Harvard's Michael Sandel to Speak Here Feb. 15 on ‘The Lost Art of Democratic Argument'

Harvard political philosopher Dr. Michael Sandel will discuss “The Lost Art of Democratic Argument: Can We Reason Together About Values Without Rancor and Incivility” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15, in the auditorium of O'Shaughnessy Educational Center on the University of St. Thomas' St. Paul campus.

Dr. Michael Sandel

Dr. Michael Sandel

The lecture is sponsored by St. Thomas’ College of Arts and Sciences and is free and open to the public.

Sandel’s talk is the second in the university’s annual Public Discourse Lecture Series and one of several St. Thomas initiatives to address the widespread and growing lack of civility in discourse in U.S. society.

A professor at Harvard for 30 years, Sandel’s popular course, “Justice,” has enrolled more than 15,000 students and is the first Harvard course to be made freely available online.

The Washington Post called him “perhaps the most prominent college professor in America,” and the London Observer said he is “one of the most popular teachers in the world.”

He has written extensively on ethics; his most recent book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? was a New York Times bestseller. His other books include Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, Democracy’s Discontent, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics and The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering.

Sandel has served on the President’s Council on Bioethics; he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations. A native of Minneapolis (St. Louis Park), he is a summa cum laude graduate of Brandeis University and received his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

The lecture series and other initiatives, explained Dr. Marisa Kelly, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will strive to promote discussion of important ideas without the aggression, anger and obstinacy that often cloud such matters in today's world.

"In recent years our society has witnessed a breakdown of civility surrounding contentious moral and political issues," Kelly said. "Both locally and nationally, there is an urgent need to promote the concept of civil discourse. We are responding to a cultural problem that unfortunately has become commonplace."

The idea for the lecture series, Kelly said, was developed by the College of Arts and Sciences Board of Advisers and, in part, grew out of St. Thomas' experiences in recent years with controversies that have involved speakers, films, books and policies.

In addition to the lecture series, St. Thomas is raising funds to establish an Endowed Chair in Civil Discourse, has started a pilot civil-discourse-related program for first-year students, and is considering a civil-discourse requirement for graduation.

"Our goal is to graduate students who not only have an awareness and understanding of this growing problem, but the skills to engage in civil discourse in their communities after they leave campus," Kelly said.