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Michael J. Sandel

Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2018

Michael J. Sandel (Minnesota, USA, 5th March 1953) graduated from Brandeis University (USA) and, after winning a Rhodes Scholarship, received his doctorate from Balliol College, Oxford (UK) in 1981. A year before obtaining his PhD, Sandel began teaching Political Philosophy at Harvard, where he is currently the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government.

A leading advocate of communitarian theory, a current that emerged in the late 20th century contrary to individualistic and liberal stances, Sandel has managed to extend thinking on this subject to a global audience, posing ethical questions in open, public debates in which he fosters dialogue among the audience. His line of philosophical thinking consists in advocating justice that serves the common good, in which governments can intervene to avoid the excesses of the market economy and social inequalities. His thoughts in this respect have been set out in the following books, translated into 23 languages: Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982), Democracy’s Discontent (1996), Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics (2005), The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (2007), Justice. What’s the Right Thing to Do? (2009) and What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (2012). Sandel is also a popular professor, “perhaps the most prominent university professor from the USA”, according to The Washington Post. His classes at Harvard, as well as his talks, are based on the Socratic method of instruction. Their aim is for young people to use reasoning to a greater extent and to avoid behaviour related solely to economic profit and personal interests. He lectures in the Saunders Theatre at Harvard, whose 1,117 seats have to be raffled at the beginning of the year given the demand for the subject taught by Sandel. According to figures provided by the University, more than 15,000 students have attended his lectures on Justice since the early eighties. Twenty-four of his lectures can be viewed and heard on the www.justiceharvard.org website. It is the first Harvard course to be freely accessible via the Internet and TV, and, according to the University, has been viewed by tens of thousands of people worldwide. The British channel BBC Radio 4 filmed his lessons in the series The Public Philosopher –currently updated as The Global Philosopher– in different settings around the world. These include, for instance, a debate on violence against women recorded in India, one on democracy in the British Parliament with actual MPs and the general public, and another on corruption and ethics in daily life in Brazil broadcast by the Globo network that had an audience of nineteen million viewers. He led a debate on Japan’s NHK with students from China, Japan and South Korea about history and moral responsibility. In Seoul (South Korea), he gave a talk in a stadium to 14,000 people. Besides his teaching career, Sandel worked with the US President’s Council on Bioethics between 2005 and 2007.

Michael J. Sandel holds honorary degrees from both Utrecht University (Netherlands) and Brandeis University and is member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Sandel’s teaching career was recognized in 2008 by the American Political Science Association. In 2010, the China Newsweek magazine named him the most influential foreign figure of the year in that country.

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