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Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism
by John Stuart Mill
Edition: Paperback
Price: 2.50

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better to be Socrates dissatisfied, 3 Feb 2011
This review is from: Utilitarianism (Paperback)
"Utilitarianism" is of essay length and in this paperback edition the publisher adds value by including Mill's 1868 speech on capital punishment delivered to the House of Commons.

Anybody hoping that this book will answer the challenges put to utilitarians today will be disappointed. There is no answer to questions such as whether a terrorist can legitimately be tortured to reveal the location of a bomb or whether an innocent life can be sacrificed to save many lives. What the book does have, however, is Mill's revised version of utilitarianism that is important because it plays a major role in his other works such as "Liberty" and "Representative Government".

Most of the book explains and agrees with Bentham's version of utilitarianism that has no place for rights and replaces the concept of good/evil with pleasure/pain, but Mill's version of utilitarianism has an important difference - the claim that some pleasures are of higher quality than others, and if this is so then utilitarianism should strive to enable everybody to enjoy the superior pleasures.

Mill defines utilitarianism as the "Greatest Happiness Principle" that judges "that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." In this he is following Bentham's definition, but Bentham had devised a "felicific calculus" to determine the amount of pleasure (and hence moral worth) arising from any given action. It depended on things such as the intensity, duration and number of people affected. Bentham did not believe that one pleasure is in any way better than another except in terms of quantity. He wrote, for example, that "Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry."

Mill disagrees with this relativism, arguing that "some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others." In other words, quality is more important than quantity. Here we see the elitism that we find in all Mill's works. He asks how one can judge between the pleasure derived by two people from different actions and an answers that the person of what he calls "higher faculties" is the one to judge, if he can understand the relative merits of both actions and the other person cannot. Translating to a modern context we might ask why Mill would believe a Shakespeare play to be "better" than a TV reality show. Mill would claim that the person of "higher faculties" who fully appreciated Shakespeare would be able to see the merits of both and hence judge, whilst the other person could only appreciate the reality show and be unable to judge.

Mill seems to ditch the pleasure principle almost entirely at one point when suggesting that those with higher faculties are likely to find it more difficult to be happy because they realize the world is imperfect. But that realization does not make them envy the happiness of those with lower capabilities. In Mill's famous words
"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides."

It follows for Mill that if some pleasures are superior to others then it would be a good thing if more people could enjoy the higher pleasures rather than the base pleasures. Mill believes that utilitarianism should aim at the general advancement of mankind for it can "only attain its end by the general cultivation of nobleness of character."

Turning to the 1868 speech on capital punishment, Mill supports its use for murder and has two main arguments, neither of which uses the retributive theory of justice:
1. Capital punishment is much more effective as a deterrent than any alternative.
2. Capital punishment is more humane than incarceration for life, which Mill assumes to be the only alternative to the death penalty. He writes: "What comparison can there really be, in point of severity, between consigning a man to the short pang of a rapid death, and immuring him in a living tomb, there to linger out what may be a long life in the hardest and most monotonous toil, without any of its alleviations."
Nobody of Mill's generation contemplated the modern situation where many murderers serve only a few years in prisons with all mod cons.


Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford World's Classics)
Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford World's Classics)
by Edmund Burke
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A polemic on the French Revolution that also makes the case for conservatism, 3 Feb 2011
"Reflections" is a tract attacking the French Revolution of 1789 but in reality its importance is its case for conservatism. The polemical nature of the book means that it is not a systematic analysis so one has to search for Burke's conservative principles.

One of his most important principles is "prescription", by which the possession of property and authority are given (at least some) legitimacy by the passage of time. Burke did not oppose all change but believed that if things are going well then they are best left alone. He wrote "A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation" but added that change should be for "proved abuses". Burke saw society as organic, as a "partnership" bridging all generations. In typical Burkean language he declared that citizens "should approach the faults of the state as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude." As in any natural organism change must be slow and gradual. He observed that "I do not like to see anything destroyed, any void produced in society." He opposed abstract theories, which he thought at best irrelevant and at worst dangerous. Society, thought Burke, needed not abstract reasoning but practical and pragmatic statesmen. He was even more opposed to revolution for it leads to excesses and unintended results.

Not surprisingly Burke stresses the importance of codes of conduct, custom and what he called "prejudice". He writes of the "pleasing illusions" that constitute "the decent drapery of life". These "antient opinions and rules of life" include politeness, deference, the chivalrous treatment of women, the "spirit of a gentleman" and the "spirit of religion". Much of this "decent drapery of life" plus respect for social superiors and authority depends on "prejudice", which is a settled inclination of mind that prompts an individual to act (virtuously) without thinking why. (Today we would call it social conditioning!) Burke argues that prejudice is not irrational for it allows people to draw on the nation's collective wisdom (which Burke calls its "bank and capital") to supplement their own inadequate powers of reason.

In using prescription to justify existing institutions, Burke defended the unequal division of property, wealth and power, plus the social hierarchy that characterised the age in which he lived. He declared (with the French Revolution in mind) that a state ruled by men such as hairdressers and tallow-chandlers would "suffer oppression", and though ability must be represented it was vital that property should "be out of all proportion predominant in the representation". He believed that in all states there are necessarily differences in status and power, and that power is best placed in the hands of men brought up from childhood with an appropriate education, status, and a sense of mission. In other words a "natural aristocracy" that had the duty of using authority for the good of all.

This support for inequality looks out-dated to 21st century readers but many of Burke's other ideas were to continue to flourish as canons of conservatism. "Reflections" is well worth reading not only for its exposition of conservative principles that so strongly influenced political thought in the following century but also as a powerfully written and prophetic polemic about the French Revolution.


Considerations on Representative Government
Considerations on Representative Government
by John Stuart Mill
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A warning about the danger of a "tyranny of the majority", 2 Feb 2011
There are three related principal themes in "Representative Government":
1. The application of the principles of utilitarianism to government.
2. To reconcile the competing claims of efficient government and the popular voice.
3. To combat the danger of the "tyranny of the majority".

Mill's version of utilitarianism stressed "the permanent interests of man as a progressive being". Hence Mill says that the first question to ask is whether a form of government develops the desirable moral and intellectual qualities of the citizens. Mill believed that "active" rather than "passive" people create human progress, and political institutions should foster active citizens, and this is best done by giving (almost) everyone the vote. This included women, which earned him a mixture of mirth and hostility from contemporaries. He also favoured local government, and welcomed citizen participation on juries.

Though Mill wanted citizens to have the vote he did not want them to play too important a role. He was opposed to direct democracy, and favoured representative government because it enabled him to reconcile bureaucratic expertise with the popular voice. As in "On Liberty" Mill insists on the importance of the elite, and he recommends a Committee of Grievances and a Congress of Opinions which should be responsible for neither legislation nor administration. It should act as a sort of check on government without trying to control it. Parliament must not select members of the Cabinet, and civil servants must be recruited via competitive exams.

In discussing the electoral system Mill reveals his concern with the dangers of a "tyranny of the majority" and advocated the Hare system of STV which achieves the most accurate possible representation of public opinion according to its numerical strength. Mill justified the Hare system on the grounds of representing minorities, but it is clear that the minority he was primarily concerned with was the educated elite, and Mill believed the Hare system would give more representation to this elite than other electoral systems.

The elite would be bolstered by plural voting. Mill said that though everybody should have a voice it did not mean they should have an equal voice. Extra votes were to be allocated to people based on educational achievement, but Mill was writing before universal education so in the meantime bosses should have more votes than employees (because they had to think more in their duties) and foremen should have more votes than those under them. Mill acknowledged this was a somewhat hit-and-miss temporary expedient. Today he would no doubt give a extra votes for passing exams at 16, and then 18, and then at degree level.

In the novel "In the Wet" Nevil Shute was to give an alternative version of plural voting, with extra votes earned not only by education but also by military service, travel and a special extra one for exceptional public service. In practice plural voting was abolished in the UK in 1948.

Since Mill's time representative government has become the dominant form of government in the advanced world, but plural voting has been abolished everywhere and only the Israeli electoral system comes close to the mirror image of the electorate achieved by the full Hare system. Were Mill to return now I suspect he would be relieved that his worst fears over a "tyranny of the majority" have not come to pass but would be concerned that politicians are too often more concerned with popular policies than good policies.


On Liberty (English Library)
On Liberty (English Library)
by John Stuart Mill
Edition: Paperback

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberty based on utilitarianism rather than rights, 2 Feb 2011
"On Liberty" is one of the most important books on political thought of the nineteenth century. Fortunately for the 21st century reader it is also one of the most accessible. Mill was a libertarian who chose not to base his defence of liberty on natural rights but on his own revised version of utilitarianism:
"I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions...grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being."
This enables Mill to argue that freedom is needed if man is to be able to explore all the avenues of human development that allow the human race to progress. Total freedom is impossible so what determines the legitimate boundaries of freedom? Mill distinguishes between self-regarding and other-regarding actions. The former should never be interfered with and the latter subject to limitation only if they harm the legitimate rights of others.

For Mill free thought is a self-regarding action which should not be curtailed, and free thought is virtually useless without free speech. He was concerned not only about legal curtailment but also the pressure of social conformity, for he feared a "tyranny of the majority". Mill then proceeds to add a utilitarian argument in favour of free speech: if an opinion is silenced then mankind is necessarily the loser whether the opinion is true or false. He advances a number of arguments to support this, concluding with the claim that a climate of freedom is essential for "great thinkers" and "it is as much, and even more indispensable to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature they are capable of." He has no truck with paternalists seeking to guide people's thoughts in the "right" direction. He was equally hostile to the idea that people had the right not to be offended; hence he opposed the blasphemy law. The single case Mill gives of an acceptable limitation of free speech is the case of corn-dealers and an excited mob. An opinion expressed in a newspaper that corn-dealers are "starvers of the poor" is legitimate, but the same view stated to an angry mob outside the corn-dealer's home may be limited if it "is a positive instigation to a mischievous act."

Mill concedes that actions cannot be as free as speech and seeks to establish the proper limits of freedom of action. Mill proposes that "the sole end for which mankind are warranted...in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection." Because he rejects paternalism he opposes all interference with self-regarding actions. Mill would not have prevented people from taking drugs and he would have led the opposition to seat belt legislation. Mill even rejects state interference with liberty for the sake of crime prevention, e.g. poisons can be used for criminal purposes. Mill was willing to accept a register of their sale but not the banning of them. Mill believes we must not interfere with the "rights"of others but these are narrowly circumscribed and Mill makes it clear that "rights" are not the same as "interests". Hence cut-throat laissez-faire is legitimate. As for moral decency arguments Mill does say that sexual intercourse in public is unacceptable, and though fornication and gambling are acceptable he is in two minds about whether pimps and casino-owners should be allowed to operate. Mill says it is a difficult case that is on the borderline, but adds that in general we must resist attempts to limit behaviour for "moral" reasons because any such action is likely to be the thin end of the wedge.

Though Mill is a very determined anti-paternalist he makes three exceptions: children, primitive societies and the disabled. Children must be guided until they reach maturity and they must be given compulsory education - something not given legislative force until 1871. As for primitive societies we must resist the notion that Mill was a typical Victorian believing in the "white man's burden" or inherent differences between races. He simply observed the reality of the world in the mid-nineteenth century but made it very clear any intervention in backward societies must be temporary with the aim to bring about self-government as soon as possible.

Hence Mill was a much more determined libertarian than most modern writers on the subject. There is just one example where, at first sight, Mill may seem reactionary to modern readers. He wished to restrict the right to have children to those who could prove that they could support them. However, those who today wish others to procreate without restriction do so on the grounds of human rights. Mill based his theories on utilitarianism, and not on rights. There was no welfare state when Mill wrote "On Liberty" and he was concerned with the well-being of children born to people without the means to support them.

In view of the growing restrictions on freedom in Britain this is a book well worth reading again. In particular I like Mill's argument that every restriction on freedom is the thin end of the wedge, providing a justification for further restrictions.


Stile Antico - Music for Compline
Stile Antico - Music for Compline
Price: 11.93

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as everybody says it is, 30 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having purchased a Sixteen CD Amazon sent me advertisements for Stile Antico CDs. I had heard of Stile Antico but never actually heard them. I looked at the reviews here and elsewhere for this CD and they were so universally enthusiastic that I had to have it for myself, though I thought that it could not really live up to expectations. I was wrong. The CD is as good as everybody says it is. Nothing I could write could match or add to the excellent reviews here, particularly that of Andrew Arthur. It is best appreciated when one is alone in the house with no lights or noises from outside, with a log fire and perhaps a flickering candle, plus a decanter of port at one's side. I intend to go and watch Stile Abntico live and regret having taken so long to become acquainted with their music.


Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook: 200 More Slow Cooker Recipes (Hamlyn All Colour Cookbooks)
Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook: 200 More Slow Cooker Recipes (Hamlyn All Colour Cookbooks)
by Sara Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.74

131 of 135 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book for those wanting to test the versatility of their slow cookers, 30 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Many people will buy this book for the same reason that I did - because I am a slow cooker fan who enjoyed "200 slow cooker recipes", the previous Sara Lewis book in this series.

What are the main advantages of a slow cooker? In my opinion they are fourfold:
To be able to put everything in one pot.
To be able to start the cooking in the morning before going out either for work or enjoyment and return home to find the meal ready.
Not to worry about precise timings for an extra hour will not ruin the food
To slow cook the many meat cuts that benefit from this method.
However, recent slow cook books seem to seek ever new ways to use a slow cooker that do not relate to these advantages. This new Sara Lewis book is no exception.

The book has seven sections, listed below with the number of recipes in each section:
Soups 16
Light bites & everyday suppers 19
Short-cut suppers 14
Vegetarian 13
Food for friends 13
Puddings 17
Drinks & preserves 10

That is a total of 102 and each is accompanied by an excellent colour photograph. The 200 figure in the title is reached by the variations listed at the end of recipes. For example, cider toddy becomes three recipes by giving variations for gingered cider toddy and citrus toddy. Many of these 102 recipes seem to demonstrate the variety of uses of a slow cooker rather than illustrate its main advantages. For example, warm lentil and feta salad involves cooking puy lentils, red pepper and tomatoes and adding them to feta cheese and salad leaves. And what about baked eggs on toast? That takes 40-50 minutes to cook but I cannot see the advantage of using a slow cooker in this case. And is it necessary to use a slow cooker for mulled wine, cranberry mulled wine or mulled wine jelly?

Many of the recipes require the use of dishes or ramekins to place in the slow cooker, whilst others do not produce complete meals. The recipe for fish pie requires you to cook the fish in a slow cooker, to boil and mash potatoes separately, to put the potatoes on the fish and then put it under the grill. Venison puff pie involves cooking the venison in a slow cooker and then putting puff pastry on top to cook in a conventional oven for 20 minutes. Asian glazed ribs require the ribs to be cooked for 8-10 hours and then put on a tray with a mixture of honey and soy sauce and grilled for 10-15 minutes. To be fair these are the most extreme examples.

This book, which is well written with clear instructions, will appeal to those who are looking for recipes are that are not run-of-the-mill (such as chillied beef with chocolate) or who want to test the versatility of their slow cookers with recipes for soups, fish dishes, puddings, preserves and drinks in addition to the more common recipes. It does not appeal to me as much as the author's earlier "200 slow cooker recipes" but it is being sold at a very affordable price.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2013 1:47 PM GMT


Favourite Casserole Recipes (Favourite Recipes)
Favourite Casserole Recipes (Favourite Recipes)

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value, 28 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a slight volume but at such a low price including postage is excellent value. Imperial measures are used throughout but a table of metric equivalents can be found at the end of the book. There are no photographs of the food but eleven old sepia prints add interest to the publication. The recipes are for casseroles and stews to cook either on the hob or in the oven. However, in every case it would be possible to use a slow cooker instead, as I have done in a number of cases.

What I like about this book is that there are no "duds" - or perhaps I should say that there are no recipes that fail to appeal to me. In addition to the full range of beef, pork and lamb dishes there are rabbit, hare, pigeon, venison and wild duck recipes. I have had this book for six months and have tried most of its recipes and enjoyed them all.


The Classic 1000 Slow Cooker Recipes
The Classic 1000 Slow Cooker Recipes
by Sue Spitler
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not tick all my boxes but has many positive features, 27 Jan 2011
Though this is a new publication it is in many ways a revised version of the author's "1,001 Best Slow Cooker Recipes" of two years ago. The good news is that the American measures of the earlier book have been replaced with metric and imperial weights and measures, and the style is less American. It remains devoid of photographs. I have no problem with this for it means, other things being equal, more recipes and a lower price. However, among a thousand recipes there are inevitably some that seem pointless. For example, "pork sandwiches" consists of instructions on how to cook a joint of pork and then slice it to put in a burger or slices of bread. There are a number of recipes for making bread. I have no doubt that some will take pleasure in using a slow cooker for this but I shall stick to my breadmaker.

Though the recipes aim more directly at a British audience than the earlier book they would still appeal to America's Lieutenant Columbo of TV drama fame for there are no fewer than 143 references to chilli. There are also more chowder recipes than one would normally see in a British book but there is no mention of pigeon, rabbit, hare, grouse and partridge. I can understand this because many other cookery books omit them, but neither is there any reference to duck, pheasant or venison and I would expect these to be in a book for Brits, particularly as the last two are well suited to slow cooking.

The book circumvents the problem that some slow cookers have medium or auto settings in addition to low and high by using only low and high. Though this book does not tick all my boxes it has many positive features, including a useful introduction on using slow cookers and good sections on soups and vegetarian dishes. The recipes cover the full range of cooking including starters, international cuisine, desserts, drinks and bread. Among such a large number of recipes there are many that will appeal to new users of slow cookers and others that will attract experienced users wishing to try something new or test the versatility of their slow cookers to the limit.


Principled Agents?: The Political Economy of Good Government (The Lindahl Lectures)
Principled Agents?: The Political Economy of Good Government (The Lindahl Lectures)
by Timothy Besley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 38.33

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book that deserves to be read more widely, 21 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
"Principled Agents?" derives from a series of lectures given to academic audiences. It is therefore a serious book that will be found mainly on bookshelves in university libraries or the studies of those with a background in economics. Inevitably it is not as accessible as books aimed at a wide audience. However, Tim Besley's book can and should be read by general readers with an interest in economics or politics, particularly as it is now also available in paperback form.

The book analyzes elements within the field of the "new political economy" (sometimes called "political economics") that combines economics and politics and has developed since the late 1980s. Does government in representative democracies operate in the public interest or does it tend to serve private interests, with individuals and organisations seeking the reins of power to further their own interests at the expense of the citizens? The author steers a middle course between the extremes of optimism and pessimism, arguing that there is potential for government to act in the public interest but things can go wrong. Hence it is vital that government institutions have built into them incentives to influence the decisions of policy-makers in the public interest. However, this is not enough. According to the author we also need "good leaders - persons of character and wisdom" and therefore both incentives and the mechanisms for the selection of leaders are of central importance.

The book offers no overarching theory, only a series of insights and the identification of issues such as the effects of different electoral systems, the frequency of election, and the relationship between political accountability and the level of information available to citizens. It is written in short concise sentences and is mercifully free of jargon. The author himself observes that he has sought to keep technicalities to a minimum but acquaintance with the basic tools of micro-economics is needed to fully understand some of the arguments. In modern times it has become de rigueur for serious economics books to at least nod in the direction of econometrics, so there is some maths here. However, the maths is kept to a minimum and it is not an integral part of the book, and on the occasions it appears it is primarily to mathematically represent ideas that have been explained in words.

"Principled Agents?" can be read profitably by those interested in either economics or politics. It is an important book and deserves to be read more widely.


OXO Good Grips Soft Handled Can Opener
OXO Good Grips Soft Handled Can Opener
Offered by SM Direct
Price: 12.20

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every penny, 17 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Although I was mightily impressed when I purchased this can opener in Octopber 2009 I did not review it at the time because I have had favourable first impressions of other can openers in the past only to be quickly disappointed. I wish I had a fiver for every can opener I have bought in my life: I would be booking a cruise with the money. Previous can openers either did not work well from the beginning or fell apart within months if not weeks, whereas the Oxo still looks like new. As others have noted, the handles are comfortable and it opens cans effortlessly.

I paid 8.77 for this product in 2009 and though it is now dearer I would say that it is nevertheless worth every penny.


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