The Public Philosopher

Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
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0101Should Universities Give Preference To Applicants From Poor Backgrounds?20120403

Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel questions the thinking beneath controversies.

"We're going to engage in an experiment....an experiment in public philosophy. We sometimes think that philosophy is remote, abstract and distant from the world we actually inhabit. I think otherwise". So says the eminent Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel as he challenges an audience to examine the big ideas, the big philosophical questions that lie behind our views.

In a series of public events, recorded at the London School of Economics, he brings his trademark style to a discussion on a current issue. This week, he delves into the thorny issue of access to universities. "Should students from poor backgrounds be given priority in admissions?" he asks. He demands a show of hands. The brave ones volunteer to explain the thinking behind their views.

The audience is swept along. "Who decides if you're from a poor background...what does that mean to come from a poor background? The way our system works right now is fair because we're just numbers" says Georgia, arguing that academic results are all that matter.

Fazal's view, reflecting his experience of American universities, is very different. "On one piece of paper you're writing down your experiences, your grades. On the other you're writing down your financial background...how much money you can potentially pay".

Throughout, Michael Sandel acts as referee, thinker and devil's advocate.

His lectures to Harvard undergraduates have been described as "spellbinding...an exhilarating journey". They are popular, provocative and interactive. Now he brings that approach to Radio 4.

Producer: Adele Armstrong.

0102Should A Banker Be Paid More Than A Nurse?20120410

Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel questions the thinking beneath controversies.

The eminent Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel brings his trademark style to a discussion on a topical issue, questioning the thinking underlying a current controversy. This week, he digs deep into the morality of high pay and bankers' bonuses.

"My image of a banker is an overweight man behind a desk" says Alice. The audience bursts into laughter. "My image of a nurse," she goes on, "is an overworked woman who works night shifts and is constantly on her feet".

Michael Sandel asks "So by that logic, Alice, maybe there's a case for paying nurses more than bankers. Am I right?"

Alice agrees and so begins Michael Sandel's journey through the morality of fair pay.

He explores whether fair pay is a question of the importance of the contribution one makes, whether it is a reward for effort...and whether it's the market that should define how much people should get paid.

He questions whether Wayne Rooney gets the pay he deserves for "kicking a pigskin around a field for a certain period of time".

In this series of public events, recorded at the London School of Economics, he challenges his audience to apply critical thinking and philosophical reasoning to a host of ethical dilemmas most people rely on gut instinct to resolve.

Producer: Adele Armstrong.

0103 LASTShould We Bribe People To Be Healthy?20120417

Questioning the morality of paying people to lose weight, quit smoking or abandon alcohol.

The eminent Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel brings his trademark style to a discussion on a current issue, questioning the thinking underlying a current controversy This week, he takes a provocative look at the controversial subject of incentivising good health.

Michael Sandel has been enthralling students at Harvard for years. These discussions - recorded in front of an audience at the London School of Economics - bring his trademark style to Radio 4. They're challenging, outspoken and interactive.

Sandel turns his attention to health and ponders whether the present constraints on the NHS leave us with no choice but to bribe people to be healthy. Profound moral questions lie behind paying people to lose weight, quit smoking or abandon alcohol. Michael Sandel weaves through these issues with the help of philosophers past and present.

Producer: Adele Armstrong.

0201Immigration20121023

Prof Michael Sandel discusses the philosophy of immigration with a Texan audience.

The eminent Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel is Radio 4's "Public Philosopher." Now, as America prepares for its Presidential elections, he and Radio 4 are going on the road in America with a unique mission to lay bare the deeper moral questions bound up in the noisy Romney and Obama campaigns.

In this week's programme, Professor Sandel visits the heartland of America's deep south, hosting a public discussion at the University of Dallas in Texas. He challenges ordinary Texans to consider the moral issues raised when it comes to controlling immigration and deciding who should be entitled to citizenship.

Texas has a long frontier with Mexico and the issue of immigration divides people sharply. A million people in Texas are "undocumented" living without immigration papers. Many Hispanic voters want immigration to be reformed and President Obama recently outlined initiatives aimed at this base. Mitt Romney, too, is reaching out to Hispanic voters but many in the Tea Party movement pull the Republicans in the other direction. They insist that the border must be closed and deportations must be stepped up.

Against this backdrop, our public audience will be asked: "how far should an open society go on accepting outsiders?" Michael Sandel weaves through these issues with the help of philosophers past and present.

Producer: Mukul Devichand.

0202 LASTWelfare20121030

Prof Michael Sandel discusses the philosophy of welfare benefits with a Boston audience.

The eminent American political philosopher Michael Sandel is Radio 4's "Public Philosopher." Now, as America prepares for its Presidential elections, he is going on the road in America with a unique mission to challenge ordinary voters and lay bare the deeper moral questions bound up in the noisy Romney and Obama campaigns.

In this week's programme, Professor Sandel is at Harvard, his home university in the intellectual heartland of New England. Much of the debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama has been about welfare policy, social security and healthcare. Underlying this, Professor Sandel believes, is a moral and philosophical disagreement about the nature of the American dream itself.

Earlier this year, Obama was attacked for his remarks about the role of government. "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive," the President said. "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Republicans saw this as an attack on business and accused Obama of stifling the idea of individual success at the core of the American dream. The right's policies are more focussed on individual choice -- lowering taxes and opposing, for example, the type of universal health care policy which Obama has enacted.

Against this backdrop, our public audience will be asked: "Who Built It? Is the American vision of individual responsibility for one's own success a myth?" Michael Sandel weaves through these issues with the help of philosophers past and present.

Producer: Mukul Devichand