Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Harvard’s Justice and the Morality of Murder

To introduce our study of ethics and social/political philosophy, we’ll be viewing the introductory lecture(s) by Michael Sandel in Harvard’s JusticeIn addition to the introduction to the two major schools or moral reasoning – consequentialist and categorical – Sandel’s brilliant facilitation throughout the series stands out as a remarkable feat of intellectual discourse. By highlighting the guiding principles underpinning our ‘gut’ reactions to the thought experiments, the lecture/discussion serves as a model of respectful dialogue, as well as an invitation to engage everyday topics with an open mind.

Upon completing the discussion, Sandel poses three questions I would like to pose here for our own debate and introductory musings on morality and ethics. Please add your thoughts to one or more of the following prompts in the comments to this post:

  1. Do we have certain fundamental rights? (Follow up: What are they? Why can we assume that they exist?)
  2. Does a fair procedure justify any result?
  3. What is the moral work of consent? In other words, Why does/can consent make the amoral moral?


Rawls’ Theory of Justice, Economics 12 and Enlightenment


In discussing RawlsTheory of Justice this week, you might find the above lectures and discussions on “What makes a fair start?” inspired by the former Harvard philosophy prof:

Rawls argues that even meritocracy—a distributive system that rewards effort—doesn’t go far enough in leveling the playing field because those who are naturally gifted will always get ahead. Furthermore, says Rawls, the naturally gifted can’t claim much credit because their success often depends on factors as arbitrary as birth order. Sandel makes Rawls’s point when he asks the students who were first born in their family to raise their hands.

Sandel discusses the fairness of pay differentials in modern society. He compares the salary of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ($200,000) with the salary of television’s Judge Judy ($25 million). Sandel asks, is this fair? According to John Rawls, it is not.

Touching on topics such as affirmative action policies, taxation, and just what should be done about inequality, Rawls provides an excellent point of crossing-over between our Economics and Philosophy classes this week.

If you are interested in pursuing the ethical, social and political import of inequality, Mr. Lloyd’s class has been reading and discussing the Globe and Mail‘s recent series, The Wealth Paradoxwhich tells the story of:

Canada […] at a crossroads. A gap has grown between the middle class and the wealthy. Now, that divide is threatening to erode a cherished Canadian value: equality of opportunity for all.

For those of us immersed in Rawls this weekend, what would he say about Canada’s “Wealth Paradox”? What about the Utilitarians? Immanuel Kant?

And for the economists in our midst, what is the epistemological basis for our understanding of inequality:

    • What do we know?
    • How do we know it?

If we look to gain such knowledge as a means to making our world more ethical, and more oriented toward justice, what is there to be known on the matter of inequality?

What questions must be asked?

And do these questions have answers sufficient that we can then act, and create systems of government and society that reflect our individual and collective notions of “justice”?

I look forward to engaging in this topic this week with the Philosophy 12 bunch, as well as our friends in AP Economics, and anyone else who finds themselves here, reading this post.

In the interest of enabling and creating a public sphere that might be equal to the tasks and questions raised by the ongoing Project of Enlightenment, where Kant (along with we here at Philosophy 12) invites you:

“Have the courage to use your own reason – That is the motto of enlightenment.”



Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?


Thanks to eternal #Philosophy12 participant and friend GNA Garcia for sharing this Harvard University course on Justice. Covering topics from murder, to cannibalism, and ethical conundrums well-beyond, the popular Harvard class (billed as “the most popular class in Harvard history”) is available freely on the Youtube. Embedded above is the first episode, which tackles the Moral Side of Murder:

If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing—what would you do? What would be the right thing to do? Thats the hypothetical scenario Professor Michael Sandel uses to launch his course on moral reasoning. After the majority of students votes for killing the one person in order to save the lives of five others, Sandel presents three similar moral conundrums—each one artfully designed to make the decision more difficult. As students stand up to defend their conflicting choices, it becomes clear that the assumptions behind our moral reasoning are often contradictory, and the question of what is right and what is wrong is not always black and white.

You can explore the world of justice on their interactive and multi-media website.