Masterclass by Michael Sandel (*) with the theme: "Should we strive to create the Perfect Man?" at the location of the NEXUS INSTITUTE on Friday 7 September 2007:

"To built a meaningful life, do not be afraid to ask questions of life". That's more or less the stroke what Professor Michael Sandel started the masterclass in the full up auditorium of the University of Tilburg. Today the first masterclass, organized by NEXUS-Institute, did start. To built a meaningful life, do not be afraid to ask questions of life. And indeed, Michael Sandel knew how to stimulate the present (international) students and those interested on a very natural way. On high level professional interactive given course of lecture on insights how far we want tinker with genetic human material. All related to ethical, moral and fundamental problems. The (leading) thread running through the masterclass was his book "The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering". The case was, amoung other things, designing deafness. Those presents were abled to discuss and give their views largely. Some of the pro's and con's:

  • 'not natural'

  • "could be a solution against cancer"

  • although a conservative, old fashioned one: "is genetic engineering God's will?"

  • "There are people who do not need genetic engineering and enhancement"

  • "What if everybody is perfect?"

  • "Wonderful if the possibility of designing and mastery exists, but only if people can deal with it and if they are free to choose"

  • "Genetic engineering not to be seen as a product"

  • "Would a genetic child admire his parents for what they have done?"

  • "And what to think about eliminating imperfection?"

A single conclusion about genetic engineering is not to be expected. In spite of that, it was a captivating, defiant and educational masterclass. It let people think deeply and critical.

Michael Sandel (1953) is a contemporary political philosopher. He is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University and was educated at Balliol as a Rhodes Scholar, studying under Charles Taylor, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University in 1975. Sandel subscribes to the theory of communitarianism (although he is uncomfortable with the label), and in this vein he is perhaps best known for his critique of John Rawl's A Theory of Justice. Rawls' argument depends on the assumption of the veil of ignorance, which allows us to become "unencumbered selves."

Sandel's view is that we are by nature encumbered to an extent that makes it impossible even in the hypothetical to have such a veil. Some examples of such ties are the ties we make with our families, which we do not make by conscious choice but are born with them already attached. Because they are not consciously applied, these ties are impossible to separate from someone. Sandel believes that only a less-restrictive, looser version of the veil of ignorance can be possible. Rawls's argument, however, depends on the fact that the veil is restrictive enough that we make decisions without knowing who will be affected by these decisions, which of course is impossible if we are already attached to people in the world.

Sandel has taught the famous "Justice" course at Harvard for two decades. "Justice," conducted in Sanders Theater, is the first and only moral philosophy and reasoning class most Harvard undergraduates take. More than 10,000 students have taken the course, making it one of the most highly attended in Harvard's history. The fall 2005 class is the largest ever at Harvard, with a total of 1,027 students. It is also offered online for students nationwide through the Harvard Extension School. Sandel also teaches "Ethics and Biotechnology," a seminar considering the ethical implications of a variety of biotechnological procedures and possibilities.

Sandel previously served on the Presidents Council on Bioethics.

His latest book, "Public Philosophy," is a collection of essays published over the years, examining the role of morality and justice in American political life. Particularly insightful is his commentary on the role of moral values and civic community on the American electoral process--a relevant and much-debated aspect of the 2004 election and current political discussion.