Friday, June 17, 2011

Justice Goes Global

Harvard Professor, Michael J. Sandel

By Thomas Friedman,
Op-Ed Columnist
New York Times

You probably missed the recent special issue of China Newsweek, so let me bring you up to date. Who do you think was on the cover — named the “most influential foreign figure” of the year in China? Barack Obama? No. Bill Gates? No. Warren Buffett? No. O.K., I’ll give you a hint: He’s a rock star in Asia, and people in China, Japan and South Korea scalp tickets to hear him. Give up?

It was Michael J. Sandel, the Harvard University political philosopher.

This news will not come as a surprise to Harvard students, some 15,000 of whom have taken Sandel’s legendary “Justice” class. What makes the class so compelling is the way Sandel uses real-life examples to illustrate the philosophies of the likes of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

Sandel, 58, will start by tossing out a question, like, “Is it fair that David Letterman makes 700 times more than a schoolteacher?” or “Are we morally responsible for righting the wrongs of our grandparents’ generation?” Students offer competing answers, challenge one another across the hall, debate with the philosophers — and learn the art of reasoned moral argument along the way.

Besides being educational, the classes make great theater — so much so that Harvard and WGBH (Boston’s PBS station) filmed them and created a public television series that aired across the country in 2009. (My wife, Ann, and I were among the many donors to the PBS broadcast.) The series, now freely available online (at, has begun to stir interest in surprising new places.
Friedman's article in the New York Times continues here


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