Pondering the palimpsest and panoply of the planet.

Archive for the tag “Anarchy State and Utopia”

Liberal Apologetics, Part Two: Robert Nozick

To anyone who would take a sneak peek into the hallowed halls of Harvard (or, as Bob Dylan would say, ‘the green pastures of Harvard University’), I would direct your attention to the ‘Links’ menu on the right in which you will find an online lecture course. The course is called ‘Justice‘, and the professor is Dr. Michael Sandel. Sandel has taught this course every year for the last 20 years or so, and the total number of students that have attended is over 10,000 (as well as many more virtual students by way of the online course). It is an engaging and participatory look at modern practical ethics, with illustrative historical case studies (such as the tale of 4 sailers stranded in a lifeboat who eventually had to decide which person to eat so the other three could survive longer), and a reading list that includes Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Rawls, and Nozick. Sandel was a long-time Harvard colleague of the latter two men, and he wrote a book that mildly criticized Rawls for things like not placing more weight in the Original Position on considerations such as personal relationships (family, etc.) and values. Otherwise, he does not seem to me to really disagree with any of the substantive points of Rawls. Over the course of the course, Sandel stimulates discussion and debate from the students, provoking thought and asking them to justify their opinions in a rational and convincing way to their peers. Naturally, the students make cases for a variety of views, including libertarianism and liberalism. Sandel never explicitly agrees or disagrees with any of the views in question, but contents himself with allowing students to make consistent arguments and decide for themselves based on the facts–as it should always be done in any society, whether between 1000 Harvard undergrads in a lecture hall or between 300 Million diverse Americans across the continent (by the way, this online series, and Sandel himself, has recently become quite popular in Asia, particularly China).  Read more…

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