Main content

Science and morality

David Aaronovitch asks what can science tells us about our morals?

You wouldn't have thought that a book on the latest discoveries in the science of human behaviour would be high on the reading lists of politicians, but think again. David Brooks' The Social Animal is required reading for politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. When he visited the UK a couple of weeks ago he had meetings with both the Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party. Politicians, it seems, are increasingly turning to disciplines like neuroscience and evolutionary anthropology to understand why we do things, so they can better tailor and design policies that will work in the real world. That all sounds very sensible, but how far should we take this new found enthusiasm for scientifically designed political policies? As science increasingly begins to explain our behaviour it is also challenging our assumptions about moral and social values. For millennia our moral reasoning has been guided by first principles - theology and philosophy. Should we embrace rather than fear the knowledge science brings as it helps unravel some of morality's muddles that have so far defeated our greatest thinkers? We almost un-questioningly accept that science can be used to improve our physical wellbeing, but why shouldn't it be used to make us better people? If neuroscience can change our understanding of human behaviour - and misbehaviour - why should it not be used to frame our laws, our ethics, our morality, to make the world a better place?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by David Aaronovitch with Claire Fox, Clifford Longley, Kenan Malik and Matthew Taylor.

Available now

45 minutes


The Evidence Toolkit

The Evidence Toolkit

Check out the claims made in news stories with this interactive tool.