Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Justice and motor racing siblings

BBC4 are currently screening Michael Sandel's superb series of lectures on political philosophy. This week's episode considered John Rawls's theory of justice, and vividly highlighted the near impossibility of providing equality of opportunity in society. A fairly self-confident chap in the audience, called Mike, argues for a meritocratic society, in which people are rewarded proportionately to how hard they work. In response, Sandel points out that even the possession of a work ethic is strongly related to the accidental economic and familial circumstances into which one is born. To demonstrate his point, Sandel asks the audience of Harvard students to raise their hands if they are the first-born in their families. You can see the result for yourself 22mins into the video.

This is all very well for educational achievement, but does the same thing apply to motor racing drivers? For example, amongst the cohort of successful drivers (those who have made a living from being a racing driver, let's say), how many are the first-born in their families? And in the case of brothers who become racing drivers, do the first-born tend to be the most successful, or does the risk-taking, rebellious streak of a younger sibling actually provide a better basis for a racing career?

These are questions which could only be answered by a serious statistical study, yet a small sample of prominent cases in Formula 1 appears to suggest that this is an arena in which younger siblings might not be particularly disadvantaged:

Ricardo Rodriguez was younger than Pedro.
Emerson Fittipaldi was younger than Wilson.
Jody Scheckter was younger than Ian.
Gilles Villenueve was older than Jacques (Snr).
Michael Schumacher was older than Ralf.


Patrick said...

I think Nigel Roebuck used to say that the Schumachers were the exception to the rule that the younger brother is always the faster.

Gordon McCabe said...

Oh, that's interesting. (Your memory's better than mine here!)

Sean said...

Not as good as the Simpsons Philosophy wise, but still outstanding. I am up to Kant on lying so have not watched this episode.

What strikes me about these lectures is not the mighty subjects, in the temple of temples at the academy of academies, or indeed Prof.Sandel himself, who comes across as a humble man despite his obvious gifts, its what is staring right back at him.

Maybe he should have added a second part to the question on the lines "how many of you come from a one party state, and a one parent family?"

Not that the answer would falsify his argument, but it did skew it I suggest?

I think I am right in saying John Rawl was a tall man despite being a second son?

What is also of note, is who in the audience asks questions, not the children of Confucius.

Context and Family do not sit well with "mighty" Western schools of thought, I think the question they would ask is "Why in the West do you regard society as either some sort of race or pyramid?"

How is Cheng Congfu getting on these days

Gordon McCabe said...

Yeah, I was very interested to see the composition of the audience as well. It actually looked very cosmopolitan to me.

I'm familiar with Hong-Kong Phooey, but Cheng Congfu is unknown to me.