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Question: What do you believe?

Michael Sandel: Well if I were to describe my political philosophy, I would say that is has two dimensions, two aspects. One of them is that it’s a mistake for those who wind up on top in market societies like ours to think that the benefits that flow from the exercise of their talent in a market society are somehow theirs; that they’re morally deserved; that they’re somehow a reflection of their superior virtue. And so if we look at the inequalities within American society that even the graver, more dramatic inequalities around the world, I think the greatest moral challenge of our time is to try to try to bring to bear the enormous affluence that a great many very fortunate people have achieved around the world to address the crushing poverty in which a great many people around the world live. I think that generations from now, we will look back on our time and ask, and wonder how we could have abided so … how we could have permitted crushing poverty to afflict so many people in many parts of the world when there was such staggering wealth. So that would be my first – the gap between the rich and the poor on a global basis. And the second would be that … well it goes back to something that we’ve been discussing, which is it’s not possible or desirable, I don’t think, to create a compelling public philosophy – whether it’s within the United States, or whether it’s a global public ethic – that can inform, and animate, and inspire our relation with societies around the world. I don’t think it’s possible to create that by trying to extract from our particular cultures, moral traditions, and religious faiths. I think that the way to a global public ethic – or for that matter to a … society within the United States is not to try to extract from the deep differences, and moral and spiritual convictions that we find … . Instead, I think with that global public ethic, it has to be created from … by drawing upon those particular traditions, and cultures, and faiths; not to find one very thin strand that’s some kind of a common denominator. That would be very thin and unsatisfying to everyone. It’s like trying to design a universal prayer that would offend no one if it were to be said on sentimental occasions or in schools. Not that; but a global public effort that draws on and contends with the rich particular traditions – cultural, moral, and religious traditions – that locate people in the world; that give them a sense of place in the world. So that would be the … the second ingredient, or the second feature of what I suppose I would call my public philosophy or political philosophy … .

Recorded on: 6/12/07




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