The Concept of Human Betterment

  • Antony Flew
Part of the British Association for the Advancement of Science book series (BAAS)


Dugald Stewart, in his Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL.D., is led ‘to remark a very striking contrast between the spirit of ancient and modern policy in respect to the wealth of nations. The great object of the former was to counteract the love of money and a taste for luxury, by positive institutions; and to maintain in the great body of the people, habits of frugality, and a severity of manners. The decline of states is uniformly ascribed by the philosophers and historians, both of Greece and Rome, to the influence of riches on national character…’ But now, Stewart exclaims: ‘How opposite to this is the doctrine of modern politicians! Far from considering poverty as an advantage to a state, their great aim is to open new sources of national opulence, and to animate the activity of all classes of the people, by a taste for the comforts and accommodations of life.’1


Social Justice Public Ownership Poverty Trap Comprehensive School Human Betterment 
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  1. 1.
    See, in the Glasgow Bicentenary Edition, W. P. D. Wightman (ed.), Essays on Philosophical Subjects (Oxford and Indianapolis: Clarendon Press, and Liberty Press, 1980, and 1982 ) pp. 312–13.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Samuel Brittan, ‘The Economic Contradictions of Democracy’, in K. J. W. Alexander (ed.), The Political Economy of Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1975) pp. 27 and 29.Google Scholar
  3. I. M. D. Little, Welfare Economics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd ed., 1957) p. 259 and passim.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Aubrey Jones (ed.), Economics and Equality ( Doddington, Oxon.: Philip Allan, 1976 ) p. 2.Google Scholar
  5. 23.
    For a witty and subtle development of this point, see the discussion at the beginning of J. L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962 ) of Ayer’s insouciance about what we may legitimately say.Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    I recommend here Wallace Matson’s ‘What Rawls Calls Justice’, in The Occasional Review no.8/9 (San Diego: World Research, 1978). This contains, among other good things, a witty comparison with someone presenting as a conception of chastity, or perhaps of social chastity, only notions of poverty and obedience; while all the time eschewing any mention of sex.Google Scholar
  7. 33.
    C. A. R. Crosland, Social Democracy in Europe ( London: Fabian Society, 1975 ) p. 6.Google Scholar
  8. 35.
    See Hermione Parker, The Moral Hazards of Social Benefits ( London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1982 ).Google Scholar
  9. 38.
    See Caroline Cox and John Marks, Sixth-Forms in ILEA Comprehensives: A Cruel Confidence Trick? ( London: National Council for Educational Standards, 1981 ).Google Scholar
  10. 39.
    The figures given in the text come from a speech by Dr Rhodes Boyson to an NCES meeting on 25/10/82, and were confirmed by him in a private letter dated 28/10/82. They were, of course, compiled by the successors of the DES officials who provided Mrs Williams with the earlier figures. Those can be got most conveniently from Tibor Szamuely, ‘Comprehensive Inequality’, in C. B. Cox and A. E. Dyson (eds) Black Paper Two (London: Critical Quarterly, 1970 ). The fact that I cannot for the more recent figures provide a reference to either a major national daily or a specialist periodical says much about the present condition of British educational journalism.Google Scholar

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© The British Association for the Advancement of Science 1984

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  • Antony Flew

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