Karl Marx’s Guiding Idea

by Emrys Westacott “Nothing human is alien to me.” This was Karl Marx's favourite maxim, taken from the Roman writer, Terrence. But I think that if Marx had lived a century later, he might have added as a second choice the famous phrase sung by Sportin' Life in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess: “It ain't necessarily…

The Meaning of Apples

by Emrys Westacott What is it about the apple? Common, easily grown, and cheap to buy, yet when you think about it the apple is a major character in the history of our culture. It pops up continually to play significant roles in religion, mythology, science, and the arts, and remains metaphorically active in everyday…

The conflict between competition and leisure

by Emrys Westacott In 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that increases in productivity due to technological progress would lead within a century to most people enjoying much more leisure. He believed that by 2030 the average working week would be around fifteen hours. Eighty-four years later, it doesn't look like this prediction will…

Why Amazon Reminds Me of the British Empire

by Emrys Westacott “Life—that is: being cruel and inexorable against everything about us that is growing old and weak….being without reverence for those who are dying, who are wretched, who are ancient.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science) A recent article by George Packer in The New Yorker about Amazon is both eye-opening and thought-provoking. In…

Do our moral beliefs need to be consistent?

by Emrys Westacott We generally think it desirable for our moral and political opinions to be logically consistent. We view inconsistency as a failing. Why? I'm not talking here about consistency between a person's beliefs and their actions. Failing to practice what we preach is the sort of inconsistency we call hypocrisy, and it's easy…

Do Good Books Improve Us?

by Emrys Westacott Does reading good literature make us better people? The idea that exposure to good art is morally beneficial goes back at least to Plato. Although he was famously suspicious of the effects that tragic and epic poetry might have on the youth, Plato takes it for granted that art of the right…

The Sandy Hook massacre–one year on

by Emrys Westacott Here are three sad predictions for the coming new year: One day during 2014 there will be yet another shooting rampage somewhere in America. The killer will be a male aged between fifteen and forty. Although there will be renewed calls for stricter gun control, the political establishment will neither address nor…

Why you can’t buy a first class ticket to Utopia

We wouldn’t allow rich students in school or college to buy privileges such as being able to sign up first for classes, or getting more attention from their teachers. So why do we think it’s a good idea to let the rich buy first class privileges on planes and trains? The same objection applies in both cases: institutionalized class distinctions adversely affect community spirit.