Justice Episode 5: Hired Guns?

Part 1 – HIRED GUNS?: During the Civil War, men drafted into war had the option of hiring substitutes to fight in their place. Many students say they find that policy unjust, arguing that it is unfair to allow the affluent to avoid serving and risking their lives by paying less privileged citizens to fight in their place. This leads to a classroom debate about war and conscription. Is today’s voluntary army open to the same objection? 

Part 2 – FOR SALE: MOTHERHOOD: Professor Sandel examines the principle of free-market exchange as it relates to reproductive rights. Sandel begins with a humorous discussion of the business of egg and sperm donation. He then describes the case of “Baby M”—a famous legal battle that raised the unsettling question, “Who owns a baby?” Students debate the nature of informed consent, the morality of selling a human life, and the meaning of maternal rights.

The entire online course can be found at: http://justiceharvard.org/


Justice Episode 4: This Land Is My Land

Part 1 – THIS LAND IS MY LAND: The philosopher John Locke believes that individuals have certain rights—to life, liberty, and property—which were given to us as human beings in the “the state of nature,” a time before government and laws were created. According to Locke, our natural rights are governed by the law of nature, known by reason, which says that we can neither give them up nor take them away from anyone else. 

Part 2 – CONSENTING ADULTS: If we all have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, how can a government enforce tax laws passed by the representatives of a mere majority? Doesn’t that amount to taking some people’s property without their consent? Locke’s response is that we give our “tacit consent” to obey the tax laws passed by a majority when we choose to live in a society.

The entire online course can be found at: http://justiceharvard.org/

Justice Episode 3: Free to Choose


Sandel introduces the libertarian conception of individual rights, according to which only a minimal state is justified. Libertarians argue that government shouldn’t have the power to enact laws that 1) protect people from themselves, such as seat belt laws, 2) impose some people’s moral values on society as a whole, or 3) redistribute income from the rich to the poor. Sandel explains the libertarian notion that redistributive taxation is akin to forced labor with references to Bill Gates and Michael Jordan.


Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick makes the case that taxing the wealthy—to pay for housing, health care, and education for the poor—is a form of coercion.  Students first discuss the arguments behind redistributive taxation. Don’t most poor people need the social services they receive in order to survive?  If you live in a society that has a system of progressive taxation, aren’t you obligated to pay your taxes?  Don’t many rich people often acquire their wealth through sheer luck or family fortune?  A group of students dubbed “Team Libertarian” volunteers to defend the libertarian philosophy against these objections.

The entire online course can be found at: http://justiceharvard.org/

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