By Tom Goulding

A trolley is hurtling down a track and there are five people tied to the track in its path. You know the trolley will kill them if it is not stopped, but your only available course of action is to divert it down another track, which has only one person tied down to it. Do you divert the trolley to save five lives instead of one? What if you are looking at the trolley from a bridge above, and your only way of stopping the trolley hitting the five people is to push a heavy man over the bridge and onto the tracks? Should you still save the five people instead of one? If not, what is the difference between the two scenarios? Would it make a difference if there was simply a lever by which you could make the heavy man fall from the bridge onto the tracks?

In the summer of 1884, four English sailors from the sunken Mignonette ship were stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic. After eight days, it was clear that one of the sailors, a cabin boy called Richard Parker, was dying. One of the other sailors warned Parker what must be done and suddenly killed him with a penknife. For four days the other three sailors fed on Parker’s body to survive. Then another ship appeared and they were rescued, taken back to England and put on trial. Were their actions justified, given the fact that they probably would all have died if they had not sacrificed Parker? Is it wrong because it exploits the vulnerable and takes his life without consent?

If enough Romans filled the Coliseum, were they justified in throwing Christian slaves into the pit to fight and inevitably be mauled by lions, given the large quantity of entertainment it provided to the thousands of Romans? Are you justified in torturing a terror suspect given there is information at stake as to a possible bomb on a London train? What is you know that train only has one or two people on it? What if the only way to extract this information is to torture the terror suspect’s daughter?

William and Elizabeth Stern were a happily married couple from Tenafly, New Jersey who wanted a child but couldn’t have one. They signed a contract with Mary Beth Whitehead for Ms Whitehead to bear the Stern’s child over nine months, after the artificial insemination of William Stern’s sperm, for a fee of $10,000. Having given birth to a baby girl, Ms Whitehead fled to Florida with the child, refusing to give it up. After Florida police found her, the custody fight went to court. Should Ms Whitehead honour the contract and give up baby Marissa, given she freely chose to engage in said contract? Or should she be allowed to keep the baby given her decision to agree the contract was not fully informed of the emotional commitment the deal would involve? Indeed, are there some things a market should not decide, such as the raising of a child?

Clare Hopwood was a white Californian who applied to Texas Law School. She scored well on the admissions tests but was not accepted to the school, despite having, on the face of it, a stronger application than various African American and Hispanic students. The university explained that part of its mission was to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the legal profession, and so her rejection was justified despite her having a stronger application in academic terms. Was this affirmative action policy justified, given several admitted students were deemed more valuable than Hopwood only on the basis of their heritage? Is there any difference between this and the racial exclusion and anti-semitism of earl 20th century academic institutions? Should public institutions such as universities be free to set their missions and goals?

Michael Sandell addresses questions such as these with the balance of lucidity and complexity most academics can only dream of. Justice goes on a journey through the most influential theories in the history of political thought; the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the freedom based-theories of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, and the virtue theory of Aristotle. Through these thinkers, Sandell considers the three main conceptions of justice – justice as welfare, justice as freedom and justice as virtue. He uses everyday and real life examples to illuminate thinkers’, whose language and context might otherwise be lazily resisted. Sandell assumes nothing and holds no dogma while addressing these issues, making the reader question every prejudice and moral paradigm he might hold when trying to think of answers.

To conclude the work, Sandell puts forward a stronger argument for an evolution in citizenship than modern-day politician’s rhetoric ever could, based on civic virtue and a common good which doesn’t intrude on universal rights of freedom and choice. In today’s media, the majority of debate can often feel no more than an ideological food fight, a slanging match where the only moves seem to be “Boo your opinion!” or “Hurray for mine!”. But with a presidential election to come next year in America, Justice gives you the intellectual tools to see what is really at stake with each issue, whether that be same-sex marriage, abortion or public spending.

As the professor of Government at Harvard University, Sandell gives us an accessible anthology in political philosophy for anyone who wants to think clearly and confidently about morality and citizenship.

by Darragh Fitzpatrick

Fifty years after its initial publication, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 remains one of the great satirical books of all time. It serves not only as a wonderful piece of satire, but as a critique of the absurdities of bureaucracy and, to a lesser extent, war. Indeed, it is the absurdist nature of the novel that conveys the underlying message so effectively, without sacrifycing comic value. Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Goulding

“Slung into khaki at eighteen, and when they let you out, you sweat again in a factory, grabbing for an extra pint, doing women at the week-end and getting to know whose husbands are on the nightshifts, working with rotten guts and an aching spine, and nothing for it but money to drag you back there every Monday morning.”

 So sums up Arthur Seaton, the young protagonist of Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 working class novel, Saturday Night & Sunday Morning. Sillitoe tells the story of this all-boozing, no-caring factory worker in suburban Nottingham who lives for the weekend and all that it brings. Supposedly a historic landmark in the history of the British novel, the book is full of harsh realism and unromance. Having worked in a factory for many years from the age of fifteen, Sillitoe draws on his experience of the daily grind to give us an insight into the homes and lives of common (as in normal),  mid-20th century England.

Read the rest of this entry »

by Alasdair Sim

Katoomba, Blue Mountains, Australia, 2009. Probably not the most obvious location for me to begin my love affair with William S. Burroughs and the rest of the surrealist mob that made up the Beat Generation, but it was here in an antique and rare books store that I happened to pick up a book entitled Queer by Burroughs and so began a spiritual and turbulent journey through the various literary forms of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Holmes and ‘The Godfather’, Burroughs himself.

Read the rest of this entry »

by Tom Goulding

The reason the rap/garage group The Streets captured the popularity of early 2000s Britain was due in a large way to the content of their lyrics. While Mike Skinner rapped about relationships, he was not, like most meaningless pop stars, talking about how the moment he looked into a girls’ eyes on the dance-floor it was love at first sight and everything was disgustingly wonderful. He rapped about how it’s awkward when chatting to a girl who takes a phone call, and you’re left there spinning the ashtray waiting for her call to end, helplessly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to ‘Paragraph Lost’, a blog featuring occasional book reviews run by Chris Mann, Tom Goulding and Jack Pitt-Brooke.

If you’ve recently read some literature and are keen to contribute to the blog then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via e-mail at paragraphlostblog[at]gmail[dot]com. You can also find us on Twitter @chris_mann21@TomGoulding and @TLDORC.

We look forward to hearing from you and getting the project underway.