Justice : A Citizen’s Guide to the 21st Century – a review


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I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about the effects of some of the actions I take, particularly placing some of my work within an ethical and philosophical framework.

Yesterday, I caught ‘Justice : A Citizen’s Guide to the 21st Century’ on BBC4.

It is an absolute joy of a programme and I’d say that it has helped me reframe some of the questions that come to me on a day to day basis.

Michael Sandal, a professor in political philosophy at Harvard University, presents some of the key tenets of some prominent philosophers, Bentham, Kant, Aristotle for example and puts some of the challenges that they presented in their writings but in a modern context.

Philosophy and ethics, as Sandal states at the beginning, does not take place in a lecture hall vacuum of reading dusty texts but it takes place every day with every decision we make.

These tenets of ethics and philosophy affect every decision I make both in a professional and personal basis. When I make decisions about how to spend my time and whether to spend longer at one visit to be later for another. To the decisions relating to compulsory admission to hospital and decisions about ‘best interests’ and where the line for capacity and individual freedoms are drawn – these are all decisions that come to me daily.

As Sandal takes us to different places to discuss some of the concepts that were expounded by these philosophers.

It led me to question myself (almost socratically!)

Do I make the right decisions? Are there right decisions?

Perhaps it is the system that needs to be changed?

How does the state serve the citizen, or perhaps it is the citizen that serves the state – and if so, is there any problem with that?

Does the state protect us? What do we offer to the state in response?

Has the nature of the ‘Social Contract’ Changed?

Mainly there is a question of individual and collective rights.

I love the ideas of creating a context to promote a better way of politics working that moves away from the individual but doesn’t dismiss the individual rights.

It is an excellent programme which I can’t recommend highly enough that left me massive room for reflection. It presents what can appear to be somewhat ethereal concepts as they have become and places them on a practical level. Not just on the nature of my work and my place as a ‘cog in the machine’  but the nature of modern politics and the ethical base and role of politicians.

We can’t rely on politicians to be the vanguard and determiners of what a society should be like but take a role as citizens in creating a world and society in which we want to live, taking action, if necessary to make changes.

I try not to lose the connection with my background as a philosophy graduate but this programme re-instilled and reinvigorated some of my love for debate about ethics (ethics was always one of my favourite courses).

It is part of a season on BBC 4 about ‘Justice’.  I didn’t catch the debate about Justice and the Big Society which was on over the weekend, but I hope to catch it on the iPlayer. There a lot of really interesting programmes coming up. As for this programme, I’d recommend it highly.

13 thoughts on “Justice : A Citizen’s Guide to the 21st Century – a review

  1. Pingback: Justice : A Citizen’s Guide to the 21st Century – a review - Fighting Monsters - Member blogs - Social Work Blog - Carespace from Community Care

  2. i quite like bbc4 they put programs on there that otherwise would be not shown so they do put good stuff up i was watching a debate about the bigger picture what it actualy means to people

    • Yeah, I don’t often go there but it’s reminded me that there’s some excellent stuff to find – sometimes you have to be in the mood though!

  3. Yes I think philosophy and ethics can get completely subsumed in the narrow debate around social work, welfare, society etc, and it was refreshing to see this programme look at ethical dilemmas.
    The most interesting essay I’ve done so far was on “critical social work”, epistemology and practice. More than any other essay or subject it really allows you to question and examine your own, and society’s thoughts; im sure Socrates would have been proud.

    To understand is to be able to change for the better. We can all strive for that.

    • Yes, I think sometimes people assume ‘philosophy’ is high-brow but when it is put in the context of practical problem-solving it becomes very relevant.

    • Ben – Thank you SO much for that. That’s a fantastic site and resource! And I think it’s a lot of the same material as is being shown on the TV here.. I now want to buy his book.

      And I love your site – or at least how it looks – I just wish I could understand it better 😦

  4. I managed to catch this programme too – and it’s one of the best programmes I’ve seen in a long time (shame it was shown on an oft neglected channel by the general viewing public). I found it truly thought-provoking and I too began reflecting on my own actions and the choices we all make in everyday circumstances. Like Alain de Botton, I think Sandal has shown how much more accessible and necessary philosophy is in the modern world.

  5. This series has been excellent- it’s made me revisit some of my earlier university teaching about ethics and philosophy too and apply it to social work. I think the types of question you posed in this post should be the basis for good critical reflection- if only we had time for regular reflection!
    I really this series doesn’t languish on BBC4, hidden from the view of most people, but is brought onto BBC1 or 2 instead, as it’s worthy of a much wider audience.

  6. V good programme. The argument of the Utilitarian (Singer) v Kantian (er, who’s she?!) was frustrating : as with science, I think, that the pursuit of grand unified theories is a mistake. What you end up with is proponents twisting this way and that to hold on to and defend their ‘ism’ rather than freeing up, discussing and finding compromise.

    Oh, re the sound on this programme – the soundperson really should have insisted on going inside for the Greek segment : the naughty cicadas make the sequence almost un-broadcast-able. You won’t see it on BBC 2 in this state!

  7. Hoorah… TV for grown-ups.
    Though quite well educated, mine was more science based. The formality of many discussions on the radio and elsewhere leave me behind because I lack the technical vocabulary of formal philosophy.
    As well as the excellence of the production, the concentration on the polarity of Bentham & Kant made me consider very deeply about a great deal of what we see about us.
    The implications of the philosophical dilemmas posed are with us every day. All too quickly we rush to an answer, often being “sold” by a newspaper with some sort of agenda or vested interest. Any programme like this that makes us think about the choices we make or, more importantly, the choices made on our behalf is all good.

    Thank you very much indeed …… as I said, TV for grown-ups!

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