Putting a Price Tag on Life / How to Measure Pleasure

SUN, SEP 20, 2009 (55:10)

Lecture Three: "Putting a Price Tag on Life" Jeremy Bentham's late 18th century Utilitarian theory -- summed up as "the greatest good for the greatest number" -- is often used today under the name of "cost-benefit analysis." Sandel presents some contemporary examples where corporations used this theory -- which required assigning a dollar value on human lives -- to make important business decisions. This leads to a discussion about the objections to Utilitarianism: is it fair to give more weight to the values of a majority, even when the values of the majority may be ignoble or inhumane?

Lecture Four: "How to Measure Pleasure" Sandel introduces J.S. Mill, another Utilitarian philosopher, who argues that all human experience can be quantifiable, and that some kinds of pleasures are more desirable and more valuable than others. Mill argues that if society values the higher pleasures, and values justice, then society as a whole will be better off in the long run. Sandel tests this theory by showing the class three video clips -- from The Simpsons, the reality show Fear Factor and Shakespeare's Hamlet -- then asks students to debate which of the three experiences qualifies as the "highest" pleasure.

+ BIO: Michael Sandel

Michael Sandel has been teaching philosophy at Harvard since 1980. He has published six books, on topics including democracy, liberalism, bioethics, and morality in politics. Professor Sandel received his doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. His writings have been translated into ten foreign languages and have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The New York Times. From 2002 to 2005, he served on the President's Council on Bioethics. He has received three honorary degrees, as well as four fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Sandel has delivered lectures throughout North America, Europe, India, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and China.

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