MICHAEL SANDEL, a well-known political philosopher and professor from Harvard University, believes the world today is facing two questions – how to deal with the growing gap between the rich and poor, and what role should money and market play in society?
But the good news is that people across the world are hungry to debate about ethical issues. Sandel was speaking to Nation Multimedia Group chairman Suthichai Yoon in a television interview.
However, he explained, this deliberation required more than just putting one’s point of view forward – people should also try to listen to and understand counter-arguments as well as be willing to make compromises.
Sandel was in Bangkok for the two-day Bangkok Conference on Global Dialogue on Sustainable Development organised by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) and flew out last night.
The professor also lamented the far too dominant a role that money played in American politics nowadays.
“Money can buy elections – not through actual bribery but through influence,” he said, adding that there was a dire need for debate on the corrupting effect of money on politics.
Sandel, who also authored the 2012 book “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”, added that some countries in Europe and Asia had been successful at curbing the influence of money on politics.
“We’ve allowed money to play far too big a role. At the moment, there’s very little limit,” he said.
Some countries have put restrictions on how much can be spent on electoral campaigns, including television ads, but not in the United States, he said, adding that this will only change if civic groups apply pressure from bottom up.
He also cited the big problem of politicians on both sides of the divide failing to break the current financial deadlock in the US through deliberation and compromise.
He said this deadlock represented a failure of democratic politics, adding that both sides appeared to only be shouting at one another and not listening – particularly the Tea Party, a Republican splinter group. “I don’t think this is how democracy ought to work.”
Other than his high-profile work at Harvard University, Sandel’s lectures on justice and ethics have won millions of viewers on YouTube.
However, he said, though online education would likely change the format of university education in the future, he does not believe it can ever replace face-to-face classroom interaction and debate.
When asked what made a good student, Sandel said it wasn’t the ability to memorise but the ability to explain how philosophical questions can be applied to daily life.
According to him, an ideal student would be able to show that they have thought long and hard about the subject, have considered counter-arguments and are able to listen to an opponent.