Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure

Harvard has rolled out Week 2 of Michael Sandel's course on Justice. Courtesy of the course web site, here's a synopsis of what you can expect from Episode 2. New lectures are getting rolled out weekly. Check the Harvard web site for new additions.

Part 1 - PUTTING A PRICE TAG ON LIFE: Sandel presents some contemporary cases in which cost-benefit analysis was used to put a dollar value on human life. The cases give rise to several objections to the utilitarian logic of seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Is it possible to sum up and compare all values using a common measure like money?

Part 2 - HOW TO MEASURE PLEASURE: Sandel introduces J. S. Mill, a utilitarian philosopher who argues that seeking “the greatest good for the greatest number” is compatible with protecting individual rights, and that utilitarianism can make room for a distinction between higher and lower pleasures. Sandel tests this theory by playing video clips from three very different forms of entertainment: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the reality show Fear Factor, and The Simpsons.


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  • Davor Bakovic says:

    It is truly wonderful to listen to the arguments and discussions,full of looking on to the issues from a different angle and demands to examine ones own arguments !!
    I loved when Mr.Sandel said that reading those books of philosophy and learning different philosophical views one is changed for life.U never see the things the same way.I am waiting a whole week,impatiently,for the next lesson to come on-line Thank’s vary much for the opportunity.Davor

  • Evan Plaice says:

    Great lesson.

    It was interesting to see how (what looked like) the US students perceived the value of life vs the students coming from other cultures.

    I remember the exact moment my perception of this was challenged in 4th grade. At the time I thought 100K+ was more than enough to value a human life. I was immediately shot down by my teachers and some of my classmates with the view that a human life is invaluable.

    It goes a long way to show how our cultures program their children at an early age to follow a specific code of morals/ethics. I don’t even dare to comment on the length that religions go with this concept.

    There was also a moment when M. Sandel looked took on a likeness to Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. “How much is a human life worth? 1 million?… Excellent ::taps tips of fingers together::”

    I wish I could attend the class to challenge the idea of higher orders of happiness. I have experienced a lot of different experiences of happiness ranging from the usual common hedonistic to viewing MC Escher, Salvadore Dali, Rembrandt, reciting Shakespeare poetry and plays, reading the Dante’s Divine Comedy etc… Although, I would definitely place the more cultured experiences as being deeper and closer to truly feeling and expressing my inner spirit, I wouldn’t place them as the highest order of happiness.

    The highest, I would reserve for extreme sports. Free-falling off a 10ft boulder into waist deep powder to wind through the trees on a hair’s edge fine line between control and utter recklessness. A midnight drag 0-104mph shifting @ 13.5K RPM accelerating at break-neck speed with only 60ft of visibility on my crotch rocket. And, many others that are more/less extreme but have the same effect. These are experiences I will never forget, the kind that I can think back on from time to time, smile, and laugh my guilty laugh of pleasure. Maybe Mill had that nervous breakdown because he was born in the wrong era, or he missed his calling.

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