Mind Your Motive / The Supreme Principle of Morality

SUN, OCT 18, 2009 (55:14)

Lecture Eleven: “Mind Your Motive” Professor Sandel introduces Immanuel Kant – one of the most challenging and difficult thinkers in his course. Kant believes we, as individuals, are sacred and the bearer of rights, but not because we own ourselves. Rather, it is our capacity to reason and choose freely that makes us unique, that sets us apart from mere animals. And when we act out of duty (doing something because it is right) only then do our actions have moral worth. Sandel uses the example of a shopkeeper who passes up the chance to shortchange a customer only because he worries it would hurt his business. That wouldn’t be considered a moral action, according to Kant, because he wasn’t doing the right thing … for the right reason. Lecture Twelve: “The Supreme Principle of Morality” Immanuel Kant says that in so far as our actions have moral worth, what confers moral worth is precisely our capacity to rise above self-interest and inclination and to act out of duty. Sandel tells the true story of a 13-year-old boy who won a spelling bee contest, but then admitted to the judges that he had, in fact, misspelled the final word. Using this story and others, Sandel explains Kant’s test for determining whether an action is morally right: when making a decision, imagine if the moral principle behind your actions became a universal law that everyone had to live by. Would that principle, as a universal law, benefit everyone?

+ 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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