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The Psychology of Morality

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Michael Portillo, Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy and Melanie Phillips.

Go on - admit it. You like to feel you're above average. Don't worry. We all like to feel we're somehow special - that our gifts make us stand out from - and above - the crowd. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as positive illusion. It's the sort of self-deception that helps maintain our self-esteem; a white lie we tell ourselves. The classic example is driving: the majority of people regard themselves as more skilful and less risky than the average driver. But research just published shows that this characteristic isn't confined to skills like driving. Experiments carried out by psychologists at London's Royal Holloway University found most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous and moral and yet regard the average person as - well, how shall we put it politely? Let's just say - distinctly less so. Virtually all the those taking part irrationally inflated their moral qualities. Worse, the positive illusion of moral superiority is much stronger and more prevalent than any other form of positive illusion. Now, as a programme that's been testing our nation's moral fibre for more than 25 years, we feel this is something we're uniquely qualified to talk about. Well, we would wouldn't we? So, if we can't entirely rely on our own calibration to judge a person's moral worth, how should we go about it? Is the answer better and clearer rules, a kind of updated list of commandments? There might need to be a lot more than ten though. Does legal always mean moral? In a world that is becoming increasingly fractious, being less morally judgmental sounds attractive, but if we accept that morality is merely a matter of cognitive bias, do we take the first step on the road to moral relativism? The Moral Maze - making moral judgements so you don't have to. Witnesses are David Oderberg, Michael Frohlich, Anne Atkins and Julian Savulescu.

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43 minutes

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