Sunday, 27 February 2011

Justice, fairness and the big society: merit v aptitude

BBC4 are broadcasting a special season of programmes and debates on this theme. They include a series of Harvard lectures by Michael Sandel. This week he looked at the work of the influential modern political philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002) to ask:

What's a fair start?

Much of it dealt with the question at the heart of the passage we read from Bellamy's Looking Backward: how should society reward labour and encourage it? Should we be rewarded for the quality of our work, for the effort/time we put into it or simply for trying our best? Utopian communities had clearly struggled with this. Bellamy's answer was to design a system which was NOT a meritocracy. Instead it was a society in which people could develop according to their diverse aptitudes but would be rewarded equally since all would try their best out of honour and love of nation (the ultimate brotherhood).

'Aptitudes' (and lifelong education) were also at the heart of the intended reforms of the state education system in Britain after WWII in the Butler Act of 1944. However only part of the intended system was ever put into practise. (see picture here:

Next Tuesday Sandel's lecture is on Aristotle and the Good Citizen

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