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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