What’s a Fair Start? / What Do We Deserve?

SUN, NOV 1, 2009 (55:07)

Lecture Fifteen: "What's a Fair Start?" John Rawls applied his "veil of ignorance" theory to social and economic equality issues, as well as fair governance. He asks, if every citizen had to weigh in on the issue of redistributive taxation -- without knowing whether they would end up as one of the poor or one of the wealthy members of society -- wouldn't most of us prefer to eliminate our financial risks and agree to an equal distribution of wealth?

Lecture Sixteen: "What Do We Deserve?" Professor Sandel recaps the three different theories raised so far, concerning how income, wealth, and opportunities in life should be distributed. He summarizes libertarianism, the meritocratic system, and the egalitarian theory. This leads to a discussion of the fairness of pay differentials in today's society. Sandel compares the salary of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor ($200,000) with the salary of Judge Judy ($25 million). Sandel asks, is this fair? And if not, why not? Sandel explains how John Rawls believes that personal "success" is more often a function of arbitrary issues for which we can claim no credit: luck, genetic good fortune, positive family circumstances. But what of effort -- the individual who strives harder and longer to succeed -- how should his/her "effort" be valued?

+ 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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