September 15, 2011 Comments Off
Does celebrity activism make the world a better place? 20 April 2011
What are the boundaries of privacy? 11 April 2011
Sexualization and Slut Walks 18 May 2011
Should science define morality? 1 June 2011
June 4, 2011 § 1 Comment
The Moral Maze is a show with its strengths and weaknesses, a format better suited to debating some issues than others. This week’s programme, on the relationship between science and morality, was somewhat messy, inevitably perhaps given the complexity of the issue, the subtlety of many of the arguments and the depth of knowledge required. Nevertheless, there were, I thought, useful parts of the debate. I was particularly struck by Joshua Greene‘s skepticism about the ability of science to settle moral questions, given the general thrust of his academic research.
Greene is perhaps the world’s leading moral psychologist and his work has thrown much light on the character of our moral evaluations. There are, Greene argues, two modes of moral thinking. One is intuitive, the other consciously reasoned. The analogy he often uses is that of the distinction between automatic and manual modes in a digital camera. The automatic mode is quick but inflexible. The manual mode is flexible but slow. Much the same is true, he suggests, of the two modes of moral thinking. He also famously suggests that Kantian notions of rights and duties emerge from our intuitions while conscious, reasoned moral evaluations are driven by utilitarian cost-benefit analyses. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
This week’s Moral Maze on Radio 4 explores the relationship between science and morality, and in particular the idea that science provides the means to establish moral norms. It has an all-star cast of witnesses including Jerry Coyne, Joshua Greene, Ray Tallis and Giles Fraser.
I gave a talk last year to the ‘Talking Brains’ conference at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany, on ‘Science, Morality and the Euthyphro Dilemma’ that took a skeptical look at some of the arguments of those whom I call ‘neuromoralists’. It picks up and develops many of the themes I touched on in my review of Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape and examines a few of the issues that hopefully we will debate on The Moral Maze. Here is a shortened, edited version of the talk.
SCIENCE, MORALITY AND THE EUTHYPHRO DILEMMA
Can science help define our moral framework? And if so how? The idea that science, and in particular neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, can throw light on moral choices has become conventional wisdom in recent years. How it can do so is, however, still a matter for fierce debate.
There is a wide spectrum of views about how science can illuminate our moral lives. At the soft end of this spectrum is the suggestion that our capacity for moral thought lies in our evolutionary history, the evidence for which derives primarily from primatology and evolutionary and developmental psychology. The degree to which our capacity for moral thought is the product of natural selection remains a matter of debate. In principle, however, the idea that our ability to think in terms of right and wrong may in part have evolutionary roots should not be controversial. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 13, 2011 § 6 Comments
‘What gives a journalist the right to know whom you slept with last night?’ That was a question posed by my fellow panelist Clifford Longley to Gavin Millar QC on this week’s The Moral Maze which explored the limits of privacy and free speech. Millar avoided answering the question. But the answer is not as straightforward as many might imagine. Certainly a journalist has no ‘right’ to know with whom I slept. But (unless he uses illegal methods such as, say, hacking into my phone) neither do I have the ‘right’, in my view, to stop him finding out and gossiping about it, even in a national newspaper, however distasteful and embarrassing that may be for me.
Of course, I am pretty safe from lenses and mikes of News of the World hacks. Many politicians and celebrities clearly are not. The fact that newspapers, and newspaper readers, seem so obsessed by the sex lives, drinking habits, and party antics, of footballers and actors and pop stars reveals something unpleasant about our culture. But it doesn’t mean that such prurient interest should be a matter for the law. And therein lies one of the problems with the current debate about privacy: it confuses the recognition that something is odious or distasteful with the belief that therefore it should be censored. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 20, 2011 § 6 Comments
I have previously written posts about the debates in two of these programmes – the ones on multiculturalism and on second chances. And if you’re masochistic enough to want to torture yourself by listening to all my Moral Maze contributions, you can find them on my archive site.
March 3, 2011 Comments Off
‘Vengeance is simply justice with bad pr’. So claimed melanie Phillips on The Moral Maze last night, in a programme that began as a discussion of the possibilities of penal redemption and ended as a debate on the role of vengeance in the judicial system. It was a great line (Phillips was defending another panelist Anne McElvoy who had argued for the importance of vengeance to justice). And it was, of course, partly tongue in cheek. But it also summed up much of what is wrong with the contemporary debate about justice. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 16, 2011 Comments Off