Moral Maze

Moral Maze

United Kingdom

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


The Summer of 2016  

As someone once said 'Whoever you vote for the government wins'. Whether we thought it was a conspiracy or not we've got used to the idea that something we called the establishment ran societies like ours. No longer. From Brexit voters agreeing with Michael Gove that we shouldn't listen to experts, to Donald Trump supporters relishing the hostility to their man of every part of the American establishment or Jeremy Corbyn supporters rejecting conventional wisdom about what is needed to win elections: everywhere it appears the conventional, the expert, the elite, the establishment view is on the defensive. For some this is a brave new world of openness, activism and renewal. For others it's a post-factual world of populism, extremism and damage. Is the establishment dying? Is this the assertion of the independent-minded? A welcome jolt for a complacent ruling class? A time of renewal? Or a brainless twitch by people bored with issues and complexity, ushering in a host of dangerous isms - populism, extremism, nationalism. "The Summer of 2016" - should we cheer, worry, or despair? The Moral Maze. Witnesses are Will Moy, Ian Chamberlain, Milo Yiannopoulos and Philip Collins.

Legalising Drugs  

Going to a music festival has become a rite of passage for the post GCSE teenager. Their excitement at the prospect of a long weekend of unsupervised possibility is perhaps only matched by the anxiety of their parents who know exactly what that might entail. Those fears may have been heightened by the news that a music festival in Cambridgeshire has just become the first UK event of its kind to offer people the chance to have their illegal drugs tested to establish the purity of content before they take them. The testing facility, at the Secret Garden Party, was offered with the co-operation of the police. The organisers said the aim was to reduce harm from drug taking and promote welfare. The group conducting the forensic tests this weekend hope other festivals will follow suit. Is this a pragmatic and realistic approach to drug taking that will save lives or a tacit endorsement that will cost them? Is it part of a gradual slide toward decriminalisation of drug taking? According to the 2016 European Drug Report, ecstasy has surged in popularity in Britain among those aged 15-34 in the past three years. Is it logical on the one hand to criminalise the sale of legal highs, but on the other to make it easier to take an illegal drug like ecstasy? Needle exchanges have long been available to registered intravenous drug addicts. Is this a logical extension or does discovering people have illegal drugs and then allowing them to walk away and use them, while the police turn a blind eye, cross a moral Rubicon? It will make it safer for people who want to take drugs, but what about those people who want to attend a festival knowing it is drug free? How should we balance those competing moral goods? Witnesses are Dr Ian Oliver, Johann Hari, Steve Rolles and Deirdre Boyd.

Nuclear Weapons  

MP's have voted overwhelmingly to renew our Trident nuclear weapons system and the first job of any new prime minister is to write the "letters of last resort" which contain prime ministers' instructions for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. The handwritten notes are taken to the UK's four Vanguard-class submarines, the ships which carry the ballistic missiles the Royal Navy calls "the nation's ultimate weapon" and contain instructions of what to do in the worst-case nuclear scenario: the obliteration of the UK state. The value of nuclear weapons is in their deterrence - the promise of mutually assured destruction. Theresa May has told the Commons that she wouldn't hesitate, but she could do no other. It is rumoured previous prime ministers may not have been so certain. By their nature the letters have to make broad moral judgments rather than situationally-dependent ones. They're about morality and ethics, not tactics. In the event that deterrence fails and we are attacked, would it be moral to use our nuclear weapons against civilians in retaliation? What would you do in the event of nuclear war? Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime. If you think the moral principles of collective punishment are clear when it comes to nuclear weapons what about in other stories in the news? Is it always wrong to punish the innocent in pursuit of a wider justice? Should we ban all Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics to punish the drug cheats? Is protecting American citizens against terrorist attacks a greater good than the right of Muslims to travel to the USA? The morality of retaliation and collective punishment on the Moral Maze. Witnesses are Major General Patrick Cordingley, Air Vice Marshall Nigel Baldwin, Avia Pasternak and Austen Ivereigh.

Policing Offence  

When is a personal opinion so offensive that it becomes morally unacceptable? This weekend former Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom discovered her comments on motherhood had transgressed an unwritten social convention. The outraged legions of leader writers, columnists and Twitterati descended and by Monday she was gone. As the politics of offence, identity and rights become ever more toxic, they become equally hard to navigate and the price of transgression is ever higher. The whole Brexit debate and its aftermath have been characterised by claim and counter claim of racism, ageism and classism. We've had laws against "hate speech" for many years now, but are we too keen to create whole new categories of "-isms" to which we can take offence? If morality rests on the ability to distinguish between groups and make judgements about their lifestyles, how do you distinguish between a legitimate verdict and an unjustifiable prejudice? Why is it acceptable to say 'It's good that the President is black' but not to say 'It's good that the next President will be white'? Why is the insult "stale, male and pale" OK, but it wouldn't be if you changed gender and race? Is this about defending the powerless against the powerful, or limiting people's rights to say what they think? Where do we draw the line between policing the basic principles of equal rights and mutual respect with a capacity to judge people by what lies in their heart? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Anne McElvoy, Claire Fox, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Maya Goodfellow, Josh Howie, Peter Tatchell and Dr Joanna Williams.

The Chilcot Inquiry  

130 sessions of oral evidence,150 witnesses, 150,000 documents, more than 2.5 million words - the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War was finally published on the day of this programme. The inquiry was set up to examine our reasons for taking part in the US-led invasion of Iraq, how the war was prosecuted and its aftermath. But was the decision to go to war morally justified? Chilcot confirms that there was a massive failing in intelligence in the lead-up to the decision to go to war, especially around WMD; it accepts that Tony Blair was acting in good faith and did not deliberately mislead Parliament and the public about that intelligence. The relationship between morality and consequences is complex and sometimes contradictory. If Tony Blair and his government were acting in good faith but the consequences of that war were so catastrophic, can we still describe the decision to go to war as a moral one? If the government were a limited company, isn't this the kind of gross negligence that would lead to directors being prosecuted for corporate manslaughter? On the other hand, if - being wise after the event - we were to hound all politicians for making decisions that went wrong, wouldn't that produce sclerosis and the replacement of democratic judgement with technocracy? Is this a counsel of moral perfection that produces only paralysis of the will? When does ignorance become a moral failing? Is that contingent on outcomes? What if the war had been a success and Iraq transformed into a flourishing democracy? Would we still be worrying about whether it was moral? Would we have spent £10m on an inquiry about it? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Prof Michael Clarke, John Rentoul, Haider Al Safi and Dr Dan Bulley.

Morality of Victors and Vanquished  

Pundits and politicians alike are struggling to capture the enormity of the consequences of the result of the referendum vote. It's at times like these people often turn to George Orwell for inspiration. He likened our nation to "a family with the wrong members in control" - "that" he said "perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase." Who'll be left standing and in charge after all the political recriminations and bloodletting have ended is still not clear. It's been described as the worst peace-time constitutional crisis this country has faced. So this week on the Moral Maze we're asking what should now be the moral priority for the victors and the vanquished? Has the democratic will of the people been clearly expressed so that the victors must now deliver Brexit at any price? Is it the moral duty of those who championed Brexit to deliver on all their promises made during the campaigning? Or, once normal politics has resumed, should the utilitarian principle of cutting the best possible deal triumph - even if that means forgetting campaign promises on immigration and the single market? Should the vanquished now support Brexit and work towards it with all the enthusiasm they can manage? Or was this a mistake by the British people that means they have a moral duty to go on fighting to keep Britain in the EU and campaign for a second referendum? Or should the priority, above all others, be to find a way to heal a divided nation?

The EU Referendum  

The murder of the MP Jo Cox has cast a very long and dark shadow across the closing days of the EU referendum. The nature of the campaign and how her death might influence the result are a matter of conjecture. On this week's Moral Maze we're going stand back from that speculation and ask a much bigger question - has this referendum been good for us and good for democracy? The intense campaigning has been going on for many months now and comes hard on the heels of the Scottish independence referendum. Arguably, both have been characterised by trenchant, sometimes bitter and even abusive debate between two sides passionately and honestly committed to their positions. And, arguably, both referenda have left large parts of the electorate dissatisfied by a seemingly endless round of fact-free claim and counter-claim. Are our expectations unrealistic? Have referendums been, for all their faults, exercises in democracy that have engaged and inspired people in a way that party politics increasingly fail to achieve? Should we, like Switzerland, hold more of them? Is there a better way? Should we turn to technology and the internet for answers? 76% of people in the UK own a smart phone; with the growth of social media and online petitions there's a movement that believes the future of democracy is online, where it will engage more people in a wider variety of issues, putting more power directly into the hands of the electorate. Will e-democracy encourage more passionate engagement in issues and be a powerful force for progress? Can it cope with complex issues and complex societies with tens, or hundreds of millions of voters? Will we always need representative democracy to protect us from the tyranny of the majority, however that majority cast their votes? Chaired by Edward Stourton with Mona Siddiqui, Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Paul Hilder, James Bloodworth, Dr Philip Cunliffe and Tim Stanley.

Assisted Dying  

Every year thousands of terminally ill patients are being helped to die by their doctors, according to Baroness Molly Meacher, the new chairwoman of Dignity in Dying. She claims doctors are prepared to risk their own freedom rather than see their patients continue to suffer unbearably. Her assertion comes as the British Medical Association next week prepares to discuss the results of its 18 month long survey in to the public and medical professionals' attitudes on end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying. For 26 years now this programme has charted the moral and ethical life of the nation and this subject, above all others, has been the one we've returned to most often. And little wonder as it's an issue that combines moral dilemma, religious principle, human compassion and fear in equal measure. As a prelude to the BMA debate, this week we're going to invite back witnesses who've appeared on our programme over the years to explore how the debate has developed over time. In 1991 we started out discussing the morality of suicide manuals. Advances in medical technology since then have transformed our expectations of what we demand from life. We've seen a growth of the "me generation" that prizes and demands individual choice and rights above collective responsibility. While as a society we have increasingly recognised the rights of disabled people, there is also growing support for legalising assisted suicide, which may give comfort to some, but could put many more vulnerable people at risk. And there has also been our changing relationship with religion. The moral maze that is the debate on assisted dying, live at 8pm Wednesday. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Mona Siddiqui, Anne McElvoy, Giles Fraser and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Dr Michael Irwin, Lesley Close, Dr Kevin Yuill and Prof David Cook.

The Morality of Business  

The sales signs are going up in 163 BHS shops around the country as the liquidators try to salvage something from the wreckage of this once proud company. When Sir Philip Green bought BHS in 2000, it was making a profit. By the time he sold it in 2015, for £1, to a three-times bankrupt with no retailing experience, it was making a loss and the company pension fund was more than £400m in deficit. Exactly what went wrong at BHS is the subject of no fewer than four separate inquires. What is certain is that it's you and I, the tax payers, who will pick up the bill for the redundancy payments for the 11,000 staff and responsibility for the 20,000 members of the BHS company pension scheme. The head of the Institute of Directors described the affair as deeply damaging to the British business world. It's all a far cry from the days of Quaker philanthropy that inspired so many Victorian entrepreneurs. The study of business ethics is one of the few growth areas of the economy. You might be forgiven for wondering how effective such courses are when we see so many headlines about companies avoiding tax, walking away from pension liabilities, using legal loopholes to make excessive profits, zero hours contracts, falsifying data, mis-selling... The list goes on. Do companies have any moral duty beyond the bottom line? Is the only duty of a company to make money for its shareholders within the law? Where and how do we draw the line between legal duty to shareholders and moral duty to society? The individuals that run companies have moral agency, but is there such a thing as a collective, corporate moral agency? Can we impose a set of moral values, or a social licence, on a company? Or will that create a climate of "What can we get away with?" rather than "What is right?"? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Dr Steve Davies, Dawn Foster, Prof Chris Cowton and John Morrison.

Social Convention  

Would you ******* believe it? A council has ******* banned swearing in public. The council in question is Salford which has used a Public Space Protection Order to tackle anti-social behaviour in the Salford Quays area which includes Media City, home to the BBC, which might be just a coincidence. Part of the order says it will be deemed a criminal offence if anyone is caught 'using foul and abusive language'. Public Space Protection Orders, or PSPOs, are similar to ASBO's (anti-social behaviour orders), and allow for broad powers to criminalise behaviour that is not normally criminal. PSPOs are geographically defined, making predefined activities within a mapped area prosecutable. Since they came into existence in 2014 many councils have embraced their new powers enthusiastically, with various PSPO's making, or attempting to make, it a criminal offence to sleep rough, drive a loud car and walk a dog without a lead. It seems that control, or regulation, of public space is becoming more common. In the last month alone a council in Wales has banned smoking on a public beach, the London Underground is considering stopping people walking up escalators and a well known store asked a customer to leave because her toddler was having a tantrum. Are regulations to tackle public nuisance a commendable attempt to protect us or an oppressive enforcement of social conformity targeting public activities that are merely unusual or unpopular? This tension between individualism and the common good is an issue which bedevils so many aspects of contemporary society. If it is true that inconsiderate behaviour is increasing in our society, how should we deal with it? How do we balance our moral obligation to the rest of society with our desire to do what we **** well please? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Michael Portillo, Giles Fraser and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Anna Minton, Alfie Moore, Danny Kruger and Terry Christian.

Brussels Bombing  

The fact that the Belgian authorities had been expecting an attack doesn't diminish the shock of yet another bombing with mass casualties in a European capital. Belgium's foreign minister said on Sunday that Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, could have been plotting more operations. Tragically, he was proved right. That Salah was able to hide in Brussels, under the noses of the Belgian police, for more than four months raises uncomfortable questions for them - and also for us. The UK government is still fighting to get its Investigatory Powers Bill onto the statute book. Its supporters believe it will enable the police and security services to fight terrorism and crime more effectively. Opponents say it will destroy our fundamental right to privacy and believe their arguments have been given more force by the revelations of Edward Snowdon about the extent of secret surveillance. The Brussels bombs came on the day that the FBI in America said they'd found a way to get round Apple's security and unlock the phone of an Islamist terrorist who killed 14 people in California last December. Apple had refused to co-operate, saying it would have security implications for millions of iPhone users all over the world. When we're faced with ruthless terrorists, intent on committing mass murder, how much privacy do we have a right to demand? And who should police it? These bombs were in the city that is the symbolic heart of the European Union and that has - for many - come to symbolise the hard-won freedoms and values we cherish in the West. What price do we place on those freedoms and values? And how much are we willing to compromise them to ensure our safety? How free do you want to be? Witnesses are Professor Anthony Glees, Mike Harris, Douglas Murray and Inayat Bunglawala.

Morality and the EU Referendum  

Claim and counter claim in the EU referendum debate have filled the air waves and packed the papers and there are still 14 weeks left to the actual vote. The atmosphere is already highly charged and the political stakes couldn't be much higher. The way we vote on June 23rd will have profound implications for generations to come. We've heard a lot about the political and economic arguments that we should consider when casting that vote, but what are the moral considerations? Is preserving our national cultural identity behind strict border controls a moral priority? Do we have a wider duty as good citizens of Europe and the world? Is fear of immigration and fear of an uncertain economic future a defendable moral position? Is it a moral argument to say our choice should be a utilitarian calculation of where we personally and as a nation will be financially better off? Is sovereignty the moral trump card? Morality and the EU referendum. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo, Matthew Taylor and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Anthony O'Hear, Kirsty Hughes, Brian Denny and Sebastian Farquhar.

Is Science Morally Neutral?  

In 1816, when Mary Shelley sat down to write her Gothic novel Frankenstein, it was a time of social, political and scientific upheaval. It has given us the archetypal image of the mad scientist single-mindedly pursing his grotesque experiments whatever the cost. "Frankenstein Science" has even become its own category, especially beloved by tabloid headline writers. 200 years on and the pace of scientific development has increased exponentially; the fact that Shelley's Frankenstein still has such a hold reflects the powerful role science plays in modern life and also, perhaps, the fear that we don't understand it or know how to control it. Now the head of the Science Council has said that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath and a regulation system of ethical standards and principles similar to doctors. Would more control give us better, more ethical scientists, or just restrain creativity and academic freedom? If we control scientists more closely, is there a case for arguing that we should exercise more control over the research they carry out? Is science morally neutral? Is it just the choices about how to apply scientific knowledge that are truly moral? In a world where advances in science have the power to profoundly change our lives and the lives of future generations, can scientists still rely on that distinction? This week scientists are meeting in America to discuss the controversial "gain-of-function" research on highly infectious viruses such as avian flu. Do we need more moral, ethical and democratically accountable oversight of research? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Belinda Phipps, Prof Terence Kealey, Prof Andy Stirling and Bryan Roberts.

Historical Sex Abuse  

The idea that we shouldn't speak ill of the dead has an ancient heritage dating as far back as 600BC. It's attributed to the Greek philosopher Chilon of Sparta, but judging by recent headlines around allegations of historic sex abuse it might not have much more of a shelf life. Police forces keen to redress claims that in the past they haven't treated victims fairly and to demonstrate they're not part of a an establishment cover up, are devoting huge resources to cases often dating back many decades and even when the alleged perpetrator is dead. Combine that with a press hungry for salacious gossip knowing that the dead can't sue for libel and it's open season on people who are not only unable to defend themselves, but who will never be brought to trial. The most famous example is the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, but there are numerous others. Should the dead have the same rights as the living? Should they be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Is this just vindictive muck raking or do we owe the many victims of child abuse a duty to try to expose the truth, even after so many years have passed? If we aren't willing to expose what really happened 50 years ago, then what are the chances that we will ever face up to the truth of what happens today? There are those who argue that for too long the victim's voice has been ignored in our legal system and that these investigations help them get closure. But is that the same as justice? Should we hear these cases in court, or would they be better suited to some kind of truth and justice commission? In an increasingly victim-focused climate is our pursuit of historic crimes distorting the meaning of justice? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy and Mathew Taylor. Witnesses are Barbara Hewson, Peter Hitchens, Mark Watts and Malcolm Johnson.

Who Owns Culture?  

It may not have the same impact as the Elgin Marbles, but a slightly battered bronze statue of a cockerel has re-ignited a row that has potentially profound implications for our museums and opens a Pandora's Box of moral dilemmas. The statue in question sits in the dining hall of Jesus College Cambridge, but it was originally from the Benin Empire, now part of modern-day Nigeria. It was one of hundreds of artworks taken in a punitive British naval expedition in 1897 that brought the empire to an end. In the same way that Greece has pursued the return of the Elgin marbles, Nigeria has repeatedly called for all the Benin bronzes - which it says are part of its cultural heritage - to be repatriated. The students at Jesus agree with them and are demanding the cockerel be returned. But to whom? There are dozens of high profile campaigns around the world to repatriate cultural artefacts, but the legal issue of rightful ownership is complex and made more so by the value of the objects in question. Does the fact that many of the finest treasures in our museums were acquired during the height of our imperial history mean we're duty bound to return them? If we accept the principle that art looted by the Nazi's should be returned, why not, for example, the Benin Bronzes? Artefacts like the Elgin Marbles are important because they are part of the story or humanity itself. Can any one country claim ownership over that? Would artefacts that have been returned to their original setting take on a new and more authentic cultural meaning that we in the West may not be able to understand, but which is nonetheless important to those who claim ownership? Should repatriation be part of a wider cultural enterprise to re-write our national and imperialistic historical narrative? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Prof Constantine Sandis, Mark Hudson and Andrew Dismore.

Banning Boycotts  

How far should you be allowed to express your moral and political beliefs through boycotts? There have been high profile boycott campaigns on everything from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, and tobacco products to economic and academic boycotts of Israel. Now the government is planning a law to make it illegal for local councils, public bodies and even some university student unions to carry out boycotts. Under the plan all publicly funded institutions will lose the freedom to refuse to buy goods and services as part of a political campaign. It's said that any public bodies that continue to pursue boycotts will face "severe penalties." The government believes cracking down on town-hall boycotts is justified because they undermine good community relations, poison and polarise debate and fuel anti-Semitism. Beyond the narrow principle of what tax payers money should be spent on, what is wrong with a group of citizens organising to express their moral, philosophical or political objection to a company or country through their economic, intellectual or cultural power? Such boycotts have in the past been very effective. If every pound we spend can on some level be seen as an expression of our individual moral codes, why should we not have a say on where money is spent on our behalf? Are boycotts misguided empty political gestures more designed to make us feel self-righteous? And even if they are is outlawing them justified? Banning the boycott - the Moral Maze. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox and Jill Kirby.


Charity in the UK is big business. There are over 165,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission, and the total annual income of the sector is more than £100 billion. But what should they be allowed to spend their money on? The government has just announced that charities which receive state grants will not be allowed to spend any of that tax payers cash on political campaigning. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has described the change as "draconian" and will amount to "gagging" them. There is a lot at stake. Charities get £13 billion pounds a year from national or local government. Figures from the National Audit Office show that that money makes up well over a half of the annual income of many well-known charities. Being a prophetic witness has always been a key aspect of what charities do. Campaigning and political activity is a vital part of that, but should it be funded by us the taxpayer, whether by direct grants or via the tax breaks that are part of charitable status. Or do we need to rethink our definition of what is and isn't a charity? If public schools can qualify for charitable status, why not campaigning groups like "Liberty"? With headlines about aggressive fund raising tactics of some organisations, the charity halo has become somewhat tarnished in recent times. But do we have an outdated "Lady Bountiful" view of what charities are for? If we want our charities to make a difference is it time to accept that they need to apply all the modern commercial tools you'd expect from such a large industry. Or, in their rush for influence and impact, have charities lost site of the personal relationships, responsibilities and trust that lie at the heart of altruism? What should charity be for? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Andy Benson, Debra Allcock-Tyler, Christopher Snowdon and Craig Bennett.

Selfie Culture  

The wobbly mobile phone footage and someone calling out "you ain't no Muslim bruv" has given us a powerful rallying cry. It was filmed by a bystander as police restrained a man who's since been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. What it doesn't show is how one very brave man fought to try and disarm the attacker, while people stood around filming it all on their phones. Mobile phone footage has now become a staple of our news and not so private lives. Which one of us hasn't clicked on a link and experienced a vicarious thrill from watching the latest talked about clip of death, disaster or embarrassment? It is undeniably useful too, but what are the moral consequences of videoing and displaying everything in public? Does looking through the prism of a phone camera create a kind of moral distance that atrophies human capacities like empathy, compassion and self--reflection? The instinct to say 'I was there' is immensely strong, but earlier this year there were a number of cases bystanders filming distressed people as they threatened to jump to their deaths. Are we trying to give life meaning by creating a permanent record of it, instead of by thinking more deeply about it and living life in the moment? Is the craze for selfies just a harmless piece of fun or are we gradually being infected with a narcissistic personality disorder? Or is the drive to record everything and to make our lives public, part of what makes us human? And mobile phone footage is just today's equivalent of ancient cave paintings of hunting scenes? Live our life on film - the Moral Maze. Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser, Anne McElvoy and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Madeleine Bunting, Jane Finnis, James Temperton and Justine Hardy.

Moral Certainty  

We live in a complex world where it's often hard to know what's the right thing to do - the right thought to think. But there are increasing sectors of our public discourse where any sense of moral ambivalence or doubt will not be tolerated. Race, homosexuality, child abuse are just some of the touchstones where any expression of doubt is often pounced on and hounded out, especially on social media. Our Moral Maze this week isn't about freedom of speech, or political correctness; it's about the moral value of certainty. We prize and reward moral certainty and consistency, especially in politics, but also business and even sport. Any expression of doubt is seen as weakness - even moral turpitude. Is this a good way of binding society with a set of common values? Or is the public shaming that follows the transgression of those boundaries not so much about morality, but ensuring conformity that itself is a kind of prejudice? Do we need a bit more humility about our moral certainties? Or would that mean bowing thoughtlessly to the latest fashionable cause? Bertold Brecht made the point that doubt is a good servant but a bad master. In an uncertain world if we don't stick to our values do we risk indecisive moral paralysis? Chaired by David Aaronovitch with Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Michael Portillo and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Iain McGilchrist, Katie Hopkins, Professor Andrew Samuels and Ben Harris-Quinnery.

Just War and Syria  

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will make his case for bombing ISIL in Syria this week. Some commentators are predicting that, if parliament votes in favour, the raids could start as early as next week. This will mean our going into a coalition not only with France and America but also with Russia - a country that has been a long-standing ally of the Syrian leader President Assad, the man whom we wanted to bomb only two years ago. The adage "my enemy's enemy is my friend" dates back at least to the 4th century BC. It might be harsh to say that we're basing our foreign policy on an ancient proverb from a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft, but it's hard to avoid the parallels. Is it, though, a moral justification for going to war? On the Moral Maze this week we discuss what is meant by the phrase "just war" and the morality of pacifism. Has the pacifist case been heard enough? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Giles Fraser, Michael Portillo and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Dr Alexander Moseley, Richard Norman, Helen Drewery and Richard Streatfield.

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