As restaurant prices double for the day and the world turns pink and fluffy, it's easy to be cynical about February 14th. Romance is a marketable commodity, partly because most of us grow up convinced that our most important aim in life should be to find true love, believing that the perfect partner is out there waiting, if only we can identify him or her, and then it will be hearts and flowers all the way to the grave. You don't have to be starry-eyed to argue that this vision of romantic love is a good thing; it holds families together, it inspires hard work and virtuous behaviour - and it affects the chemistry of the brain in a way that is similar, it seems, to cocaine. There is an alternative point of view; romantic love was invented a mere five hundred years ago and has been a nuisance ever since. In this view, a couple's aspiration to remain together and faithful until death do them part (which gets more ambitious as people tend to live for so much longer) is an unrealistic ideal; it under-values both shorter-term and less exclusive relationships, and it causes unnecessary family breakdowns over infidelities that ought to be forgiven - if not indeed permitted. Is Saint Valentine the harbinger of human happiness - or the devil in disguise? Witnesses are Katie Fforde, Prof Simon May, Dr Julia Carter and Andrew G Marshall.
The Objectification of Women
That rich men attract beautiful women - and vice versa - has for centuries been obvious and unquestioned. Suddenly a few noisy scandals have started a social avalanche that some call the new puritanism. In the past week Formula 1 racing has abolished the 'grid girls' whose role had been to look glamorous in the company of racing drivers; the Professional Darts Corporation, in consultation with BBC TV, has done away with the 'walk-on girls' who had provided a similar service for the masters of the triple-twenty; and the UK's gambling regulator has threatened to boycott the world's largest gambling industry conference, accusing exhibitors of using 'scantily clad' women to attract people to their product displays. Reaching back into Victorian times for things to tut about, Manchester Art Gallery last week removed from display Waterhouse's painting 'Hylas and the Nymphs' - then, after a public outcry, put it back. Feminists such as Janet Street-Porter have welcomed all this. 'At last,' she says, 'we're moving out of the stone age.' Others think what women choose to do with their bodies is their own business, be they prostitutes, lap-dancers, fashion models or pretty waitresses flirting for tips. Do we want a world in which it's as bad to employ women for their looks as it would be to discriminate on the basis of race or religion? The objectification of women - our Moral Maze this week. Chaired by Michael Buerk, with Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips and Giles Fraser.
The Morality of 2017
2017 has been a year of sex scandals and toppled reputations; trigger-happy tweeting and polarising rhetoric; 'remoaners' and 'Brexiteers behaving badly'; 'no-platforming', 'safe spaces' and 'snowflakes'. This year some cherished values - among them free speech, accountability, democracy, sovereignty and the rule of law - have been called into question as never before. For this final Moral Maze of the year, we're inviting our four panellists to nominate their "most important moral issue of 2017" and to face witnesses who passionately disagree with them. Here are some moral questions to consider. First, as round one of Brexit talks draws to a close, is the entrenched behaviour of the various camps making it impossible to deliver a good deal for anyone? Second, in the wake of the Weinstein and Westminster revelations, while we are appalled by crimes of sexual abuse and applaud the bravery of victims who come forward to report them, have we overlooked the moral consequences of making unsubstantiated accusations against public figures? Third, as we debate whether or not to pull down the statues that celebrate our colonial past - such as that of the controversial imperialist Cecil Rhodes - how can we reconcile our history with our identity? Finally, are university 'safe spaces' an important protection for vulnerable minorities or a shameful example of blinkered intolerance? 2017: moral maze or moral minefield? Witnesses are Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Peter Saunders, Richard Tice and Maya Goodfellow.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
The Institution of Marriage
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement was announced this week after a frenzy of speculation. We are used to media excitement about the personal lives of young royals, but perhaps this also says something about the value we still place in the institution of marriage. At the same time, the fact that nobody seems to mind that Ms Markle is divorced suggests an acceptance that relationships are more complex than they used to be, and that divorce no longer carries any great social stigma. Beyond the traditions and expectations of the royal family, the reality is that the number of unmarried couples living together in Britain has more than doubled in the last two decades, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. In that time, some may lament the fact that fewer people are getting married, but it is also the case that fewer people are getting divorced. It's seldom easy to end a marriage, and there is now a campaign to ease the pain by introducing quicker and simpler 'no-fault' settlements. Such a move received the backing this week of Britain's most senior judge Baroness Hale, who also believes co-habiting couples should have greater legal protection when their relationships break down. Her supporters say long-drawn-out divorces are more likely to have harmful consequences for children, while improving the legal status to non-married couples is a necessary step towards a fairer society. Her opponents say these measures would weaken the institution of marriage, which they see as an important public declaration by two people (whether of the same or opposite sex) promoting stable relationships, commitment and self-sacrifice. Is marriage still a moral cornerstone of society? Should it continue to have a special legal status and be incentivised with tax breaks? Or is the traditional ideal of the nuclear family, bound together by marriage, both patronising and outdated?
Producer: Dan Tierney.
The Morality of Artificial Intelligence
Driverless cars could be on UK roads within four years under government plans to invest in the sector. The Chancellor Philip Hammond said "We have to embrace these technologies if we want the UK to lead the next industrial revolution". At the thick end of the wedge, Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk believes artificial intelligence is "a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation". AI is changing our lives here and now, whether we like it or not. Computer algorithms decide our credit rating and the terms on which we can borrow money; they decide how political campaigns are run and what adverts we see; they have increased the power and prevalence of fake news; through dating apps they even decide who we might date and therefore who we're likely to marry. As the technology gathers pace, should we apply the brakes or trustingly freewheel into the future? For those inclined to worry, there's a lot to worry about; not least the idea of letting robot weapons systems loose on the battlefield or the potential cost of mass automation on society. Should we let machines decide whether a child should be taken into care or empanel them to weigh the evidence in criminal trials? Robots may never be capable of empathy, but perhaps they could be fairer in certain decisions than humans; free of emotional baggage, they might thus be more 'moral'. Even if machines were to make 'moral' decisions on our behalf, according to whose morality should they be programmed? Most aircraft are piloted by computers most of the time, but we still feel safer with a human in the cockpit. Do we really want to be a 'driverless' society?
Producer: Dan Tierney.