Sep 2018 - May 2020
In honour of John Lucas (June 1929- April 2020)
I was just a spry lad of 18 when I arrived for my first philosophy tutorial at Merton College. I was in awe of John Lucas’s capacity to think. I was quite terrified about the prospect of learning through his interrogation.
His office was messy, and I did not know where to sit. Observing my reaction, he explained to me that organisation is in the mind and that the arrangement of his papers, scattered around the room, made perfect sense to him. I smiled and carried on.
I remember that his first reading list was short, and he asked me to consider that “the value of a reading list is inversely proportional to its length,” which was music to an undergraduate’s ears. The trade-off became apparent in that he expected that we would think deeply about what the original author had written and not clutter our brains with the sundry interpretations of others.
Via shared discourse and mutual discovery, we would try and answer all sorts of questions, such as: is it possible to be wrong without being provably so? I forced myself to try and think critically and to hold no premise as unquestionable. It was both a daunting and inspiring moment in my youth, every time we conversed.
The great John Lucas taught me so much more about life than he could have ever imagined. And he was relentless in his probing. And he was intense.
Whenever he saw me after graduation – and possibly in the full knowledge that I (along with countless many) became a banker – he would ask only one question of me:
How are you treating the world?
This is the compelling question that we must all ask ourselves today. It is never good enough to be content with just doing a job or a project. The invitation is to act with responsibility and question why we do what we do – and conversely, why we do not do something that we feel must be done.
Some years later, I came back to study at the Saïd Business School and was glad to learn that his question is very much alive. The school thinks deeply about the marriage of ethics and business, and we have been encouraged to lament over the tragedy of the commons.
Among the overarching questions, as our programme draws to a close, is not what will you do, but rather:
How will you treat the world?
How will you think responsibly about business decisions?
What will you do about the tragedy of the commons?
John Lucas passed away in April this year. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have been glad that this business school aims to serve the greater good.
MusBack to top of article