The Public Philosopher in Utrecht (BBC4)

Every once in a while people ask me about my role model as a debate moderator. I don’t have any, but political philosopher Michael Sandel (Harvard University) would come close. Such a wonderful job: moderating public debates on the greatest moral dilemmas of our time. 

Granted that his summaries of debates are somewhat biased by his own (communitarian) opinions, he’s able to frame the main clashes so sharply that speakers discover the pitfalls in their own lines of reasoning. Moreover, Sandel knows how to show the strengths and limitations of entire schools of thought, without being overtly didactic.

That’s what I experienced while participating in his debate in Utrecht. David Edmonds (who also produces my favourite podcast Philosophy Bites) recorded the event for The Public Philosopher on BBC4.

Should governments try to influence private morality? Michael Sandel, the Public Philosopher, is back with a new series. In this first programme he is at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands, one of the world’s most permissive countries. It has liberal laws on prostitution, cannabis and euthanasia. Professor Sandel leads a discussion about the role of the state in shaping and policing our moral values.

(Listen on BBC4: the Public Philosopher series 3: ‘Morality and the State’)

After 32 minutes and 15 seconds you’ll hear me argue against the dominant albeit incoherent view on life and death. That is, anything goes, as long as citizens choose freely based on informed consent. That’s why Sandel started the discussion by framing the Netherlands as the beacon of political liberalism. Opposingly, I consider life a necessary condition for exercising all liberties we possess and value.

I bet you can hear the excitement in my voice, for both the topic and the occasion. Let’s create more occasions for thinking out loud about the society in which we want to live.

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