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All’s not well that ends well – why Kant centred morality on motives, not outcomes

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The 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that lying – no matter how noble or even life-saving a lie might seem – is always morally wrong. Kant’s view drew a distinct contrast with his utilitarian contemporaries, including the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, whose outlook could be boiled down to the maxim that ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals’. In this lecture at Harvard University in 2009, the US professor and political philosopher Michael Sandel draws from the highly influential text Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785) to explore Kant’s somewhat counterintuitive outlook on morality. In doing so, Sandel, with his talent for elucidating complex ideas, builds a deeper context for Kant’s worldview, including his thoughts on human uniqueness, dignity and agency.

Video by Harvard University

Producer: Leon Kelly

Website: Justice with Michael Sandel

17 December 2020
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