The Moral Limits of Markets

Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught political philosophy since 1980. He is the author of Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge University Press), Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1996), Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics (Harvard University Press, 2005), and The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (Harvard University Press, 2007). His writings have also appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and The New York Times. The recipient of three honorary degrees, he has received fellowships from the Carnegie Corporation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Ford Foundation. From 2002 to 2005, he served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics, a national council appointed by the President to examine the ethical implications of new biomedical technologies. A summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brandeis University (1975), Sandel received his doctorate from Oxford University (D.Phil.,1981), where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He lives with his wife and two sons in Brookline, Massachusetts.
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Topic: The Moral Limits of Markets

Michael Sandel: I'm also engaged now in a project … the moral limits of markets. What are the spheres that … where markets and market-oriented thinking should govern ... should be decisive? And it strikes me that the answer to that questions also forces us to think about ... also forces us to think about fundamental questions of value, and maybe even spiritual questions bordering on what some would consider to be theological or religious terrain. And so I think that moral and … that taking some of the disparate questions that are intriguing in contemporary political philosophy require us to address some big questions about … of a moral and spiritual kind that contemporary political philosophy has tried to set to one side. And that … we can't really answer the question, I don’t think, what is the proper role of markets? What are the cultural values that should perhaps resist market values? And what is the proper role for our biotechnological prowess and power in transforming … . We can't address those questions, I don't think, without raising fundamental questions about what it means to be a human being; what is the relation between human beings in a given world; and what are the moral and spiritual sources that often underlie the political debates we have?

Recorded on: 6/12/07