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Michael Sandel on Justice: A Journey in Moral Reasoning

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Aspen Ideas Festival 2008

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Markus.T.Laumann Avatar
Posted: 09.02.10, 05:02 PM This is the address for the WGBH/Harvard site for Michael Sandel's Justice class.
A.Vogel Avatar
Posted: 08.11.10, 11:17 AM
Who cares what the state allows? The institution of Marriage does not come from the state. If the state will allow Paedophilia, it will still not have any bearing on me. There are circles who are governed by a Higher Law than state-law and state-law also allows these circles. The state seeks to allow perversions because itself has become a perversion.
balthazarF Avatar
Posted: 03.03.10, 11:11 AM
A Middle Class Entertainer - Harvard's Star In his argument introducing the issue of marriage Mr. Sandel erroneously or intentionally offers just three possible positions, marriage limited to a man and a woman, marriage extended to same sex couples and the state not recognizing marriage of any kind. And in his haste to connote an honor to marriage, Mr. Sandel ignores (form your own opinion about ignorance) property rights and other societal benefits which the state grants with marriage and which are denied to those who have been put into a class by the state and the discriminated against. And Mr. Sandel does not seem to care that if the discussion is about America, then the American standard is the Constitution, the sole thing which Americans hold in common. Yet one must wonder why Mr. Sancel ignores the Constitution since there is plenty of Aristotelian substance in the Constitution. At least one other choice which Mr. Sandel chose to ignore is the state not recognizing marriage of any kind (leaving that ceremony to the superstitious) but establishing a civil union for the granting of societal benefits such as those concerning property rights and taxation, currently denied to the class “same sex couples” while granted to the class “opposite sex couples”. But property rights and other benefits in a democratic republic is another subject for discussion and justice. Since it is obvious, vis a vis marriages of “opposite sex couples” who choose to not or cannot procreate for any of a variety of reasons, that an argument for only “opposite sex couple”-marriage based on procreation is invalid on its face. As to the way the question has been framed, it rationally follows in a constitutional republic that the more important societal question is, [i]what interest does the state have (1) a person's so much as having a sexual climax and (2) how that climax is achieved, for the "how" is the difference between between “opposite sex couples” and “same sex couples”. More simply put, in a constitutional republic one is well advised to consider ALL the potential consequences of the state establishing a presence in one's bedroom? As to the abortion argument, also within the parameters of this video presentation, while abortion may be a poor choice in some instances and a good choice in others, that ability to choose comes down to the standard for the discussion in America, for choice is a human right, a freedom to determine one's health regimen, and America is guided by the Constitution, not sectarian superstitions. Simply put, the Constitution is from We The People, not We The Fetuses nor We the unborn with no guarantee of birth. People have inalienable rights, including determining one's own health regimen. A fetus has neither the ability to make determinations nor the guarantee of becoming a person. The morally/ethically conflicted in America are not denied their personal choice to their personal health decisions by the Constitution. So the problem the morally/ethically conflicted have is not Constitutional in its nature and they should look elsewhere for their personal moral/ethical resolution. In America, conservative tradition should be the Constitution. It isn't. But on the bright side, the Constitution is a liberal, not a static document. Justice is a metaphysical ideal with less substance than a fart in a small closet. In America justice is negotiated by lawyers and jurists. Be afraid, be very, very afraid.
Casseopeia Avatar
Posted: 10.13.09, 11:50 PM
Marriage is a social institution which establishes certain rights and responsibilities for those entering into the union. Those rights and responsibilities include social status, property rights, inheritance and survivor-ship rights, financial and familial responsibilities, and powers of attorney. The gender of the people involved does not affect their ability to understand, exercise, or fulfil those rights and responsibilities. To those citing religious grounds, consider the following: Do religions exclusively own something just because they have a ceremony or ritual for it? Do religions exclusively own something just because they attach a moral or spiritual significance to it? Do religions exclusively own a word just because they use it? There are religious documents that use the word "murder". There are religions that have rules pertaining to the morality of murder. Does this mean a secular government cannot make laws using that word? If a secular government makes a law and uses the word "murder" do they have to define murder according to the religion that uses the word? If so, then what if all the religions that use the word "murder" don't always agree on what is and is not murder? Which religion does the law have to agree with? Also consider this: how often do you hear someone say "The word murder shouldn't be used in laws if those laws don't strictly adhere to my religious values on the subject"?
daniel_t Avatar
Posted: 08.04.09, 04:07 PM
nickw's assessment of the third option shows a complete misunderstanding of what it actually entails. Personally, I think that is why the third option isn't more popular. Two people can be married but unless they also got "lawfully" married, they are not afforded any of the rights and protections he mentions. The third option consists of nothing more than striking the word "marriage" from legal documents and replacing it with the words "civil union". That's it... no radical change in the way we legally view people and their relationships toward each-other, just a simple global find and replace in a bunch of documents. Then it is a simple matter of changing the law so that two people of the same sex can get a "civil union", something that most people in America support.
nickw Avatar
Posted: 08.04.09, 12:07 PM
A marriage may be for love, children, politics, family, tax breaks, or any of a myriad of reasons, and yet the act of marriage or civil union includes both parties implicitly or explicitly agreeing to grant each other certain rights, and receive certain duties in return: the Book of Common Prayer suggests these explicit agreements in the common vows: “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part." The rights to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, and the duties to continue in such until death of one party, no matter the circumstances. We may consider that abuse of one party by the other would be a violation of loving and cherishing. However, instead of having to interpret these vague sentiments, we have enshrined these customs in law, and defined (some of) them explicitly, to provide protections of rights and enforcement of duties, which were not specifically included in the customs themselves. If the state removed itself from this institution, and removed its protection of rights, and enforcement of duties, what effect might this have on families? We know that marriages end, and can end in very serious disagreement between partners. How would we arbitrate in such cases, without state involvement? Who would we trust to arbitrate such cases? The advantage of letting the state do so at least enables us to be involved, as citizens, in the rules under which arbitration would occur. The state is (somewhat) accountable to citizens, we can be involved in making these rules, and we can vote to repudiate the lawmakers. If arbitration belonged to institutions such as churches, casinos, malls etc, we would have to trust that they would do so justly, and we would have little chance to influence the creation or alteration of the rules. Admittedly, if we chose the institution in the first place, we would implicitly be agreeing to be bound by its decisions, and yet the rules could then be changed without our having any influence upon the process. If a law is changed, or a new law implemented, we can protest, we can lobby our lawmakers – we can be involved in the process. Another advantage of state involvement is that our courts are as impartial as we can make them (under our political systems), and by continuing to be citizens of our states, we all implicitly agree to be bound by the same rules as every other citizen. If we don’t like the rules, we can try and change them, or change the rule-makers at least, or even leave, and go somewhere where we agree with the rules. So, whilst I may wish I could agree with the ‘third option’, as I do not approve of creeping state interference with individual’s lives, I agree and accept that there are advantages to the rule of law, and with allowing the state to arbitrate disagreements that cannot be solved by the parties involved. I also believe that the state, which (at least in some countries) has excluded certain factors from allowing it to affect its decisions, such as a person’s sex, race, religious belief, appearance, physical disability, personal wealth, etc, is therefore fairer and more just than individuals/institutions which have not agreed to such an exclusion. I, personally, would prefer the state to judge me, than a religious institution, or a commercial organisation, because I trust the state to be more impartial, and to provide me with the same justice as any other citizen: I trust it not to discriminate as much as other organisations may. Caveat: I do not believe that the state dispenses perfect justice and impartiality, but I do believe it is the least-worst option - as democracy is the least-worst form of government we know, it's institutions are likewise. [Disclaimer: I am a Brit, so different rules apply...]
daniel_t Avatar
Posted: 07.27.09, 12:50 PM
This is in response to both ladyfox14 and Tek, I thought of “option 3” independently, before seeing this video or hearing about it from other sources. It is an obvious extension of separation of church and state. Marriage is a religious institution, we are reminded of that on a continual basis, as such it should not be for the state to decide who is, or is not, married, nor should it be up to the state to decide if/when people can get divorced or what the results of a divorce may be. However, a civil union, as its name implies is a civil matter, something the state should be involved in. The state should decide who is, or is not, allowed to get one, and how one can be absolved. It’s a simple matter of striking all references to “marriage” from all law books and replacing it with references to “civil union”. Most religious people have no problem with two men or two women having “civil unions” so the who question of gay marriage would be moved out of the legal system and into the various religions where it belongs. Ladyfox14, we might end up with higher marriage rates, but that would be a non-issue because drunk 16 year olds still couldn’t get civil unions. Tek, in answer to your questions. How would divorce be handled? The government would not be involved in disillusion of marriage at all, they would be involved in disillusion of civil unions though, and dissolving a civil union would be every bit as arduous as a divorce currently is. Would divorces be hard? That depends on the church, not the state. How would polygamy be handled? The question of whether more than two people can enter into a civil union has not been seriously broached as far as I know.
Tek Avatar
Posted: 06.05.09, 06:23 PM
"If you let any church, casino, shopping mall marry you, then getting married does not feel 'as special' and is almost viewed as common as buying groceries at the store. " This statement implies, and correct me if i misunderstand you, that a persons marriage must feel "special" to those not married to validate it. If that marriage feels "special" to only the two people involved is it less validated?
Tek Avatar
Posted: 06.05.09, 06:15 PM
While I could very easily support the third option I am left with a couple of questions and welcome your response. If the government was removed from marriage authentication then how would polygamy or divorce be handled? If we say then that the marriage would be registered by the government to avoid such issues, then we really are back at the beginning where government is endorsing the marriage. How would such issues be handled, while seperating government from marriage? This is more legalistic than philosophical, but unfortunately these two seem bitterly entwined.
ladyfox14 Avatar
Posted: 06.05.09, 05:45 PM
I am for reason number 2 but reason number 3 sounds interesting. Reason number 3 is something of the unknown and the unknown scares us and makes us feel insecure so I am not surprised that not too many people, including me, are opting for it. If you let any church, casino, shopping mall marry you, then getting married does not feel 'as special' and is almost viewed as common as buying groceries at the store. Having a relationship with someone is an ongoing process and I guess we want marriage to be a solid step of this process, not just something on our to do list. If we all agreed on reason number 3 and we *all* held marriage with the highest level of respect, then I think the arrangement could work out. But more than not, you would probably find higher marriage rates due to drunk sixteen year olds getting married at their local mall. Does this mean we can get divorced at the mall as well? In an odd way, if getting married was easy and getting divorced took a considerable amount of effort, it should work like getting a tattoo: it's easy to get a rose or your boyfriend's name tattooed on your back but it will most certainly be quite painful and arduous to get it removed and you will think twice before doing something without thinking it through. Getting married could be regarded the same way and maybe we would see longer lasting marriages.