Michael Sandel Engages Class of 2018

Michael Sandel

News Story: September 11, 2014

Michael Sandel, Harvard University professor and author of Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?was at Sacred Heart University recently to address the class of 2018 and other interested members of the community. The freshmen were given the assignment of reading Sandel’s book over the summer. The lecture kicked off the 2014-15 Student Affairs Lecture Series.

Over the course of 75 minutes, Sandel engaged the students in a lively discussion on a number of controversial scenarios. He started with the true story of four shipwrecked men who had gone days without food or water. The cabin boy was sick after drinking sea water. Out of desperation, the decision was made to kill and eat the cabin boy. Three days later, they were rescued and put on trial for murder. Right or wrong?

“If they didn’t do it, everyone would die. They saved three lives,” said Danny. “Eating people is wrong,” Jeff responded emphatically. Added Alana, “We have been raised to have respect for the dead. Eating the dead is disgusting.”

Sandel’s next topic was whether it was okay to torture someone you were pretty sure had kidnapped a baby to determine the whereabouts of the child. Most in the room indicated that it was not okay for police to torture someone. The question became more complicated when the detainee was a presumed terrorist who knew the location of a bomb that would kill hundreds of thousands of people.

The final topic—whether it is okay to buy and sell human activity—covered surrogacy, bidding on babies who are up for adoption, selling sperm and even dwarf tossing (as seen in the film The Wolf of Wall Street). The students were definitely divided with some coming down on the side of every person’s right to make decisions about his or her body while others asserted that basic human dignity trumps the right for people to allow themselves to be used.

Sandel ended by encouraging the students to continue to be thoughtful. “In a way, every time we think and judge about the right thing to do, we become philosophers,” he said.

One thing the students could all agree on was that both Sandel’s book and has presentation were thought-provoking and fascinating.  

If you are unable to view the slideshow below, click here.