Do notions of right and wrong, good and evil, fall from heaven, or do we make them here on Earth? Timed to release on DVD to coincide with the public television
broadcast of a similarly themed special and the debut of Professor
Michael Sandel’s book of the same title, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? challenges perceptions of morality through the Socratic recreation of a compelling lecture series at Harvard University. The result, for those who like to look outside of themselves, is a one-of-a-kind take on what we perceive, both individually and on a societal level, as ethical, and our views toward humanity and moral reasoning.
More than 14,000 students at Harvard have taken the “Justice” course, making it one of the college’s most popular classes. And now, in collaboration with WGBH Boston, Harvard opens up Professor Sandel’s classroom to the world. The course aims to help viewers become more critically-minded thinkers about the moral decisions we all face in our everyday lives. The two dozen featured lectures here read like a cross-section of high
school debate topics — affirmative action, abortion, the death
penalty, euthanasia, sex education, privacy protection, elder care, same-sex
marriage and public health legislation — but the level of discourse is of course higher than the chirpy, easily digestible facts and specious reasoning parroted back in Mrs. Osborne’s 11th grade class. Sandel presents students with ethical dilemmas on modern-day issues, and then conducts lively, engaging and remarkably intimate debates that challenge students’ moral reasoning.
By title, the topic list includes: “The Moral Side of Murder,” “Putting a Price Tag on Life,” “How to Measure Pleasure,” “Free To Choose,” “Who Owns Me?,” “This Land is My Land,” “Consenting Adults,” “Hired Guns?,” “For Sale: Motherhood,” “Mind Your Motive,” “The Supreme Principle of Morality,” “A Lesson in Lying,” “A Deal Is A Deal,” “What’s a Fair Start?,” “What Do We Deserve?,” “Arguing Affirmative Action,” “What’s the Purpose?,” “The Good Citizen,” “Freedom vs. Fit,” “The Claims of Community,” “Where Our Loyalty Lies,” “Debating Same-Sex Marriage,” “The Good Life” and, yes, “The Case for Cannibalism.” While there’s an understandable societal hesitancy to tackle the big challenges and problems confronting our notion — change is, after all, a scary thing — this DVD lays the groundwork for reasoning, reflection, soul-searching and (gasp!) empathy, and ultimately makes the point that all, rightly, influence and shape our opinions and problem-solving skill sets.
Running around 12 hours and spread out over three DVDs, with a snap-in, dual-sided tray housing the first two discs, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? is presented in full screen. Special features include an excerpt from Sandel’s same-named book, as well as a printable series viewing guide. To order the DVD, phone (800) PLAY-PBS or merely click here. A- (Show) C (Disc)