The Essence of Good and Evil: A Socratic Seminar Using Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness
“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast. . . . Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! . . . You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?”
–Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The complexity at humanity’s core cannot be boiled down to the argument of “is man good or evil.” Because of this fact, the conversations had by students during the Socratic seminar on the topic using a collection of fiction, non-fiction, and multimedia sources (planned with Susan Turley) were complex. For the unit, we utilized the students-coaching students model where students received feedback from one another throughout the process.
Here were questions for the seminar (also listed in the Resources at the bottom of the post as a Word document:
- Is man inherently good or inherently evil?
- What is the definition of “good”? What is the definition of “evil”?
- What does it mean to be civilized?
- What does it mean to be savage?
- What role does religion play in the development of good and evil in society?
- What role does power play in the development of good and evil in society?
- Is morality something that the gods (or God) has made or is in intrinsic to the universe?
- Describe examples of evil from your personal experience, texts or other contexts. What contributed to the evil you perceived?
- Describe examples of good from your personal experience, texts or other contexts. What contributed to the good you perceived?
- Is the society in which we live inherently good or evil?
- How do individuals contribute to societal good?
- How do individuals contribute to societal evil?
- What social structures contribute to the good in individuals?
- What social structures contribute to evil in individuals?
- What factors (environmental or personal) lead to evil in the individual?
- What factors (environmental or personal) lead to good in the individual?
Students were to use Heart of Darkness, “Paradise Lost,” and Lord of the Flies, in addition to the following non-fiction sources:
“What Do We Mean by ‘Evil’” from The New Yorker
- This blog post summarizes the evolution of the word “evil”
“The Marathon Bombings: Lessons on Fear, Good and Bad” from Psychology Today
- An article about the positive and negative effects of fear
- Discusses some ideas on how fear can be somewhat overcome in a society but will always exist
“Bad to the Bone: Are Humans Naturally Aggressive” from Psychology Today
- An article analyzing whether violence has a psychological and physiological basis or not
“The Real Meaning of Good and Evil” from Psychology Today
- This post discusses the human characteristics we identify as good and evil and gives an example from history
- It also discusses how these designations are fluid and should not be applied to individuals holistically
“For all its Flaws, Religion Remains a Force of Good” from The Guardian
- This article argues that religion, like all human enterprise, is flawed but ultimately a force of good for those who want to reflect on themselves and strive to be better individuals.
“Capitalism is Evil; You have to Eliminate It” from The Guardian
- This article documents an interview with Michael Moore about his documentary Capitalism: A Love Story
- The article reveals some really interesting historical information, including a lost speech from Roosevelt that describes an alternative view of what the U.S. should look like
“The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Capitalism” from The New York Times
- This post describes the downfall of immoral capitalism and describes “new capitalism” as a more humane and aware enterprise
“Civilization is Defined by the ‘Others’” from Science Daily
- This press release describes the history of the term “civilization” and “civilized” and describes studies that determine the meaning of these words across cultures
- There is some really interesting information about how Western values (and capitalism) have come to mean civilized and differences in some cultures (Scandinavia for example)
“Religion, Evolution and the Ecstasy of Self Transcendence” a TEDTalk from Jonathan Haidt
- This talk is a multifaceted look at the physiological and historical implications of religious practice and its effects on the individual and group dynamics of humans
“Can Science Answer Moral Questions?” a TEDTalk from Sam Harris
- This talk explains the connection between “values” and “facts”
- It assumes there is a scientific basis for morality
“Capitalism: A Love Story” clip from YouTube
- This clip describes how Walmart takes out an insurance policy on low level employees (called “Dead Peasant” insurance) and profits from their deaths without giving any money to families. It is a piece of the documentary Captialism: A Love Story
Here are the resources:
- Preparation for Socratic Seminar Good Versus Evil
- Socratic Seminar Good Versus Evil Essential Questions and Non-Fiction Sources and Links Handout