Moral Maze

BBC Radio 4

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

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Religion & SpiritualityReligion & Spirituality

Episodes

The morality of immigration
6d ago
The morality of immigration
This week it emerged that Abdul Ezedi, hunted by police after an attack on a woman and her daughters with a corrosive liquid, was granted asylum after being convicted of sexual assault. He'd converted to Christianity, which could have put him at risk in his native Afghanistan. It’s just the latest story stirring debate about one of the most divisive issues of our times - immigration. In 2022 net migration hit a record 745,000. That’s more people than live in many of Britain’s biggest cities. Last week the Office for National Statistics predicted that the population could rise by nearly 10% between 2021 and 2036. The overwhelming majority of immigrants are legal. Economists are split on the costs and benefits of immigration. Some suggest that it could help tackle a demographic timebomb as our population ages. Britain also attracts some of the world’s most capable and highly qualified people, driving up our wealth-creating potential. National life is enriched culturally and socially. Isn’t there also a moral imperative to open our doors to people from countries troubled by war, oppression and climate change? But immigration has been high for decades without a clear electoral mandate. Some neighbourhoods have been transformed, raising concerns over social cohesion. It’s added to the pressure on housing and on creaking public services. Is it right that whole industries rely on immigrants willing to work for low pay – social care, health and hospitality? What is a desirable level of immigration? How should the balance be struck between the demands of our economy and social cohesion? What’s the moral case for immigration?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Linda Walker Editor: Tim Pemberton
The morality of marriage
6d ago
The morality of marriage
It’s Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate romantic love, and is there anything more romantic than getting married? It’s the way all those old films end, after all the “will they, won’t they”, the couple finally tie the knot, the titles roll and we all enjoy the warm certainty that they’re sorted for life. What’s not to love about marriage? A lifelong commitment to care for each other... a solemn promise rooted in love… perhaps the foundation for starting a family. But for many, marriage is losing its gloss. The latest government figures suggest that the proportion of adults in England and Wales who are married has, for the first time, fallen below 50%. The rise of pre-nuptial agreements signals a change in levels of confidence about marriage. Is forever still forever? If it probably isn’t – then let’s just plan ahead for when it all goes wrong. We live much longer than in the past, so “til death us do part” is likely to be a very long time indeed. Perhaps it’s now unreasonable to expect a lifelong commitment. Short of that, are human beings even built for monogamy? If love dies in a marriage, should that be the end, or is marital commitment broader than that? There is some evidence that outcomes for children are better if parents are married, and some people see it as a fundamental building block of society. But is there a moral value to marriage? Is it a striving for what is finest about being human, the highest realisation of not just romantic love, but of that important social unit – the couple? Or just an old fashioned idea, rooted in outdated traditions, all wrapped up in a sentimental rose tinted fantasy?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
The moral case for veganism
6d ago
The moral case for veganism
It emerged this week that scientists in South Korea have created a new kind of “meaty” rice, with high levels of protein.  The grains are packed with beef muscle and fat cells – all grown in a lab.  It’s just the latest of many meat-alternatives that are helping people to eat less meat.  Supermarkets are responding to public demand by offering an ever wider choice of plant-based foods.  But while we might not need to eat meat, most of us really enjoy it.The goal posts are shifting in the age old debate about the morality of meat.  Whatever you think about the industrial breeding of animals, to be slaughtered and served up for our pleasure, there’s now another compelling argument for us to stop, or at least cut back – meat production significantly contributes to climate change.  In the last decade, the number of vegans in the UK has increased steeply, but it’s still small. Estimates vary between about 2% and 3% of the population.  Many more are vegetarian, who avoid meat and fish, but eat dairy.  There are also flexitarians, who mainly choose a plant-based diet, but do occasionally eat meat.   A moral argument that was once focused on whether humans have the right to exploit animals has become a broader debate that includes protecting the planet for future generations.  Some say it’s natural for humans to eat meat, indeed we have evolved to do so.  Others think it’s barbaric and the effects of the meat and dairy industry on the climate have made the argument for veganism overwhelming.   What’s the moral case for veganism?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
Is it time to allow assisted dying?
18-01-2024
Is it time to allow assisted dying?
Nearly a decade since MPs in Westminster voted against allowing terminally ill people to end their own life, assisted dying is climbing back up the political agenda. The Health and Social Care Committee is due to publish the first report of its kind on the subject after a year-long inquiry. Meanwhile, the Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has said there are "grounds for changing the law”, UK medical bodies continue to drop their opposition to the idea, and polls suggest around two-thirds of the public are in favour. Assisted dying raises profound moral questions which shake the core of our humanity. What does it mean to live – and to die – well? Is it more dignified to live with suffering or to die without it? If life is a sacred gift, and a marker of our equal dignity, should we, or anyone else, be able to control when it ends? If death is the most dignified response to suffering, how much suffering is too much, and who should decide?Those who describe constant physical pain and a loss of bodily autonomy say that isn’t living at all. Should we be guided principally by compassion in these situations? Or does the good intention of irradicating suffering risk a chilling effect in which people are pressured into re-appraising whether their lives are worth living?Is it time to allow assisted dying? Panel: Mona Siddiqui, Inaya Folarin Iman, Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser Witnesses: Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Professor Kevin Yuill, Zoe Hyatt Marley, Dr Miro Griffiths Producer: Dan Tierney.
Should politics be guided by public opinion?
22-11-2023
Should politics be guided by public opinion?
Should politicians respect, despise, accommodate or ignore public opinion? Rishi Sunak is looking for a policy he can pop into place between now and the general election that will avoid a Labour landslide. He is being advised that abolishing inheritance tax will tickle the tummies of the Tory not-so-faithful. Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer wants government planners to “bulldoze” local objections when deciding where to put new housing developments. Can a government get away with ignoring public opinion? Well, it can in constituencies it’s never going to win. Politics nowadays is not merely ‘guided’ by polls, surveys, databases and focus groups… it is controlled by them. But is that good for the country? Is the advice they generate either wise or moral? Are the public obsessed with issues that don’t matter, while they ignore the ones that do? There is a case to be made against taking any notice of what the public thinks about anything. We know that the public thinks short-term, and that its opinions on political issues are ill-informed. Public opinion is inconsistent, incoherent and volatile. And yet democracy is built on the principle that the majority must get its way. And it’s not just politicians (and Simon Cowell) who flatter the electorate with talk of the ‘wisdom’ of the Great British Public. Lots of people seem to think that majority opinion will usually be wise, kind and helpful. But then, many also believe the moon landing was staged. Panellists: Anne McElvoy, Melanie Philips, Mona Siddiqui & Matthew TaylorPresenter: Michael Buerk Producers: Peter Everett & Jonathan Hallewell Editor: Tim Pemberton
How should we remember the dead and the living?
10-11-2023
How should we remember the dead and the living?
The Met police has warned of a "growing" risk of violence and disorder this Remembrance weekend. The Prime Minister has described a planned pro-Palestinian protest in London on Armistice Day as “provocative and disrespectful” to those who wish to remember the war dead “in peace and dignity”. The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said it was "a stain on our common humanity" that so many seem to have "lost sight of the moral distance between Hamas and Israel". Others, however, strongly refute the description of the demonstrations as “hate marches”, believing that the protesters should be allowed to campaign for a ceasefire and an end to the killing; and to show solidarity with Palestinians without undermining either the remembrance events or the humanity of Israelis. The polarising nature of the Israel-Hamas war and its repercussions in the UK has resulted in both sides accusing the other of ‘weaponising’ remembrance. Public attitudes to commemoration have changed over the last century and notions of a country honouring the ultimate sacrifice of its soldiers can be hard to disentangle politically from conflicts of the day. What are we really doing on Remembrance Day? While for some it is a deep expression of sorrow for the dead and a formal commitment to peace, others believe it risks celebrating past acts of killing, which translates into justifying present militarism and violence. If rising conflicts around the world suggest humanity has not learned from the mistakes of the past – what is the moral purpose of remembrance? How should we remember the dead as well as those who are living through conflict today?Producer: Dan Tierney.
Are prisons doing more harm than good?
19-10-2023
Are prisons doing more harm than good?
The UK’s prisons are full, their corridors are understaffed and their Victorian buildings are crumbling. The answer, at least at the moment, is to lock up fewer criminals. The justice secretary has announced plans this week to phase out short sentences – anything less than 12 months - because they produce “hardened criminals rather than rehabilitated offenders.” Prison reformers have long argued that short sentences don’t work anyway, citing a reoffending rate of over 50%. Others believe that the justice system is already too soft. Community sentences, they insist, send out the wrong message to criminals and open the door to further lawbreaking. Who should and who shouldn’t go to prison? There’s a wider question; are prisons upholding or undermining justice? Reform campaigners say that prisons are failing both society and the prisoners themselves. The best outcome for everyone is the rehabilitation of criminals, and if that isn’t possible inside prison, it should be explored outside. Others see the redemption of criminals as secondary to justice for their victims and protection for their communities. Depending on how people see it, prisons are either too harsh or too lax. How should the justice system decide whether to wield the carrot or the stick? Can punishment itself be a necessary step towards rehabilitation? Or is prison too often a futile expression of collective vengeance? Are prisons doing more harm than good? Producer: Dan Tierney.
How should we think about our enemies?
12-10-2023
How should we think about our enemies?
The surprise attack by Hamas was devastating, leaving hundreds of Israeli civilians dead, injured or taken hostage. Israel’s response was swift, with airstrikes on Gaza killing hundreds of Palestinians, including children. The scale of the attack was unprecedented, but the cycle of violence and escalation is all too familiar in this land that has been contested for more than a century. Now another generation sees the bloodshed at first hand. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, so for many Jews this is about survival. At the same time, many Palestinians have come to see Israel as a brutal oppressor. Each side sees the other as an existential threat. Even those who refuse to define their neighbours across the Gaza border as ‘the enemy’ may find themselves defined in those terms against their will – and threatened with death. How should we understand conventional rules of morality in such intractable circumstances? What is a proportionate response to an act of aggression? And what conditions are necessary for a realistic peace process to take hold? Perhaps the most radical statement in all of human history is “love your enemies”. Those who are pessimistic about peace in the Middle East might dismiss that as naïve. But there are some who can give us real-life examples of the human capacity to rise above anger and grief for a greater good. How should we think about our enemies?With Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, Atef Alshaer, Gabrielle Rifkind, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin.Producer: Dan Tierney.
Is impartiality a myth?
06-10-2023
Is impartiality a myth?
The BBC has published new guidance on how its big name presenters can use social media. Those working in news and current affairs are still bound by strict rules on impartiality, which the BBC sees as being fundamental to its reputation, values and the trust of its audiences. But the presenters of other programmes are free to express their political views, as long as they don’t “endorse or attack a political party."While impartiality means not favouring one side over another, news broadcasters are subject to a subtler version of it: “due impartiality”. That means different perspectives don’t necessarily have to be given equal weight. But which perspectives and how much weight? That’s a matter of judgment.The changing media landscape has brought new challenges to the principle of impartiality. The media regulator Ofcom has recently investigated GB News. Among their alleged breaches of impartiality was an item in which the Conservative Chancellor was interviewed by two other Conservative MPs. The spiritual heirs of Lord Reith believe that media impartiality is a moral good and a central pillar of democracy in an age of populism and polarisation. Sceptics suggest that the pursuit of impartiality can create problems of its own, putting ignorance and expertise on an equal footing. Beyond broadcasting, how much should we as individuals strive for impartiality? Is it possible to look at historical events through an objective lens? While psychology tells us we all have cognitive biases, psychologists disagree about how much they can be corrected. Is it possible to be truly impartial about ourselves and others? Producer: Dan Tierney
The Language of Freedom
04-10-2023
The Language of Freedom
Michael Buerk chairs a special Moral Maze debate recorded at 'HowTheLightGetsIn' festival of philosophy and music.The language of freedom permeates our political debate. In the US, it may be a decisive battleground in the 2024 presidential election. The problem is that people mean very different things by it. Is it freedom from government regulation or freedom to have an abortion? Freedom of speech or freedom from discrimination? Freedom to own a gun or freedom for communities to ban them?A distinction is often made between positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom is the absence of constraints (‘freedom from’) – while positive freedom is the possibility of acting in such a way as to take control of one’s life (‘freedom to’). Libertarians often see individual freedom - the private enjoyment of one’s life and goods, free from interference – as the most fundamental value that any society should pursue and protect. This view is challenged by those who believe wealth, health and educational inequalities inevitably mean some people are more free than others, and seek instead to promote the collective freedom of society as a whole.If a society in which there is a complete absence of restraint is as dystopian as one in which our every action is controlled, how should we navigate the trade-offs between individual freedom and other goods, like security and collective wellbeing? Is the language of freedom helpful or harmful in negotiating our political differences? Deeper question: what does it mean for a human being to be free?With guests: Konstantin Kisin, Sophie Howe and James Orr.Producer: Dan Tierney.
Adults, Children and Power
21-09-2023
Adults, Children and Power
Labour has confirmed that it plans to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in elections, in line with Scotland and Wales. The idea, they say, is to empower younger people by engaging them in the democratic process. Some older members of the electorate might raise the question of whether people under 18 have the maturity to vote. It would be no surprise to hear that argument, we were all children once and we know that adults think they’re superior. It’s nearly fifty years since the concept of “childism” was first coined by psychiatrists, to describe the automatic assumption of superiority of any adult over any child. Now, perhaps, childism is the last permissible prejudice. Discrimination that would seem shocking if applied to any other group is exercised against children and regarded as quite appropriate. Children’s freedom is constantly restricted and their views are generally dismissed. They’re told what to do, what to eat, what to wear, even what to say. Is this just responsible parenting or does it verge on oppression? Children’s minds aren’t fully developed, and they’re less well equipped to make smart decisions. They also need limits and it’s surely the job of adults to impose them, but where should the line be drawn? We should keep children safe, of course, but after that… is it better to be strict or to allow them maximum autonomy? What’s the moral basis on which we make that judgement? Attitudes have changed over the decades. We’ve moved on from the axiom that “children should be seen and not heard.” A survey out last week suggested that parents in Britain place less importance on instilling obedience in children than parents in most other countries. But maybe a little obedience would be no bad thing? What’s the moral case for exercising power over children and young people? Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Editor: Tim Pemberton
The Morality of Climate Activism
21-07-2023
The Morality of Climate Activism
Wimbledon, the Ashes, the Proms and George Osborne’s wedding have all been interrupted by ‘Just Stop Oil’ protesters in recent days. Several areas of London have been brought to a standstill, provoking the ire of motorists and leading to multiple arrests. ‘Just Stop Oil’ describes itself as a “nonviolent civil resistance group demanding the UK Government stop licensing all new oil, gas and coal projects”. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he wouldn't be “giving in to eco-zealots” disrupting the British summer.The group’s supporters believe that blocking traffic, interrupting sporting events and vandalising artwork, are entirely proportionate in the face of an existential crisis bequeathed to our children and grandchildren. Right now, they argue, parts of Europe are literally on fire, and there is no more time left to wait for those in power to do the right thing. Their critics object to the fact that the targets of the protests are often ordinary people, who have more immediate concerns like the rising cost of living. Moreover, some believe the use of apocalyptic language is less likely to elicit a change in behaviour, since despair, like indifference, is not a good motivator. How might our descendants judge today’s climate activists? Successful movements for social change, like the Suffragettes, have historically been disrupters who, in the face of inaction, adopt increasingly radical tactics. For some, the spirit they embody is irrepressible and necessary, which means that their methods cannot always be peaceful. For others, social progress can only be fully achieved through conventional democratic means.Are acts of civil disobedience and sabotage by climate activists morally justifiable? Producer: Dan Tierney.
Cluster bombs and the ethics of warfare
13-07-2023
Cluster bombs and the ethics of warfare
As NATO meets this week, the US is seeking to calm its critics over sending cluster bombs to Ukraine. Cluster munitions are banned by many countries – including the UK and most EU members. They are more indiscriminate and can leave unexploded bomblets scattered over a wide area, posing a lethal threat to civilians years after a conflict has ended. The US, which is not a signatory to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, argues that supplying these weapons is justified in the defence of Ukraine, that civilian areas would be avoided and that records would be kept to facilitate a clean-up operation after the war. While some see this as a clear concession of the moral high ground, others disagree. As one US congressman put it, “the only way it erodes the moral high ground is if either you're an idiot, or you're rooting for Russia in this conflict." What should be the ethical rules of conduct in warfare, when the goal of opposing armies is to perpetrate, and sometimes maximise, death and destruction? For some, the tragedy of war is the suspension of ethical norms. And yet, certain fundamental principles, such as proportionality of violence and discrimination between enemy combatants and non-combatants, have existed for centuries to prevent the ends being justified by any means necessary in battle. But what if the enemy has no regard for these rules? How should they be interpreted outside a philosophy seminar and in the chaos of war? While the character of war is changing, the fundamental moral issues have not. When, in warfare, is it acceptable to violate ethical principles in the hope of achieving a greater good?Producer: Dan Tierney.
The Morality of Privatisation
06-07-2023
The Morality of Privatisation
Thames Water, which serves a quarter of the UK population, is billions of pounds in debt and on the brink of insolvency. The company has received heavy criticism, and calls for it to be nationalised, following a series of sewage discharges and leaks. The energy sector, railway companies, and the Royal Mail have faced a similar outcry in recent months. When it comes to the provision of services which are essential for our national life, the calculation is often utilitarian: which form of ownership, public or private, leads to the greater social good? Many believe that the private water, rail and energy companies are simply failing to serve the public. Meanwhile, although polling suggests most people want to keep the NHS under public ownership, many of the health outcomes of patients compare less favourably to other European countries. The privatisation versus nationalisation debate is about more than outcomes: it highlights competing visions of the good society. For some, the private sector gives us more freedom of choice as moral agents. For others, a ‘market mentality’ has crept into more and more aspects of our social and communal life, including education, and the result has been the erosion of our own moral obligations towards each other. Can the motivation for profit co-exist alongside a vision of the common good? What moral responsibilities should private companies have to society? And what are the moral limits of markets?Producer: Dan Tierney.
The morality of news coverage
05-07-2023
The morality of news coverage
Comparisons have been made between the news coverage of two tragedies at sea. The first was the capsizing of a boat off the coast of Greece, in which more than 500 migrants from the Middle East and Africa are thought to have drowned. The second is the catastrophic implosion of the Titan submersible carrying five people, including a billionaire explorer, who paid a huge amount of money to see the wreck of the Titanic. While the first story made the news, the second story was rolling news. Moral Maze panellist Ash Sarkar faced a backlash when she tweeted about what she saw as the “grotesque inequality of sympathy, attention and aid... Migrants are “meant” to die at sea; billionaires aren’t.”This raises the question of the moral purpose of the news – particularly when it comes to public service broadcasting – and the difference between reporting what people want to know and what they need to know. For some, the ‘ticking clock’ coverage of the Titan tragedy was ghoulish and sensationalist. For others it was merely a reflection of the trajectory of the story: the hope, the endeavour and the jeopardy. Then there is a question of scale – does a larger body count have a greater moral claim to be covered by the news? Or is it natural for British media to reflect a greater sense of empathy for British citizens? What makes the news, what is left out, and how it is covered, is a decision made by editorial teams and individuals with their own view of what is 'newsworthy'. But what about our responsibilities as consumers of news? Does the demand for immediate clickbait sensationalism over thoughtful analysis from the other side of the world create a news environment which is out of kilter with what matters? Is this simply human nature or something we should seek to redress?What news stories should make a moral claim on our attention?Producer: Dan Tierney.
Should science ever be stopped?
23-06-2023
Should science ever be stopped?
Scientists have created the first synthetic human embryos using stem cells. The breakthrough could help research into genetic disorders, but it raises ethical questions about the creation of life without the need for eggs or sperm. While nobody is currently suggesting growing these embryos into a baby, the rapid progress has outpaced the law. This prompts a wider question: instead of society having to play catch up with science, should we be having a more frank conversation about the moral responsibilities of science itself? Some believe that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath, a regulatory system of ethical standards, similar to doctors. Others think that will stifle creativity, enthusiasm and academic freedom. The human drive for discovery is the engine of progress – and we have demonstrably never had it so good. But are there things we should not want to discover? Are we capable of making a conscious decision to say “no further” if the potential consequences of pursuing knowledge are both good and bad? For some, science is morally-neutral, its advancement is inevitable, and it’s down to society to set the rules about what to do with the findings of scientific research. For others, simply relying on the moral-neutrality of science could be humanity’s fatal flaw, and there should be more democratically-accountable oversight of the research. If that’s the case, where should the ethical lines be drawn? As well as the consequentialist arguments, some make the distinction between science as a means of discovering the natural world and ruling it; in religious terms, between seeking to understand God and ‘playing God’. When, if ever, should we apply the brakes on science? Producer: Dan Tierney.