Michael Sandel is a professor at Harvard University who has become very famous for his course on ethics called “Justice”. He has taught this course for more than 20 years and it became so popular that they decided to record it properly and offer it on the internet for free. He is somehow a philosophy rockstar, around a thousand students take this course every season and even more people watch it online. As you can imagine, he is a great orator: he has managed to make political philosophy and ethics interesting and exciting for non-philosophers, and is able to have hundreds of students focused on his talks about Locke, Plato, or (even) Kant for hours.

The key to his success might be that he addresses his students directly, challenging everyone to think by themselves about “what is the right thing to do?” Students confront each other with different opinions and, above all, the reasons that underlie those opinions. Many times they are caught off guard and realize either that they hadn’t asked themselves those questions, or that they don’t know the reasons for what they believe. In general the students that participate in the debate are very smart (well, its Harvard after all) but no one really has a competitive or arrogant attitude, which is -in my experience- what often characterizes academic/political debates. Sandel knows how to handle his audience and keep the flow of the debate going.

To me this is an example of how we can create public debate, in a sense it is a political space in which people that don’t know wach other can share a place of dialogue. Before it was indeed exclusive for Harvard  students, but by opening the course for anyone and promoting debates online, the project has widened the spectrum of participants. It is also an example of the great things we could do with free access to knowledge through the internet. Although only some episodes have to do explicitly with human rights, the entire course is related to them, often in a challenging tone.  It’s definitely worth watching.

 

 

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