The Moral Side of Murder &
the Case for Cannibalism

April 23, 2010 · 0 comments

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“Justice” is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history. Today, you are lucky enough to watch the same lecture that nearly one thousand students packed themselves in to listen to at Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre where Professor Michael Sandel talked about justice, equality and democracy.

In this lecture, the engaging Sandel awakens our conscious to new ways of looking at difficult moral dilemmas involving life and death situations. Not our own, but choices we might someday make about the life or death of friends or complete strangers.

In the first of two parts in this video, Sandel looks at the moral side of murder — yes, that’s what we said — the moral side. In what cases is murder justified and why? In one example he uses, he has you heading down a trolley track but you’re brakes are malfunctioning. The path you are headed down will kill five people on the track. But, then you notice a side path that would only take one life, do you take it? That seems relatively easy to answer, but his followup questions are not so black and white, and thinking through them will sharpen your own moral convictions.

In part two, Sandel looks at another grisly avenue of murder: cannibalism, and specifically at the classic case of Richard Parker and the crew shipwrecked under Captain Dudley. After over 20 days on a life boat with nothing to eat or drink, they took the life an ill seventeen year old to survive. Was this morally right in the utilitarian sense invented by Jeremy Bentham, where you should maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people, or was it morally reprehensible?

Why attempt to answer questions that people have not satisfactorily answered for millenniums? Sandel argues that they are unavoidable.

Welcome to the ambiguous world of philosophy. Do you dare think of yourself as a murderer?

To see the next eleven lectures in the series, go our Justice with Michael Sandel full course page.

2009

The Moral Side of Murder &
the Case for Cannibalism
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