Tag Archives: utilitarianism

You asked how much?

You asked how much they could
Sell the wood
For (always assuming that they wish to sell)?
How easy it is to tell
That you are a man of pounds, shillings and pence,
With a sense
Of the price of art,
Though I fancy I hear an abacus click,
Where should beat your heart.


If we reduce
It to the bare bone,
Man stands alone,
His purpose to produce.
He is a mere factor of production.
What a reduction
Of you and me
To a robot who can not be free.

The dull
Texts that Marx and Bentham wrote
Are full
Of such stuff.
I have had enough
Of the dreary theory
Produced by long dead sages.
Weighty pages
By those who live too much in their own head
And try to force the world to conform
By reform
Or worse!

My verse
Will not halt the curse
Of those who too much water drink
And in think
Tanks construe
Ideas of varying hue
Which, no doubt, they believe to be true,
Then foist them on me and you.

Education is an end in itself not a means to an end

Kenneth Baker, a former Education Secretary in the Conservative administration of the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, has given a speech in which he argues that traditional subjects such as history and English will no longer act as an automatic pathway to a well paying job, for example in middle management. Baker contends that the proliferation of technology means there will be less jobs available in the middle management sphere and many young people will, in the future choose vocational education and/or apprenticeships over a traditional degree as this is more likely to be of use in their search for employment.
My degree is in history and politics, while I also have a MA in political theory. Given that I hold academic qualifications of the kind Baker argues will become less “relevant” (my word not his), I was particularly interested in the report of his speech.
My decision to attend university was influenced by several factors, the primary one being a love of learning and a desire to study 2 subjects which fascinated (and continue to fascinate me). A lesser reason for opting for higher education stemmed from me not knowing what I wished to do with my life, (the latter is, I feel sure a factor influencing the choices of a significant number of students). The wish to gain employment was, no doubt present in my mind, it was not, however a major motivator.
To me a university education is, at it’s best about broadening the mind and enhancing the ability of the student to think critically about the world. A truly educated person reads an article in a newspaper and brings his (or her) critical faculties to bare. Is it true? If so how much of it is accurate and how much “opinion” rather than “fact”. Of course there are many people who do not possess a university degree who are extremely bright and capable of separating pure “opinion” from hard “fact”. None the less a university degree does encourage critical thinking and for that very reason is valuable in and of itself.
“Man does not live by bread alone”. We need to raise our eyes from the ground and look to the skies. Vocational education and training are important. We need plumbers, builders and chefs. However man is not a robot and the danger of the lauding of vocational education/training over traditional degrees is that it devalues learning as an end in of itself. Keat’s “Nightingale” and Hardy’s “Darkling Thrush” wont keep the wheels of commerce turning. They will, however instill in us a love of beauty for they speak to the soul which feeds not on bred, (https://newauthoronline.com/2016/04/27/benthams-head/).
For the article please visit http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3742420/A-traditional-degree-won-t-guarantee-job-Former-education-secretary-Lord-Baker-believes-qualifications-devalued.html.

(Baker is a lover of poetry and no Benthamite Utilitarian. See, for example https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/oct/07/poetry. None the less his speech will, no doubt be used by the disciples of Jeremy Bentham in furtherance of their mechanistic view of the world).

Bentham’s Head

We are supposed to strive,
And arrive
At a goal.
The whole
Point of education
Is to generate wealth for the nation.
One must be constructive
And do something productive.
Making wigits
And counting digits
Keeps the wheels of commerce turning.

Gradgrind says we must always be learning
But I am discerning
He means
As a machine
That thinks not but performs.
He scorns
Arts for they have no goal
Other than the enrichment of the soul.

Bentham is dead
Yet his head
Calculates still,
While the poet on the hill
Takes delight
In the dark and starry night.


The Dismal Science

On Monday I attended the first part of a course on economics. The course was offered free to people in the organisation I work for and, knowing little about the subject I decided to attend.

One of the arguments advanced by the lecturer was that the value of things lessens the more of them we possess. So, for example many of us find it useful to own several pairs of shoes as it is helpful to be able to alternate them. However the more shoes we own the less value they possess as we can not possibly wear 20 pairs (or more) on a regular basis (no jokes please about ladies who have wardrobes full of shoes)!

It struck me that the argument holds good for shoes and many other consumables, however I do not feel that it holds water as regards books. For the lover of literature the more books one owns the greater the joy as one has more works in which to lose oneself. Merely possessing a small number of books would drive the average book lover to distraction.

When I raised this point with the lecturer his response was that one can only read so many books. Indeed one can but I still can’t help thinking that economics, while it undoubtedly has it’s uses falls down when applied to matters pertaining to culture. Not everything is susceptible of economic analysis thank the lord!