Individual and Social Ethics

The inaugural Reith Lecturer is the philosopher, mathematician, and social reformer Bertrand Russell. One of the founders of analytic philosophy and a Nobel Laureate, he is the author of Principia Mathematica, and the bestselling History of Western Philosophy, written in 1946. His Reith lecture series is entitled 'Authority and the Individual'.

In his final lecture, entitled 'Individual and Social Ethics', he relates social and political doctrines to the individual ethics by which people guide their personal lives. He argues that Man needs a sense of personal morality to guide his conduct, and must learn to be critical of tribal customs and beliefs that may be generally accepted amongst his neighbours. Primitive impulses, he says, can find harmless outlets in adventure and creation. He suggests that Man has always been subject to two miseries: firstly, those imposed by external nature which are now largely diminished by science; and secondly, those that men inflict on each other, such as through war. Russell rejects the argument that human nature demands war, believing instead that the greed for possession will lessen as the fear of destitution is removed from society.

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Sun 30 Jan 1949 09:00

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Dame Hilary Mantel will deliver the BBC Reith Lectures in spring 2017

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Reflecting on the writer whose work includes short stories and historical fiction.