurance. Is this a legitimate form of social contract, or is fire protection such an important public good that government should always provide these services? Why or why not?

  3. Rawls' second principle of justice discusses the concept of social mobility, the idea that we should be able to move to a higher social class if we work hard and attain higher education. What do you think Rawls would say about recent lawsuits involving colleges and university policies on affirmative action?
5.1: Aristotle as a Champion of Merit-Based Justice URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "What's the Purpose?"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 25:51 to the end. Sandel addresses some of the arguments made in the debate on affirmative action as a form of distributive justice. He introduces Aristotle as an advocate for a different theory of distributive justice: that social goods, such as jobs, political positions, and material goods, should be distributed based on their purpose. That is, Aristotle would argue that the University of Texas Law School should accept only those who are best suited to studying the law.

URL Wikipedia: "Politics (Aristotle)"

Read this overview of Aristotle's Politics.

Book Aristotle's Politics: Book One
Read Book One of Aristotle's Politics. Notice what Aristotle says about the family and politics in the first few chapters. Beginning with Part V, what does Aristotle say about slavery? Finally, notice Aristotle's comments about property, both in theory and in practice.
5.2: Justice Is Respect for Virtue URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "The Good Citizen"

Watch this lecture until 27:01. Aristotle's notion of good personal ethics and virtue directly relates to his theory of the state. The state has a vested interest in the virtuous behavior of the citizens who live in it, so the state has the power to make paternalistic laws that will moderate people's behavior. The purpose of the human being is to lead a virtuous, flourishing life, and the state has an interest in rewarding the virtuous development of these ideals.

5.3: Virtue vs. Disability: The Case of Casey Martin File The Supreme Court of the United States: PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin

Read this U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the case PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin. The Aristotelian conception of justice which honors individual virtues is called into question in the case of Casey Martin, who sued the PGA for refusing to allow him to use a golf cart during the tour. In this case, the court decided in favor of Martin, and against a virtue-based policy of distributive justice.

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Freedom vs. Fit"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 27:02. In this lecture, Sandel addresses a major challenge to Aristotle's virtue-based theory of justice. What happens if people want to do something other than what they are best suited for? Should they be denied this freedom in order to maintain an ideal society? Or, is the curtailment of personal freedom unjust? Aristotle's view of natural slavery leads many to accept the latter view.

URL Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Book II

Read sections 1-3 of Book II from Nicomachean Ethics. In these passages, Aristotle discusses his idea that moral virtue is a matter of habit. He also mentions that the role of good legislators is to instill good habits in the citizens they govern. But in order for the legislators to help citizens develop their virtues, they would first need to know what it means to live virtuously and what specific virtues there are.

Book Aristotle's Politics: Book Three
Read Book Three of Aristotle's Politics. Aristotle begins by defining what the state is and what the conditions for citizenship are. The second half of the book is devoted to the topic of justice, and it is here that Aristotle makes his famous argument about equality. For Aristotle, justice is not simply a matter of respecting the equality of all citizens, but of determining in what specific ways people are said to be equal or unequal.
5.4: Constrained Freedom: Justice within the Bounds of a Community URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "The Claims of Community"

Watch this lecture until 24:00. Sandel introduces Kant's criticism of Aristotle's political theory. Kant agrees that the role of the state is to cultivate a virtuous citizenry, but he disagrees that the state should decide in advance what it means to be virtuous. Instead, Kant advocates a framework in which individuals are free to pursue their own visions of what the good life. Communitarians, inspired by Aristotle, resist Kant's (and Rawls') view of individual freedom as too radical and believe that some moral obligations result from the communities of which individuals are a part.

URL Wikipedia: "Alasdair MacIntyre"

Read this article on Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre has been influential in pointing to a retrieval of virtue ethics. What is the central question of virtue ethics as described in the article? What is one of the major points of his book, After Virtue, concerning the failure of the Enlightenment?

URL Wikipedia: "Virtue Ethics"

Read this article describing virtue ethics. Define eudaimonia. What were the four cardinal virtues in Ancient Greek ethical thought? Define arete. What is meant by the contemporary aretaic turn?

URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Where Our Loyalty Lies"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 24:01 to the end. Certain communitarian theories would urge that patriotism is an important component of justice and morality, since national traditions and a sense of collective belonging inform the identities of each citizen to some extent. Critics of patriotism argue that it is a kind of prejudice at best, and at worst, can lead to persecution and injustice on a massive scale. In this lecture, Sandel explores the intricacies of this issue as students argue both for and against patriotism.

Page OpenDemocracyUK: Gerry Hassan’s “The Problem of Patriotism and the Left”

Read this short piece about patriotism in England. Define patriotism and nationalism. How are these concepts alike and how are they different? What are the positive characteristics of patriotism? What are some of the dangers or pitfalls?

5.5: Justice, the Good, and the Problem of Agreement URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "Debating Same Sex Marriage"

Watch this lecture until 24:01. Ask how we can establish a just society without arriving a consensus about what the good is – in this case, the good for same-sex couples and other members of the moral community. In this lecture, Sandel makes the case that questions of morality and justice cannot be separated from questions about the good. The problem, though, is that all members of a society seldom agree on what the good is. This leads to a discussion of same-sex marriage, which was a hotly-contested issue in the United States.

File The Supreme Court of the United States: Lawrence v. Texas

Read the syllabus from the 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas. In this decision, the Supreme Court struck down a previous ruling and affirmed that state laws against sodomy violate the constitutional right to due process. The decision was seen as a major advance for equal rights among the LGBT community. Arguments in the case centered on how we ought to understand the basic concept of liberty.

5.6: Cultural Relativism URL The Business Ethics Workshop, v1.0: "Chapter 4: Theories Responding to the Challenge of Cultural Relativism"
Read the first three sections of Chapter 4 and answer the following questions: 

    • What was Nietzsche's most famous quote? 
    • What is the definition of "cultural relativism"? 
    • How does Nietzsche's eternal return challenge traditional religious beliefs about rewards? 
    • Are Wallace Souza's actions immoral? Why or Why not? 
After you have answered these questions, continue on and read sections 4.4 through 4.6.

What three contemporary approaches to ethics offer alternatives to cultural relativism? Which of these alternatives is the best direction? Attempt the exercises at the end of each section.

5.7: Existentialist Ethics Page Yale University: Iván Szelényi's "Nietzsche on Power, Knowledge, and Morality"

Watch this lecture, from 10:23. This lecture introduces Nietzsche's critique of morality. Nietzsche argues that modern morality is dominated by a limited view of Christian ethics, as passive and subservient rather than powerful. He describes the will to power as a necessary part of living as a fully-actualized noble soul.

URL Saint Anselm College: David Banach's "The Ethics of Absolute Freedom"

Read this lecture for a sense of Jean Paul Sartre's (1905–1980), the French philosopher, conception of existence. For Sartre, first we exist, and then we shape our essence through our choices in life.

5.8: The Relation between Morality and the Law URL Harvard University: Michael Sandel's "The Good Life"

Watch the rest of this lecture, from 24:02 to the end. In this lecture, Sandel concludes the discussion of justice by asking what cases like same-sex marriage and abortion can tell us about the relation between morality and the law. As you view this video lecture, consider the questions that follow. Is it possible to legislate without imposing moral judgments and unfairly restricting freedoms? In other words, can the government be neutral about divisive moral issues?

Unit 5 Discussion URL Unit 5 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. Consider someone with unusual opinions or unusual goals in life, for example, someone who chooses never to marry. How does this person's decision relate to existentialist ethics (as in Sartre's radical freedom and radical responsibility)? How should this person behave toward people he or she dates? Explain your response.
  2. How would you weigh economic arguments in favor of same-sex marriage? For example, consider the argument that when people pair up and take care of each other in old age, it decreases financial burdens on our society and government as a whole. Or, consider a student who is applying to college and filling out their financial aid paperwork. If the student is the child of a same-sex couple, then is that student only obligated to report the lower income of one parent, because both parents are not legally married? Is this fair to other students who must report the income of their opposite-sex married parents who need the same financial aid resources?
  3. Should the state be able to involve itself in cases where citizens, who are adults and who are able to give informed consent, choose to harm themselves? For example, note the different state policies on physician assisted suicide/euthanasia. Explain your response.
Study Guides Page Unit 1 Study Guide: Murder, Morality, and the Value of Human Life
Page Unit 2 Study Guide: Rights, the State, and the Free Market
Page Unit 3 Study Guide: Morality, Markets, and Immanuel Kant
Page Unit 4 Study Guide: John Rawls' Theory of Justice
Page Unit 5 Study Guide: Ethics and Politics of Virtue
Course Feedback Survey URL Course Feedback Survey