Due to the fact that Friday is this blog's news (or, sometimes, lack-of-news) day, we didn't get around to responding to a good article in Friday's issue of the Wall Street Journal. That, and we've been a little behindhand in zipping off our jabs and jolts to the media. This article, however, was right down our alley, highlighting the virtual complete abandonment of the natural moral law in modern society, even at Harvard (!!), . . . even in a class allegedly on "justice," the premier natural or temporal virtue. With that as a hook, the following letter practically wrote itself. (And if you believe that, send us an e-mail about the bridge in Brooklyn we might be open to selling you.)
Congratulations on Charlotte Allen's piece on Harvard Professor Michael Sandel's course on justice ("Justice for All: A Class in Ethical Sudoku," The Wall Street Journal, 10/09/09, W13). The fact that approximately a thousand students sign up for Professor Sandel's class argues a great hunger for justice. The problem with the class as described by Ms. Allen, however, is that it doesn't seem to be about justice. "Justice," according to Aristotle and Aquinas, is the habit a person has of rendering to others what is due to them.
Instead, Professor Sandel's students get situations based in utilitarianism that only by a long and extremely tortuous stretch of the imagination come under prudence, not justice. Acts of prudence, of course, assume a solid grounding in justice, the premier natural virtue, something the students don't appear to be getting from Professor Sandel. The largely contrived ethical dilemmas with which the students are confronted fail to take into account the fact that, as far as "value" is concerned, each innocent human life is, in justice, of equal value. Even a single innocent individual may not, in justice, be sacrificed for the good of the many.
Professor Sandel should consider reorienting his class to conform to the ideas in the "Great Books of the Western World" program pioneered by Dr. Mortimer Adler and Dr. Robert Hutchins. A good source for Professor Sandel, his students, and anyone else interested in the natural law basis of western civilization is the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas in Chicago, www.thegreatideas.org, co-founded by Dr. Adler and Max Weismann.