Summary and Analysis
Michael Sandel has done it again, this time, in his auditorium setting at Harvard University. He invites the public into his undergraduate lecture through the recordings provided online at JusticeHarvard.org. In this work, episode 1 The Moral Side to Murder and episode 2 Putting a Price Tag on Life will be summarized and analyzed as it is also put to use in a local situation. Both of these lectures evolve around one theory: the theory of Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is basically described as the greatest good for the greatest number. Both episodes are broken into two parts. Episode 1 is broken into part one: the moral side of murder. He dives into the possibility of having to choose whether five workers should die by hitting them with a trolley car, whose brakes do not work, or steering and choosing to hit and kill one worker on the sidetrack. The second part is titled The Case for Cannibalism. In this part, Sandel explores the outcome of the trial case of the Queen vs Dudley and Stephens. Dudley and Stephens were charged with murder after killing their cabin boy, Richard Parker, and then eating his body to survive. Episode 2, also broken down into 2 parts, is appropriately titled “Putting a Price Tag on Life”. Part one, Putting a price tag on life, takes Jeremy Bentham’s theory of Utilitarianism and applies it to cost-benefit analysis. Part two is titled “How to Measure Pleasure”. In this section he introduces JS Mill, a utilitarian philosopher who attempts to defend utilitarianism against the objections raised by critics of the doctrine.
Episode 1:The Moral Side to Murder
In episode one, Sandel presents a hypothetical case of a trolley car whose brake system is not working. You are the driver and see that there are five workers on the track that are in the path and will be killed. On the sidetrack, there is only one worker. The car may not be able to stop but does have the ability to steer. Now there is a choice to be made: do you kill the five that are on your path? Or do you steer and save the five but kill one who is on the side track? The first student states it wouldn’t be right to kill five if only one could be killed instead. The second speaker supports her theory and uses 9-11 as an example. The Pennsylvania field crash was induced by the attendants in order to save a building from being hit. So they sacrificed the plane attendants as oppose to have additional casualties had the building been hit. The third student then provides another example in contrast to the first two. He states that if this were the case, then this reasoning supports genocide and totalitarianism. Is it right to kill one race to save another? But is it right? Which position makes better sense here? After being told the story, the class was asked to choose a side. Most raised their hand in agreement that it was wrong to kill the five when only on could be sacrificed. Sandel then adjusts the story a bit and adds that there is a man standing leaning over a bridge. The one worker on the sidetrack could push this man over to make room for him to stand out of the way of the trolley, but then the man pushed over would plunge to his death. What is the outcome? Most students agreed that this was a plain act of murder. A conscious choice was made to end a person’s life that was completely out of the way of disaster simply to save your own. One student claimed “murder is murder”. The third scenario presented in this segment is that of being a doctor. The doctor has five patients all needing dire transplants to live. There is a healthy man in the next room. Do you sacrifice this man to save the other five? Would it not be the same as the trolley car scenario: one life for five? Sandels lecture was then comically pushed when a student answered that he...