Question: What is philosophy's place in modern life?
Michael Sandel: Right. There are different ways of doing philosophy. And some highly technical ways have their natural home in the academy and among scholars. And there’s enormous value and integrity in that part of philosophy. The part of philosophy that I deal with – and political philosophy in particular – has to be engaged with the world. I don’t think it’s possible to do political philosophy without tending to the actual political circumstances that we face in our world. And in fact, if you look back at the history of political philosophy, most of the great political philosophers have responded to worries of challenges, or even fears about the condition of public things in their own time and in their own lives even. And so very often, political philosophy has grown out of unease, or dissatisfaction, or protest against political conditions of the day. And so I don’t think it’s possible – at least for me I haven’t found it to be possible – to do political philosophy without taking an interest in the hurly-burly … the messy world of actual public life, trying to understand it; and also trying to bring philosophy – philosophical arguments and ideals – into actual contact with the public – men and women – the citizens who will decide the fate of public life, and democratic life in our own time. So I think philosophy has to have – political philosophy has to have – a public face, a public dimension. Teaching is part of that. Writing for general publications that reach beyond the academy is also part of that. And so it’s public philosophy in that sense that I’ve tried to contribute to and participate in.
Recorded on: 6/12/07
Michael Sandel: I think the reason we have such an impoverished public debate is that we are too reluctant to take on hard controversial, but important moral questions that really go to the heart of the question...