Why don’t more people kill themselves?

Why don’t more people choose to induce death at the very end of life when they have little more to live for? We are still in thrall to traditional taboos that aren’t rational. Those who choose suicide in these circumstances should be applauded for heir courage and selflessness.

On Fear of Surveillance Technology

by Emrys Westacott Surveillance of people by governments and other institutions is an ancient practice. According to the legend, the first Christmas occurred in Bethlehem because of a census ordered by the emperor Augustus. One of the first acts of William the Conqueror after becoming king of England was to commission the Doomsday Book–an exact…

The continuing relevance of Immanuel Kant

by Emrys Westacott Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is widely touted as one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Western civilization. Yet few people other than academic philosophers read his works, and I imagine that only a minority of them have read in its entirety the Critique of Pure Reason, generally considered his magnum opus.…

How the “culture of assessment” fuels academic dishonesty

by Emrys Westacott According to a number of studies done over several years, cheating is rife in US high schools and colleges. More than 60% of students report having cheated at least once, and it is quite likely that findings based on self-reporting understate rather than overstate the incidence of cheating.[1] Understandably, most educators view…

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.