Political Philosopher Michael Sandel Challenges Students to Confront Ethics

Story posted October 31, 2020 in CommRadio, News by Emma Aken

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. –– Wednesday, Penn State hosted a Zoom call sponsored by the Center for Character, Conscience and Public Purpose as part of its PSU Votes initiative.

The lecture was facilitated by special guest Michael Sandel. Sandel is a Harvard political philosopher and best-selling author who has been described as “the most relevant living philosopher” (Newsweek) and “the most famous teacher of philosophy in the world” (New Republic). His writings on justice, democracy, morals and markets have been translated into 27 languages.

He presented his lecture to students and staff, exploring why politics have become so bitter and partisan, especially in this time of the general election and the COVID-19 crisis. He raised one main question: “what’s become of civility and the common good?”

Sandel stated early on in the discussion, “It seems to me there is a hunger among citizens across the political spectrum for something better; for a better, more morally engaged kind of public discourse than the kind in which we’ve been accustomed.”

He went on to ask participants who they think the most successful person in our society is. Members of the meeting called out names like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama.

Sandel then followed up by asking if these people achieved their success through effort and hard work or through luck and good fortune. He wanted the audience to question that if their success was achieved through luck and good fortune is it still considered “earned”?

Sandel was passionate about having the lecture be as interactive as possible, as he included frequent voting options for participants to share their answers to his questions.

Sandel’s extreme expertise was evident, and he was not hesitant in challenging speakers’ responses and offering them new perspectives.

Sandel offered a refreshing reminder that conversation can be civil, include many opinions and still be productive.


Emma Aken is a student majoring in journalism. To contact her, email ena5119@psu.edu.