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As anyone associated with the RSA knows the organisation is held together by ‘my’ PA Barbara Corbett. It may be to cope with being the lynchpin of the organisation or more likely the strain of working for me but Barbara finds an outlet in an understated but razor sharp sense of humour.

Her unofficial blogs are treasured samizdat documents passed from one giggling colleague to another. Their theme is what might kindly be called my idiosyncratic style of management. I don’t know why but she seems to find my ranting and raving, lack of manners, tendency to change into or out of my running gear during high level meetings and general unreliability disconcerting.

So Barbara couldn’t resist the opportunity offered by me being asked to appear as a panellist on a Radio Four series. “You’ve been invited to appear on ‘Moral Maze’, or as it will henceforward be named, simply ‘Maze’” was her text message to me on holiday.

Barbara won’t be surprised that I am approaching this daunting broadcasting challenge (the programme is live and I will be appearing alongside veterans of the show) by refreshing my philosophical pragmatism.

For me the guides to judgement in moral dilemmas are clarity, consistency and utility. By this I mean that I tend to turn these dilemmas into the prosaic question; given the objectives we have agreed what way of arranging things from those realistically available is most likely to meet those objectives?

A second predisposition I hope to bring is a reversal of the way we often think about philosophical judgements and personal decisions.

The tendency is to think of moral judgements based on philosophical categories as being of a higher order than the messier more pragmatic ways in which most of us tend to deal with dilemmas in our own lives.

But in relation to many issues, especially those which invite us to pass judgement on others, I find it more useful to start by thinking about how we might cope if these issues affected our own lives directly.

How we deal with issues practically and concretely might tell us more about what way of doing things is most likely to align with human capacity and aspiration than the attempt to impose categorical imperatives derived from moral philosophising.

Already I can imagine readers trained in philosophy dismayed by my muddled thinking and those who hold strong universal beliefs horrified by my tepid relativism. Feel free to tell me the error of my ways.


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