Ethos Education

Man of Steel: To what extent is a sense of morality beneficial?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Consider the purpose and value of morality.
  • Understand different concepts of right and wrong.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on the implications of the kill-or-be-killed implications of the natural world.
  • Reflect upon a film clip and assess whether morality is an evolutionary advantage or disadvantage.
  • Understand Christian teaching about humans being made in the image of God, and its consequences regarding moral responsibility.
  • Analyse six different approaches to making moral decisions and apply each to the dilemma from Man of Steel.
  • Apply the six ethical approaches to one or more other hypothetical moral dilemmas.
  • Reflect upon the importance of moral considerations when making decisions.
  • Synthesise learning by describing their own approach to making moral decisions.

STARTER:

Play a game of Apex Predator with the students. You will need to photocopy and cut out sufficient numbers of Species cards and Mutation cards for the students. There are sixteen different Species cards. You will need one Species card for every student (or pair of students) in the lesson (there are sixteen Species cards – more than that would make the game take too long to run for a classroom context), and four copies of the set of Mutation cards.

Explain that you are going to set up an animal eco-system, where they will each represent a different species trying to live, thrive and survive. Explain that in each round of the game they will encounter another species, which may or may not attempt to eat them.

Deal out the Species cards, one card being randomly assigned to each student. The cards tell them how strong, fast and ferocious their species is, as well as what it eats and what kind of terrain – water, land or air – it occupies. You might want to make clear to the students that in the game they represent an entire species, not just one individual animal. That is why they can be killed in any particular round and still play on in subsequent rounds.

Each round, you will randomly pair up the cards by number, and the matched students compare their species. An alternative to randomly pairing numbers is to have half of the class move clockwise round the room while the others remain in their places throughout. The important thing is to find a way of deciding which species encounters which without allowing students to actually choose, enabling them to avoid the ones they know they will lose to.

Each species can score one point for surviving the round, and another point for managing to eat. To determine what happens follow this process:

  • Compare terrain: If neither creature lives in a terrain that the other can occupy, no contact occurs. Both creatures survive (gaining one point); herbivores eat (gaining one point) but carnivores go hungry.
  • If both creatures share the same terrain, they fight. Each adds up its scores for strength, speed and ferocity. The one with the higher score wins.
  • If a carnivore wins, it survives and eats the loser (winner scores two points, loser scores zero points).
  • If a herbivore wins, it chases off the loser (both score one point for surviving, winner scores an additional point for eating the surrounding vegetation).
  • In the event of a draw, both survive but fail to eat (scoring one point each).

After the first round, each student should be randomly assigned a mutation card. This card will allow the species to evolve and develop, making it more or less effective against rival species. Give out new Mutation cards each round, but students can never keep more than two Mutation cards – when they draw their third, they have to decide whether to keep the new one and give up one of their previous ones, or to reject the new card and delay further evolution.

At the end of the game, find out which species has accrued the most points. Ask the winning student why they think their species became the dominant one in the ecosystem. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about the significance of morality as an evolutionary development, and whether it is a good or bad thing.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film Man of Steel (Warner Bros, 2013, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain to the students that aliens from Superman’s home planet of Krypton have arrived and are attacking the Earth. In this scene, Superman (Henry Cavill) takes on two Kryptonians. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what the female alien, Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) says about Superman’s sense of morality.

  • Start time:       1.27.41 (in chapter 10 of the DVD)
  • End time:         1.30.33
  • Clip length:      2 minutes and 52 seconds

The clip starts with the Kryptonians and Superman walking down the street towards one another. The first line is Superman telling passers-by, ‘Get inside. It’s not safe.’ The clip ends with Superman face down in the tarmac. Please note that this clip includes one instance of swearing. For a shorter, non-swearing clip, start at 1.29.21, when Superman and Faora-Ul crash into a diner.

Ask the students whether they agree with Faora-Ul when she tells Superman, ‘The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not, gives us an evolutionary advantage.’ Do the students think that the lack of a sense of morality really is an evolutionary advantage? Are we better off with or without morality?

Ask the students whether they would like to live in a world without morality, a world like the one in the Apex Predator game from the start of the lesson where everything was survival of the fittest, with the losers going hungry or dying. While there are elements of ‘survival of the fittest’ in our society, there are also many safeguards in place to protect the weak and restrict the powerful from abusing their power.

Explain that Christians believe that, unlike other species, humans have a self-aware consciousness that gives rise to a sense of morality. Christians would argue that this self-awareness and moral sense come from humans being made in the image of God (see Genesis 1: 26-28).

Morality can perhaps be defined as how we determine whether something is right or wrong. Although the Christian faith is concerned with these questions, different thought-systems, both religious and non-religious, have also attempted to define morality.

Give out the What Should I Do? Handout sheet and read through it with the students. Ask the students to consider how someone with each of the worldviews described would be likely to respond to Faora-Ul’s claims about morality. This activity could be done either as a whole class exercise led by you, or in small groups. You could also ask the students whether they can recognise their own approach to the dilemma in any of the descriptions on the worksheet.

Ask the students to apply the ethical frameworks from the worksheet to one or more of the following moral dilemmas:

  • In a difficult time for the economy, your parents have lost their jobs and have little or no money coming in. They are struggling to pay household bills and your whole family is going very short of food. You are in a shop and notice that the shop assistants are all too busy to see you. Do you steal some food?
  • You are in charge of the points on a railway line. A train is out of control and is hurtling towards a bus full of passengers, which has stalled on a level crossing. The emergency doors of the bus have jammed making it impossible for anyone to get out. If you switch the points, the train will miss the bus, but will go down another track where a car containing your family is stuck. Do you send the train to kill your family or the bus full of strangers?
  • After a party, a friend of yours who has been drinking heavily all night offers to drive you home. What do you do? Do you try to persuade your friend not to drive? Do you physically restrain him from driving? Do you decline the lift but say nothing? Do you accept the lift?
  • Your next door neighbour is an elderly widow with cancer. You are working as a security guard at a local pharmaceutical company which produces a cancer drug with a high success rate when used to treat this particular form of cancer. Sadly, your neighbour cannot afford the drug and you are unable to raise enough money to pay for the treatment on her behalf. You would be able to create an opportunity to steal sufficient quantities of the drug for her treatment. What should you do?

Ask the students what problems they can see with any of the ethical approaches on the worksheets – which ones tended to produce solutions that the students were particularly unhappy with? Which ones were hard to apply to different situations? Do the students feel that any of the approaches provided a consistently good and useful response to moral decision making?

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, which could be set as a homework task, ask the students to write a short statement explaining how they would approach a difficult moral decision. What factors would they take into account? Could their approach be described, to a greater or lesser extent, by one of the six ethical frameworks described on their worksheet? When they make decisions, how much does whether they are doing ‘the right thing’ matter to them? Finally, ask them to make an assessment – giving reasons for their answer – as to whether human beings are better off with or without a sense of morality.

YOU WILL NEED:

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