Harvard Professor Michael J. Sandel Gives a Lecture on “Justice” at Tsinghua

A lecture entitled “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do” was given by Professor Michael J. Sandel from Harvard University on the evening of May 16, 2011, in the Main Building Lecture Hall.

Professor Sandel started the lecture with a few seemingly simple questions, typical of Socratic method, and then he asked the audience to give their own judgment. They were encouraged to question the position of their opponents and their own initial position. By so doing he led them step by step to experience and ponder on the orientation of values concerning market, interests, liberty and morality. He wanted to reveal to his audience that price fluctuation due to the change of demand and supply was not always moral. In this way he led the audience into a profound contemplation on the nature of market economy and social justice.

After a heated discussion, Professor Sandel introduced three different definitions of justice: the first is given by utilitarians who want to maximize interests; the second is by libertarians who emphasize the right to choose freely, and the third is what he supports. That is, we should encourage people to gain interests in the right way and respect every individual’s freedom to choose, and at the same time we should facilitate social justice and public morality, and strive to build a high-quality society with civil awareness and moral ideal.

He hoped that in the coming future, students all over the world would be brought together through high technology to communicate on different philosophical contemplations about justice and morality. They will be able to discuss with each other on a global scale rather than limited to one place or one small classroom, and there will be more students to participate in the discussion on justice and morality, these ultimate issues, and contribute to the construction of a harmonious society.

At the end of the lecture, Professor Sandel gave his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do, as gifts to all the students who participated in the discussion.

The lecture was hosted by Professor Li Qiang, Dean of SHSS. Professor Wan Junren from the Department of Philosophy wrapped up the event with a comment on the lecture.