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Askwith Education Forum

Askwith Essentials: What's the Right Thing to Do?

A conversation with Michael Sandel about robust discourse and ethical decision-making during polarized times.

Political philosopher and Harvard professor Michael Sandel has lectured on five continents and in front of audiences of over 10,000 people, and he has pioneered the use of new technologies to create platforms for global public discourse. At the Askwith Forums on Thursday, November 1, he will join Dean Bridget Terry Long for a conversation about his efforts to reimagine civic education and public discourse in fractious times.

“Creating a culture of civil dialogue isn’t easy…. It doesn’t just happen; it is an educational project,” Sandel noted in a 2017 interview. “What we need is a kind of civic education that includes not only knowledge and interest in public affairs but also the ability to engage in reasoned argument and debate about public questions and the common good.”

Sandel is known for a legendarily popular Harvard course called Justice, which was the first Harvard class to be made freely available online and on television. In it, Sandel used the Socratic method to engage students in demanding dialogues about topics such as affirmative action, income distribution, lying, the role of markets, and the role of loyalty in public life. Sandel advocates for the importance of ethical considerations and respectful discussion.

"We can't decide any of the questions we argue about without implicitly relying on certain ethical ideas, certain ideas of justice, certain ideas of common good,” he told The Guardian. "We can't be neutral on those questions even if we pretend to be."  

Sandel, the author of several books and the host of The Global Philosopher on BBC Radio, often begins his exploration of situations by asking, “What is the right thing to do?” Educators and policymakers face this question in their day-to-day work, he maintains, and they need to be prepared to grapple with controversies and dilemmas.  

“To reinvigorate democratic politics, we need to find our way to a morally more robust public discourse, one that honors pluralism by engaging with our moral disagreements, rather than avoiding them,” Sandel wrote.

Askwith Education Forum

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