182 episodes

Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories. #moralmaze

Moral Maze BBC Radio 4

    • Religion & Spirituality
    • 4.8 • 18 Ratings

Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories. #moralmaze

    Human Maturity

    Human Maturity

    Nicola Sturgeon has argued for a wider debate on teenagers' rights, as she defended plans to allow 16-year-olds to change their legal gender in Scotland. Each society settles on its own thresholds to determine when a person is old enough to make informed decisions about matters including voting, having sex or drinking alcohol. This is a collective agreement about the legal point at which human beings reach maturity. But what is human maturity in moral terms?

    Aristotle warned against trusting the judgments of the young, saying, “they have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations”. Meanwhile, psychological studies suggest that the period of adolescence among Gen Z has extended – ‘25 is the new 18’ – which means that ‘adult’ roles and responsibilities now occur later than in they once did. All this is evidence, according to some, that teenagers’ judgments are less likely to be sound than their elders, and rather than expecting them to be political beings, we should allow them to be kids. Conversely, there are those who argue that younger generations have been failed by a system that is rigged to favour the interests of older people; that they should play more of an active role in our democracy because their concerns are the concerns of the future; and that they are more likely to make better judgements about society because they are far more connected to the world and aware of their own values than previous generations.

    Should we trust children and teenagers to make good judgments about the future? Or, if active citizenship is the preserve of adulthood, what is an adult?

    Producer: Dan Tierney.

    • 42 min
    Personal Debt

    Personal Debt

    “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” advised Shakespeare’s Polonius. These words seem hopelessly out of touch in cost of living crisis with soaring inflation and astronomical levels of personal debt. The charity StepChange has warned that money borrowed by UK households to pay for Christmas could take years to repay. Meanwhile, a study by the Resolution Foundation suggests the British public are the worst in the developed world at saving. How did we get here?

    For some, our eye-popping indebtedness begins with a failure of personal responsibility, an absence of prudence, and an inability to discern between our ‘wants’ and needs’. For others, the real problem is systemic, where borrowers are victims of a consumerist society that both pressurises and stigmatises the poorest. Pragmatists argue that debt itself is morally neutral and merely part of the furniture of modern life. Free market libertarians see debt as a democratising force, giving people greater personal agency. Whereas many religious and philosophical traditions have long believed that there is something intrinsically immoral about charging interest on lending.

    Is debt inevitable? Or a moral failing? If so, whose?

    Producer: Dan Tierney.

    • 42 min
    The Ethics of the Family

    The Ethics of the Family

    While no family is likely to have such a public falling out, anyone can surely relate the royal rift to tensions within their own family – the grudges, rivalries and feelings of betrayal. Prince Harry’s words, “I would like to get my father back, I would like to have my brother back”, reveal the depth of hurt experienced by all involved. Families are places of nurturing and wounding; moral networks where expectations of love and loyalty are tested. When the often inevitable strife ensues, are our moral obligations to our family conditional or unconditional?

    It’s often argued that there is something uniquely special about family bonds; that blood is thicker than water. Family members are the only people in our lives that are permanent and unchosen, they have known us since the beginning, and that connection can be grounding and valuable in helping us understand ourselves. We might feel instinctively that adult children have obligations to their aging parents, simply by virtue of them being a parent. Alternatively, we might see the relationship as contractual, where obligations are based on the love received – or the damage done – growing up. Or, we might believe we don’t owe our families anything, regardless of how much we have benefitted from the relationships, and that our ties with family are no different to any other friendship. Moreover, many philosophers challenge the idea that we have special duties to someone just because we share their genetic material – by that logic, adopted children would have obligations to their biological parents who they’ve never met.

    As the 21st century definition of ‘family’ widens, what are our ethical commitments to our family?

    Producer: Dan Tierney.

    • 42 min
    Kindness

    Kindness

    Thousands of complaints have been made to the press regulator about Jeremy Clarkson’s column in the Sun newspaper, in which he expressed his hatred of Meghan Markle. His critics say he crossed a line in portraying her as someone who should be treated as less than human. He says he was making a clumsy TV reference and he’s “horrified to have caused so much hurt”.

    For some, this is symptomatic of a wider culture which rewards extreme and unkind opinions, and that a right to free speech in a newspaper includes an obligation to uphold certain moral standards. Others say mainstream media commentators (and their editors) have no duty to be kind, only to tell the truth or present an honestly-held opinion.

    Kindness, courtesy and respect are notable by their absence in our so-called ‘culture wars’. Kindness can be seen as twee, while rudeness can be applauded. We might appeal superficially to kindness, but it can often be secondary to values of honesty, justice and responsibility. For some, the unkindness in our culture is a systemic problem, demanding a radical change in our technological, social and political structures. For others, it is fundamentally a human problem, requiring us to draw deeply from the well of ancient wisdom.

    The Christmas season approaches, when the ideal of goodwill is tested by the messy reality of human relationships. Is kindness the greatest virtue? What will it take for us all to be a little bit kinder? With Nana Akua, Alice Watkins, Edith Hall and Emily Kasriel.

    Producer: Dan Tierney.

    • 42 min
    What do we work for?

    What do we work for?

    Forget the advent calendar, it’s a ‘strike calendar’ we need to prepare for Christmas this year. Behind today’s window lurks not a festive chocolate but a list of public service stoppages; not a robin on picket fence, but a postie on a picket line.

    Seasonal jokes aside, perhaps the heavy flurry of industrial action is a symptom of a deeper unease about the value we place on work.

    Critics of the strikes believe we have lost a sense of duty in our public services, that the public service ethos no longer means very much, and that work today is largely contractual rather than covenantal. Supporters of the strikes say there is nothing self-interested about wanting to earn a fair wage and that it’s about recognising the value of public servants, over and above symbolic gestures like doorstep clapping.

    Some think we’ve placed too much emphasis on wealth as a measure of worth and that work should be about seeking to do something well, regardless of the monetary reward. Others believe that argument is laden with class-based assumptions and point to the disproportionately high salaries of bosses compared to their low-wage employees who don’t have the choice to be romantic about the idea of a vocation.

    What do we work for?

    Producer: Dan Tierney.

    • 42 min
    Can ethics survive the death of religion?

    Can ethics survive the death of religion?

    For the first time, fewer than half of people in England and Wales describe themselves as Christian. For centuries in the West, Judeo-Christian values have underpinned moral reasoning and grounded our ethics. While ticking “no religion” on the census doesn’t necessarily mean having no religious belief, should it concern us that this central story of our culture is fragmenting?

    Implicit in utilitarianism is the idea that we can do ethics without metaphysics. The Enlightenment hailed the triumph of scientific rationality over sacred revelation. Whereas, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that in any society in a state of ‘anomie’ – that is, lacking a shared moral code – there would be a rise in suicide.

    Secularists argue that the greatest examples of social progress of the last century have come about as a result of a loss of deference to religious moral authority. Religious leaders believe that it is precisely this moral authority that makes a society cohesive. Others think it doesn’t matter where you get your moral guide from as long as you’re looking for it.

    We live in an era of rapid social change, facing a new technological revolution, and all the ethical questions it poses. Does a religious-based ethics have the answers?

    Can ethics survive the death of religion?

    Producer: Dan Tierney.

    • 42 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
18 Ratings

18 Ratings

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