How many of us
fit for purpose?
A recent report on the police by Tom Winsor has recommended, among many other things, that policemen (and women) should be subject to a fitness test. Indeed, the recommendation seems to be that they may receive a pay cut if they consistently fail the fitness rest.
Many of my (younger) friends pound the roads in the early morning, or in the privacy of their homes pedal on bicycles which don't go anywhere, or use a rowing machine. Others go to the gym. When asked about the aim of these bizarre pursuits they reply – to get fit. The trouble here is that 'fit' and 'fitness' are not clear goals in themselves – they presuppose some end or purpose. John Reid was aware of that when in his short sojourn in the Home Office he reported that it was not 'fit for purpose'. In other words, whatever the purpose of the Home Office its activities were not fit for that purpose. The phrase 'fit for purpose' has subsequently passed into wider usage although, as with the Home Office, there can often be some doubt about what that purpose is.
But, to return to the police, what kind of fitness tests should they have? What is the purpose for which they should be fit? Well, an obvious test might be whether they have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels and that they are likely to be able to turn up for duty with only minimum days off for sickness. But I reckon that fitness tests for the police will have more ambitious purposes – chasing criminals and climbing walls for example. For that sort of purpose the pursuit of fitness often involves the more vigorous sports.
A lifetime ago I was interviewed for a commission in the army. Part of the interview went like this:
'Well, Downie, you have a good academic record, but do you have a sport?'.
'Yes, in fact I have played for my university.'
'Good man, what was your sport?'
'Croquet!' That was the wrong answer, indicating not only a lack of fitness for purpose (leadership? team spirit?) but a nasty and vicious disposition.
He argues: 'Iniquity in action is the very same as falsity or contradiction
in theory, and the very same that makes one absurd makes the other unreasonable'.
Of course, it is possible for a soldier to be able climb walls and swing on ropes but still to lack another sort of fitness for the job – summed up by the word equanimity or the ability to remain calm and in control in the face of danger or provocation. It may well be that Major Eric Joyce was physically fit – although he managed to punch only three Tories in the Strangers' Bar – but equanimity was lacking. And there are many more worrying stories of soldiers who were physically fit – or perhaps because they were physically fit and exuding testosterone – abusing the weak and vulnerable.
The same applies to the police. Fitness for purpose in the police surely involves more than the ability to chase neds and yobs round corners. Self-control and equanimity are required in the face of often considerable provocation.
Some philosophers have even tried to depict other moral qualities in terms of fitness and unfitness. For example, Samuel Clarke, an 18th-century English philosopher and champion of Newton, claimed that moral judgements can be as certain as those in mathematics. Among many interesting examples he argued that gratitude is 'fitting' to the situation where someone has done us a favour, just as triangles can be shown to be congruent. He argues: 'Iniquity in action is the very same as falsity or contradiction in theory, and the very same that makes one absurd makes the other unreasonable'. Clarke's position was criticised by our own Francis Hutcheson. Basically Hutcheson points out that whereas a generous or kind action is fit to make someone happy, a cruel or selfish one is equally fit to make someone miserable. Fitness is relative to the purpose and is not an absolute term.
So too in the police there are many purposes. Chasing yobs and neds is one for which physical fitness might be required, but interviewing suspects is another purpose and controlling aggressive marchers yet another. There must be different kinds of fitness for different purposes. If Morse had been made to spend more time in the gym and less in the pub it would have been fit to end him.
Robin Downie is emeritus professor of moral philosophy at