Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? (Harvard)

Episode 11:

The Claims of Community /
Where Our Loyalty Lies

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Michael Sandel: Today we turn to Kant’s reply to Aristotle. Kant thinks that Aristotle just made a mistake. It’s one thing, Kant says, to support a fair framework of rights, within which people can pursue their own conceptions of the good life. It’s something else, it’s something that runs the risk of coercion, to base law, or principles of justice on any particular conception of the good life. You remember Aristotle says, in order to investigate the ideal constitution, we have first to figure out the best way to live. Kan would reject that idea. He says that constitutions, and laws, and rights should not embody, or affirm, or promote any particular way of life, that’s at odds with freedom. For Aristotle, the whole point of law the purpose of the polis, is to shape character, to cultivate the virtue of citizens, to inculcate civic excellence, to make possible a good way of life. That’s what he tells us in the politics. For Kant, on the other hand, the purpose of law, point of a constitution, is not to inculcate or to promote virtue. It’s to set up a framework of rights, within which citizens may be free to pursue their own conceptions of the good for themselves. So we see the difference in their theories of justice, we see the difference in their account of law, or the role of a constitution, point of politics, and underlying these differences, are two different accounts of what it means to be a free person. For Aristotle, we are free in so far as we have the capacity to realize our potential. And that leads us to the question of fit. Fit between persons and the roles that are appropriate to them. Figuring out what I’m cut out for, that’s what it means to lead a free life, to live up to my potential. Kant rejects that idea, and instead substitutes his famously demanding notion of freedom as the capacity to act autonomously. Freedom means acting according to a law I give myself. Freedom is autonomy. Part of the, the appeal, part of the moral force of the view of Kant and of Rawls, consists in the conception of the person as a free and independent self capable of choosing his or her own ends. The image of the self as free and independent offers, if you think about it, a powerful, liberating vision, because what it says it, that as free moral persons, we are not bound by any ties of history, or of tradition, or of inherited status that we haven’t chosen for ourselves. And so we’re unbound by any moral ties prior to our choosing them. And that means, that means that we are free and independent sovereign selves, we’re the authors of the only obligations that constrain us. The communitarian critics of Kantian and Rawlsian liberalism acknowledge that there is something powerful and inspiring in that account of freedom, the free independent choosing self. But they argue it misses something. It misses a whole dimension of moral life, and even political life. It can’t make sense of our moral experience because it can’t account for certain moral and political obligations that we commonly recognize and even prize. And these include obligations of membership, loyalty, solidarity, and other moral ties that may claim us for reasons that we can’t trace to an act of consent. Alasdair Maclntyre gives an account, what he calls a narrative conception of the self. It’s a different account of the self. "Human beings are essentially story-telling creatures", Maclntyre argues. "That means, I can only answer the question 'what am I to do?' if I can answer the prior question of 'what story or stories do I find myself a part?'". That’s what he means by the narrative conception of the self. What does this have to do with the idea of community and belonging? Maclntyre says this, once you accept this narrative aspect of moral reflection, you will notice that "we can never seek for the good, or exercise the virtues only as individuals. We all approach our circumstance as bearers of particular social identities. I am someone’s son or daughter, a citizen of this or that city, I belong to this clan, that tribe, this nation". "Hence", Maclntyre argues, "what is good for me, has to be the good for someone who inhabits these roles. I inherit from the past of my family, my city, my tribe, my nation, a variety of debts, inheritances, expectations and obligations. These constitute the given of my life, my moral starting point. This is, in part, what gives my life its moral particularity". That’s the narrative conception of the self. And, it’s a conception that sees the self as claimed or encumbered, at least to some extent, by the history, the tradition, the communities of which it’s a part. We can’t make sense of our lives, not only as a psychological matter, but as a moral matter in thinking what we are to do without attending to these features about us. Now, Maclntyre recognizes that this narrative account, this picture of the encumbered self puts his account at odds with contemporary liberalism and individualism. From the standpoint of individualism, I am what I myself choose to be. I may biologically be my father’s son, but I can’t be held responsible for what he did unless I choose to assume such responsibility. I can’t be held responsible for what my country does or has done unless I choose to assume such responsibility. But Maclntyre says this reflects a certain kind of moral shallowness, even blindness. It’s a blindness at odds with the full measure of responsibility, which sometimes, he says, involves collective responsibility, or responsibilities that may flow from historic memories. And he gives some examples. Such individualism is expressed by those contemporary Americans who deny any responsibility for the effects of upon Black Americans saying, I never owned any slaves, or the young German who believes that having been born after 1945 means that what Nazis did to Jews has no moral relevance to his relationship to his Jewish contemporaries. Maclntyre says, all of these attitudes of historical amnesia amount to a kind of moral abdication. Once you see that who we are and what it means to sort out our obligations, can’t be separated, shouldn’t be separated from the life histories that define us. The contrast, he says, when the narrative account is clear, for the story of my life is always embedded in the communities from which I derived my identity. I am born with a past, and to try to cut myself off from that past is to deform my present relationships. So there you have, in Maclntyre, a strong statement of the idea that the self can’t be detached, shouldn’t be detached from its particular ties of membership. History, story, narrative. Now, I want to get your reactions to the communitarian critique of the individualist, or the voluntrist, the unencumbered self. But, let’s make it concrete so that you can react to more than just the theory of it. By looking at the two different accounts of moral and political obligation that arise depending on which of these conceptions of the person one accepts. On the liberal conception, moral and political obligations arise in one of two ways. There are natural duties that we owe human beings as such, duties of respect for persons play persons. These obligations are universal. Then, as Rawls points out, there are also voluntary obligations, obligations that we owe to particular others in so far as we have agreed, whether through a promise, or a deal, or a contract. Now, the issue between the liberal and communitarian accounts of the self, is there another category of obligation or not? The communitarian says there is. There is a third category that might be called obligations of solidarity, or loyalty, or membership. The communitarian argues that, construing all obligations as either natural duties or voluntary obligations fails to capture obligations of membership or solidarity. Loyalties whose moral force consists partly in the fact that living by them is inseparable from understanding ourselves as the particular persons we are. What would be some examples, and then I want to see how you would react to them. Examples of obligations of membership, that are particular, but don’t necessarily flow from consent, but rather from membership, narrative, community, one’s situation. The most common examples are ones to do with the family, the relation between parents and children, for example. Suppose there were two children drowning, you could save only one of them. One was your child the other was a stranger’s child. Would you have an obligation to flip a coin? Or would there be something morally obtuse if you didn’t rush to save your child? Now, you may say, well parents have agreed to have their children. So take the other case, the case of children’s obligations for their parents. Now, we don’t choose our parents, we don’t even choose to have parents, there is that asymmetry, and yet, consider two aging parents, one of them yours, the other a stranger’s. Doesn’t it make moral sense to think that you have a greater obligation to look after your aged parent than to flip a coin or to help the stranger’s? Now, is this traceable to consent? Not likely. Or take a couple of political examples. During World War II, French resistance pilots flew bombing raids over occupied France. One day, one of the pilots received his target, and noticed that the village that he was being asked to bomb was his home village. He refused, not disputing that it was as necessary as the target he bombed yesterday, he refused on the ground that he couldn’t bring himself, it would be a special moral crime for him to bomb his people, even in a cause that he supported, the cause of liberating France. Now, do we admire that? If we do, the communitarian argues, it’s because we do recognize obligations of solidarity. Take another example, some years ago there was a famine in Ethiopia. Hundreds of thousands of people were starving. The Israeli government organized an airlift to rescue Ethiopian Jews. They didn’t have the capacity to rescue everyone in Ethiopia, and they rescued several hundred Ethiopian Jews. Now, what’s your moral assessment? Is that a kind of morally troubling partiality? A kind of prejudice? Or, as the Israeli government thought, is there a special obligation of solidarity that this airlift properly responded to? Well that takes us to the broader question of patriotism. What, morally speaking, is to be said for patriotism? There are two towns name Franklin. One is Franklin, Texas, the other is just across the Rio Grande river, Franklin, Mexico. What is the moral significance of national boundaries? Why is it, or is it the case, that we as Americans have a greater responsibility for the health, and the education, and the welfare, and public provision for people who live in Franklin, Texas than equally needy people just across the river living in Franklin, Mexico? According to the communitarian account, membership does matter. And the reason patriotism is at least potentially a virtue, is that it is an expression of the obligations of citizenship. How many are sympathetic to the idea that there is this third category of obligation, the obligations of solidarity or membership. How many are sympathetic to that idea? And how many are critical of that idea? How many think all obligations can be accounted for in the first two ways? Alright, let’s hear from the critics of the communitarian idea first. Yes.

Patrick: My biggest concern with the idea of having obligations because you’re a member of something or because of solidarity, is that it seems that, if you accept those obligations as being sort of morally binding, then there’s a greater occurrence of overlapping obligations, a greater occurrence of good versus good, and I don’t know if this sort of framework allows us to choose between them.

Michael Sandel: Good. And what’s your name?

Patrick: Patrick.

Michael Sandel: So, you worry that if we recognize obligations of membership or solidarity, since we inhabit different communities, their claims might conflict, and what would we do if we have competing obligations? Yes.

Nikola: Well, one solution is that we could view ourselves as, ultimately, umm, members of the human community, and that, then within that, we have all these smaller spheres of, that, you know, I am American, or I am student at Harvard. And so, the most important, umm, community to, be, to be obligated to is the community of human beings, and then from there you can sort of evaluate which other ones are most important to you.

Michael Sandel: So the most, and what’s your name?

Nikola: Nikola.

Michael Sandel: So, Nikola, you say the most universal community we inhabit, the community of human kind, always takes precedence.

Nikola: Yeah.

Michael Sandel: Patrick, are you satisfied?

Patrick: No.

Michael Sandel: Why not?

Patrick: Umm, it seems rather arbitrary that we should choose the universal obligation over the more specific obligation. I might also say that I should be obligated first to the most specific of my obligations. For instance, take my family as a small unit of solidarity. Perhaps I should be first obligated to that unit, and then perhaps to the unit of my town, and then my country, and then the human race.

Michael Sandel: Good. Thank you. Let’s, I want to hear from another critic of the communitarian view. We have the objection, well what if goods collide? Who objects to the whole idea of it? Who sees patriotism as just a kind of prejudice that ideally we should overcome? Yes.

Elizabeth: Patriotism reflects a community membership. That’s a, like, a given. I think the problem is that, where as some memberships are natural narratives, the narrative of citizenship is a constructed one, and I think a false one. Because, as the river is just a historical accident, it makes no sense that, because lottery of birth threw me into the United States as opposed to Mexico, that that’s the membership that I should be a part of.

Michael Sandel: Good. And what’s your name?

Elizabeth: Elizabeth.

Michael Sandel: Elizabeth. Who has a reply? Yes.

Student 1: I think in, in general, ah, we have to ask where do our moral obligations arise from anyway. And I think, basically, there’d be two places from which they could arise. One would be kin, and another one would be reciprocity, and the closer you are associated to other people, there’s a natural reciprocity there in terms of having, umm, interactions with those people. Ah, you interact with the neighbors on your street, with the other people in your country through economic arrangement…

Michael Sandel: But I don’t know, and you don’t know those people in Franklin, Texas any more than you know the people in, in Franklin, Mexico, do you?

Student 1: Presumably, you’re naturally more connected to the people in your own country in terms of interaction and trade than you are with people in other countries.

Michael Sandel: Good. Who else? Go ahead.

Reina: Yeah, I think that a lot of, umm, the basis for patriotism can be compared to like school spirit or even house spirit that we see here, where freshmen are sorted into houses, and then within a day, they have developed some sort of attachment or pride associated with that house. And so, I think that we can probably, umm, draw a distinction between a moral obligation, umm, for a communitarian beliefs, and sort of just a sentimental emotional attachment.

Michael Sandel: Good. Wait, stay there. What’s your name?

Reina: Reina.

Michael Sandel: What about, go back to my example about the obligation of the child to the parent. Would you say the same thing there, it’s just a, may or may not be a sentimental tie but it has no moral weight?

Reina: Well, I mean, I’m not entirely certain that accident in the initial stages, something that will preclude, like, more obligations later. Umm, so, you know, just because we’re a randomly sorted into a house, or just because we don’t choose, umm, who our parents are, what country we’re born into, doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t like develop like an obligation based on some type of benefit I guess. Just sort of…

Michael Sandel: So your obligation to you aged parent, that’s greater than to aged parents around the world, is only because, and in so far as, you’re repaying a benefit that your parent gave you when you were growing up?

Reina: Yeah. I mean, I would say that, if you look at, umm, cases of adoption where, you know, you have, like, a biological parent somewhere else that you don’t interact with, and then you have a parent, you know, who adopted you. Most people would say that, if you had to pick between them, in the case of, you know, aging parents, that your obligation would lie more with the person who raised you and who had exchanges with you, meaningfully.

Michael Sandel: May I ask you one more question about the parent?

Reina: Sure.

Michael Sandel: Do you think that a person with a bad parent owes them less?

Reina: I don’t know because I’ve never had a bad parent.

Michael Sandel: I think that’s a good place to end.

Reina: Thank you.

Michael Sandel: We’ll continue with this next time. Thank you.

Dan: If I were working on an EC problem set, for example, and I saw that my roommate was cheating, that might be a bad thing for him to do, but I wouldn’t turn him in.

Michael Sandel: You would not turn him in.

Dan: I wouldn’t turn him in, and I think that, I would argue that’s the right thing to do because of my obligation and, you know…

Michael Sandel: You don’t have duty to tell the truth, to report someone who cheated?

Michael Sandel: Today I’d like to take, I’d like to consider the strongest objections to the idea that there are obligations of solidarity or membership. Then I want to see if those objections can be met successfully. One objection emerged in the discussion last time. Patrick said, well, if obligations flow from community membership and identity, we inhabit multiple communities, doesn’t that mean that our obligations will sometimes conflict? So that’s one possible objection. And then Reina said, these examples meant to bring out the moral force of solidarity and membership, examples about parents and children, about the French Resistance fighters asked to bomb his own village and drawing back, about the airlift by Israel of Ethiopian Jews, these examples, they may be intuitively evocative, Reina said, but really they’re pointing to matters of emotion, matters of sentiment, not true moral obligations. And then there were a number of objections, not necessarily to patriotism as such, but to patriotism understood as an obligation of solidarity and membership beyond consent. This objection allowed that there can be obligations to the communities we inhabit, including obligations of patriotism, but this objection argued that all of the obligations of patriotism or of community or membership are actually based on liberal ideas, and perfectly compatible with them. Consent, either implicit or explicit, or reciprocity. Julia Rathow, for example, on the website, said that liberalism can endorse patriotism as a voluntary moral obligation. Patriotism and familial love both fall under this category, because after all, Julia points out, the Kantian framework allows people free rein to choose to express virtues such as these if they want to. So you don’t need the idea of a non-voluntary particular moral obligation to capture the moral force of community values. Where’s Julia? OK. So, did I summarize that, that fairly? There is, Julia actually is in line with what Rawls says about this very topic. You weren’t aware of that, you came up with it on your own. That’s pretty good. Rawls says, when he’s discussing political obligation, he says, it’s one thing if someone runs for office or enlists in the military, they’re making a voluntary choice, But Rawls says, there is, I believe, no political obligation, strictly speaking, for citizens generally. Because it’s not clear what is the requisite binding action, and who has performed it. So, Rawls acknowledges that, for ordinary citizens, there is no political obligation except, in so far as, some particular citizen willingly, through an act of consent, undertakes or chooses such an obligation. That’s in line with Julia’s point. It’s related to another objection that people have raised, which is, it’s perfectly possible to recognize particular obligations to one’ family or to one’s country, provided honoring those obligations doesn’t require you to violate any of the natural duties or requirements of universal respect for persons que persons. So that’s consistent with the idea that we can choose, if we want to, to express a loyalty to our country, or to our people, or to our family, provided we don’t do any injustice within the framework. Acknowledging the priority that is of the universal duties. The one objection that I, I didn’t mention is the view of those who say that obligations of membership really are a kind of collective selfishness, why should we honor them? Isn’t it just a kind of prejudice? So, what I’d like to do, perhaps if those of you who have agreed, who wrote and who have agreed to, to press these objections, perhaps if you could gather down, all together. We’ll form a team as we did once before, and we’ll see if you can respond to those who want to defend patriotism conceived as a communal obligation. Now, there were a number of people who argued in defense of patriotism as the communitarian view conceives it, so let me go down now and join the critics, the critics of communitarism, if there’s a microphone that we could use somewhere. OK. Thanks Kate. Umm, who as, as the critics of patriotism, communal patriotism gather their forces here. Patrick, if you want to you can join as well, or Reina, others who have spoken or addressed this question are free to join in, but I would like to hear now from those of you who defend patriotism, and defend it as a moral obligation that can’t be translated back into purely consent based terms, can’t be translated into the liberal terms. Where’s AJ Kumar? AJ, everybody seems to know you. Alright, let’s here from AJ. You said, in the same way I feel I owe more to my family than to the general community, I owe more to my country than to humanity in general, because my country holds a great stake in my identity. It is not prejudice for me to love my country, unless it is prejudice to love my parents more than somebody else’s. So AJ, what would you say to this group? Stand up.

AJ: I think that there’s some fundamental moral obligation that comes from a communitarian responsibility to people in groups that form your identity. I mean, even, like, I’ll give the example, that, you know, there are a lot of things about our government right now that I’m not in favor of, but part of my identity is that America values a free society where we can object to certain things, and I think that’s an expression of patriotism as well. And, I, I go back to the parent example, or even at Harvard, I think, you know, I owe more to my roommates because they make up my identity than I do to the Harvard community as a whole, and I think that applies to our country because there are certain things that, growing up here, yes, we can’t choose it, we can’t choose our parents, things like that, but it makes up part of our identity.

Michael Sandel: OK, who would like to take that on? Ike?

Ike: Yeah, about the, umm, obligation to others simply by virtue of, ah, being of their, their, umm, being influenced by them. I’m a German citizen, and if I’d been born eighty years earlier, then I would have been a citizen of Nazi Germany. And, for some reason, I just don’t think that I would have to feel obligated, ah, towards Germany, umm, because I benefited from actions of Nazis.

AJ: I mean, I guess my response to that would be, you have hundreds of thousands of protesters in the United States right now who hold up signs that say, “Peace is patriotic,” and I’m sure there are people in this room that don’t agree with that. I personally do, and I would say that they are strongly objecting to basically everything the Bush administration is doing right now, but they still consider themselves loving their country because they’re furthering the cause of what they see as best for the country. And I tend to agree with that as a patriotic movement.

Ike: Well, but, how’s that then, how do you still favor your country? How is that still patriotic? I mean, isn’t that more sentimental attachment? Where’s the obligation there?

Student 1: Not to bring this back to John Locke, but I would like to bring this back to John Locke. So, I mean, his conception of, of, you know, when people join society, there’s, there’s still some outlet. Like, if you, if you’re not satisfied with your society, you know, you do have a means of exit, even though we had a lot of concerns about how you’re born in it and it’s not very feasible, he still provides that option. If we want to say that, umm, your obligation to society is a moral one, that means that prior to knowing exactly what that society’s going to be like or what you’re positions going to be in that society. That means you have a binding obligation to, like, a completely unknown body that, that could be completely foreign to all of your personal beliefs or, you know, what you would hope to be…

Michael Sandel: Do you think that that kind of communal obligation or patriotism means writing the community a, a blank moral check?

Student 1: Basically, yeah. Like, I think that, we can, you know, I think it’s reasonable to say that as you grow and as you develop within that community, that you acquire some type of obligation based on reciprocity, but to say that you have a moral obligation, I think requires a, a stronger justification.

Michael Sandel: Who else? Would anyone else like to address that?

Student 2: Ah, I guess we could say that you would, you could argue that you’re morally obliged to society by the fact that there is this reciprocity. I think, umm, it’s the idea that, you know, we participate in society, we pay our taxes, we vote, this is why we could say we owe something to society. But beyond that, I don’t think there’s anything inherent in the fact that we are members of the society itself, that we owe it anything. I think it’s, in so far as we, as the society gives us something, gives us protection, safety, security, then we owe the society something, but nothing beyond what we give the society.

Michael Sandel: Who wants to take that on? Rhaul?

Rhaul: I don’t think we, I don’t think we give the community a blank moral check in that sense, I think we only give it a blank moral check when we advocate our sense of civic responsibility and when we say that the debate doesn’t matter because patriotism is a vice. I think that patriotism is important because it gives us a sense of community, a sense of common civic virtue that we can engage in the issues. Even if you don’t agree with the way the government is acting, you can still love your country and hate the way it’s acting. And I think, because out of that love for country, umm, you can debate with other people and have respect for their views, but still engage in a debate. If, if you just say that, you know, patriotism is a vice, you drop out of that debate, and you, and you cede the ground to people who are more fundamentalist, stronger view, and who may coerce the community. It, instead, we should engage the other members of the community on that same moral ground.

Michael Sandel: Well now this, what, what we here from AJ and Rhual is a very pluralistic argumentative, critically minded patriotism, whereas what we here from Ike and the critics of patriotism here, is the worry that, to take patriotic obligation in a communal way, seriously, involves a kind of loyalty that doesn’t let us just pick and choose among the beliefs, or actions, or, or practices of our country. What more, what’s left of loyalty if all we’re talking about, AJ and Rhual, if all we’re talking about is loyalty to principles of justice that may happen to be embodied in our community, or not, as the case may be. And if not, then we can, can reject its course. I don’t know, I’ve sort of given a reply. I got carried away. I’m sorry. Who would like, go ahead Julia.

Julia: Yeah, I think that patriotism, you need to define what that is. It sounds like, you know, normally that we are given a more weak definition here of patriotism amongst us, but it almost sounds like your definition is merely to have some sort of civic involvement in debating within your society, and I think that that kind of undermines maybe the moral, some of the moral worth of patriotism as a virtue as well. Like, I think if you could consent to a stronger form of patriotism if you want, that’s a stronger, I guess more obligation, even that what you’re suggesting.

Michael Sandel: What we really need to sharpen the issue is an example from the defenders of communitarianism, of a case where loyalty can actually compete with, and possibly outweigh, universal principles of justice. Isn’t that what, that’s the test they really need to meet, isn’t it? Alright. So that’s the test you need to meet or any, any among you who would like to defend obligations of membership or solidarity independent of ones that happen to embody just principles. Who has an example of a kind of loyalty that can and should compete with universal moral claims, respect for persons. Go ahead.

Dan: Umm, yeah, if I were working on an Ec problem set, for example, and I saw that my roommate was cheating, that might be a bad thing for him to do, but I wouldn’t turn him in.

Michael Sandel: You would not turn him in.

Dan: I wouldn’t turn him in, and I think that, I would argue that’s the right thing to do because of my obligation and, you know, it may be wrong, but that’s what I would do, and, you know, I think that’s what most people would do as well.

Michael Sandel: Alright, that’s, now there’s a fair test. He’s not slipping out by saying he’s invoking in the name of community some universal principles of justice. What’s your name? Stay there. What’s your name?

Dan: It’s Dan.

Michael Sandel: Dan? So, what do people think about Dan’s case? That’s a harder case for the ethic of loyalty, isn’t it? But a truer test. How many agree with Dan? So loyalty, Dan, loyalty has it’s part of ????. Umm, how many disagree with Dan? Peggy.

Peggy: Oh, well, I agree with Dan, but I agree that it’s a choice that we make, but it’s not necessarily right or wrong. I mean, I’m agreeing that I’m going to make the wrong choice, because I’m going to choose my roommate, but I also recognize that that choice isn’t morally right.

Michael Sandel: So you’re still translating, even Dan’s loyalty, you’re saying, well that’s a matter of choice. But, what’s the right thing to do? The, most people put up their hands saying Dan would be right to stand by his roommate and not turn him in. Yes, Go ahead.

Voitek: Also, I think as a roommate you have insider information, and that might not be something you want to use, that’s might be something unfair, umm, to hold against. You know, you’re spending that much time with the roommate, obviously you’re going to learn things about him, and I don’t think it’s fair to reveal that to the greater community.

Michael Sandel: But it’s loyalty, Voitek, you agree with Dan, that loyalty is the ethic at stake here.

Voitek: Absolutely.

Michael Sandel: You don’t have duty to tell the truth, to report someone who cheated?

Voitek: Not if you’re, if you’ve been advantaged into getting that kind of information.

Michael Sandel: Before our critics of patriotism leave, I want to give you another version, a more public example of what we’ll, I guess we should call it Dan’s Dilemma, Dan’s Dilemma of Loyalty, and I want to get the reactions of people to this. This came up a few years ago in Massachusetts, does anyone know who this man is? Billy Bulger, that’s right. Who is Billy Bulger? He was president of the Massachusetts State Senate for many years, one of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts, and then he became president of the University of Massachusetts. Bow, Billy Bulger, did you hear this story about him, that bears on Dan’s dilemma? Billy Bulger has a brother named Whitey Bulger, and this is Whitey Bulger. His brother Whitey is on the FBI’s most wanted list, alleged to be a notorious gang leader in Boston responsible for many murders. And now a fugitive from justice, but when, when the U.S. Attorney, they called Billy Bulger, then the president of the University of Massachusetts, before the grand jury and wanted information on the whereabouts of his brother, this fugitive, and he refused to give it. U.S. Attorneys said, just to be clear, Mr. Bulger, you feel more loyalty to your brother than to the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts? And here’s what Billy Bulger said, “I never thought of it that way, but I do have a loyalty to my brother, I care about him, I hope that I’m never helpful to anyone against him, I don’t have an obligation to help anyone catch my brother.” Dan, you would agree. How many would agree with the position of Billy Bulger? Let me give one other example and then we’ll let the critics reply,the critics of loyalty, as we’ll describe it. Here’s an, an even more faithful example, from a figure in American history, Robert E. Lee. Now, Robert E. Lee, on the eve of the Civil War, was an officer of the Union army. He opposed secession, in fact regarded it as treason. When war loomed, Lincoln offered Lee to be the commanding general of the Union army. And Lee refused, and he described in a letter to his sons why he refused. “With all my devotion to the Union,” he wrote, “I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home, by which he meant Virginia. The Unionist resolved, I will return to my native state and share the miseries of my people, save in her defense, I will draw my sword no more. Now here’s a real test, Dan, for your principle of loyalty. Because, here is the cause of the war against, not only to save the Union, but against slavery. And Lee is going to fight for Virginia even though he doesn’t share the desire of the southern states to secede. Now, the communitarian would say there is something admirable in that. Whether or not the decision was ultimately right, there’s something admirable. And the communitarian would say, we can’t even make sense, Reina if we can’t make sense of Lee’s dilemma as a moral dilemma, unless we acknowledge that the claim of loyalty arising from his sense of narrative of who he is, is a moral, not just sentimental, emotional tug. Alright, who would like to respond to Dan’s loyalty, to Billy Bulger’s loyalty, or to Robert E. Lee’s loyalty to Virginia? What do you say Julia?

Julia: OK, well I think that this, these are some classic examples of, you know, multiple spheres of influence, and that you have conflicting communities that your family and your country, I think that’s one reason why the idea of choice in your obligation is so important, because how else can you resolve this? You have, if you’re morally obligated and there’s no way out of this need for loyalty to both communities, you’re trapped. There’s nothing you can do. You have to make a choice. And I think that being able to choose based on other characteristics than nearly, the arbitrary fact that you’re a member of this community is important, otherwise it’s left to I guess randomness.

Michael Sandel: Well, Julia, the issue isn’t whether these, whether Dan makes a choice, or Billy Bulger, or Robert E. Lee, of course they make a choice. The question is, on what grounds, on what principle should they choose? The communitarian doesn’t deny that there’s a choice to be made, the question is, which choice, on what grounds, and should loyalty, as such, weigh? Andre, now you want to, alright, go ahead. What do you say?

Andre: Well it, I, one of the things we’ve noticed in the three examples is that the people have all chosen the most immediate community which they’re a part, the more local one, and I think there’s something to be said for that. There’s not just random, there, I mean there doesn’t seem to be a conflict because they know which one is more important, and it’s their family over the EC 10 class, their state over their country, and their family over the commonwealth of Massachusetts. So, I think that’s the answer to which is more important.

Michael Sandel: You think that the local, the, the more particular is always the weightier morally Andre?

Andre: Well, I mean, there seems to be a trend in the three cases. I, I would agree with that. I think, and I think most of us would agree that your family takes precedence over the United States, perhaps.

Michael Sandel: Which is why you go with Dan. Dan, loyalty to the roommate over EC 10 and the truth.

Andre: Yeah, exactly. I would ‘cause it, I mean, it…

Michael Sandel: Truth telling, not the truth of EC 10.

Andre: Yes.

Michael Sandel: Alright, so we understand. Yes.

Samantha: But in the same example, in terms of family, you had cases in the Civil War where brother was pitted against brother on both sides of the war where they chose country instead of family. So I think the exact same war shows that different people have different means of making these choices, and that there is no one set of values, or one set of morality that communitarians can stick to, and personally I think that’s the biggest problems with communitarians, that we don’t have one set of standard moral obligations.

Michael Sandel: And tell me your name.

Samantha: Samantha.

Michael Sandel: So Samantha, umm, you agree with, ah, Patrick. Patrick’s point the other day, that there may be, if we allow obligations to be defined by community identification or membership, they may conflict, they may, they may overlap, they may compete, and there is no clear principle, Andre says there’s a clear principle, the most particular. The other day, Nikola, who was sitting over here, Where is Nikola? Said the most universal. You’re saying, Samantha, the scale of the community as such can’t be the decisive moral factor. So there has to be some other moral judgment. Alright, let’s first, let’s let our, our critics of communal patriotism, let’s express our appreciation and thank them for their having stood up and responded to these arguments, defined the issue.Let’s turn to the implications for justice of the positions that we’ve heard discussed here. One of the worries underlying these multiple objections to the idea of loyalty or membership as having independent moral weight, is that it seems to argue that there is no way of finding principles of justice that are detached from conceptions of the good life, as they may be lived in any particular community. Suppose the communitarian argument is right. Suppose the priority of the right over the good can’t be sustained. Suppose instead, that justice and rights. Unavoidably, are bound up with conceptions of the good. Does that mean that justice is simply a creature of convention, of the values that happen to prevail in any given community at any given time? One of the writings we have among the communitarian critics, is by Michael Walster. He draws the implications of justice this way. Justice is relative to social meanings. A given society is just if it’s substance of life is lived in a certain way, in a way that is faithful to the shared understandings of the members. So, Walster’s account seems to bear out the worry that, if we can’t find independent principles of justice, independent that is from the conceptions of the good that prevail in any given community, that we’re simply left with justice being a matter of fidelity or faithfulness to the shared understandings, or values, or conventions that prevail in any given society at any given time. But is that an adequate way of thinking about justice? Well, let’s take a look at a short clip from the documentary, “Eyes on the Prize.” Goes back in the 1950’s in the south. Here are some situated American southerners who believe in the tradition, in the shared understandings of segregation. Listen to the arguments they make about loyalty and tradition. See if they don’t make you uneasy about tying arguments about justice to the shared understandings or traditions that prevail at any given society at the moment. Let’s run the clip.

Clip: This land is composed of two different cultures, a white culture and a colored culture, and I live close to them all my life. And I’m told now that we mistreated them and that we must change, and these changes are coming faster than I expected, and I’m required to make decisions on a basis of a new way of thinking, and it’s difficult. Difficult for me, it’s difficult for all southerners.

Michael Sandel: Well there you have it. Narrative selves, situated selves invoking tradition. Doesn’t that show us that justice can’t be tied to the shared understandings of goods that prevail in any given community at any given time? Or is there a way of rescuing that claim from this example? Think about that question and we’ll return to it next time.

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