Lord of the Flies Lord of the Flies question

Are humans born with morals or does society set it upon us?
Margarita Margarita Jun 05, 2012 02:33PM
I think that humans are not born with morals. I think society is what keeps us from killing one another.

Katrina (last edited Jun 05, 2012 06:47PM ) Jun 05, 2012 06:43PM   2 votes
You've introduced a chicken or the egg argument; which came first, morals or society? Without some inherent morals (or inherent survival instincts), odds are we wouldn't have much of a society.

Human beings are pack animals, like dogs. Like dogs, we must work together to survive. This is instinctive. But, also like dogs, there are bound to be conflicts between members and any number of members who stray outside of the parameters of accepted societal norms.

Would you argue that those who don't accept the doctrines of Christian morals are less moral all-around? That if one doesn't believe in a higher power, they have no morals? Would you argue that society had no concept of morality before Moses received the Ten Commandments?

Well, I believe that people do have instincts for social behavior and survival, but morals, as difference between right and wrong, are in my opinion constructed by our experiences and social norms of a society we live in, adopted through socialization.

This argument reminds me of a question my philosophy teacher asked the class, we are discussing theology at the moment. Is stealing bad because we believe its bad? or because god says its bad? If god was indifferent about stealing, or in an extreme case said it was alright to steal, would it still be morally wrong to steal?

In my opinion we are born immoral, but our genetics and the environment we are raised in affect how we morally develop.

Rebecca Schmidt That's an interesting 'side argument' as well. The commandments say 'thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods' which means not to steal. However, I b ...more
Dec 16, 2012 11:21PM · flag

I believe that one's idea of Right and Wrong is solely the result of societal influence. It so happens (thankfully!) that for most of our history, human society has adopted the mores of 'empathic existence', i.e., put yourself in another's shoes and see if you would prefer to be in their circumstance rather than your own. Put in another way: living by the golden rule. However, as in the cases of so called feral children, or, people raised 'in the wild,' where survival is the modus operandi, and where there is no societal pressure to live empathically, the human animal will develop with 'morals' likely to be in stark contrast to what we all view as acceptable.

deleted member (last edited Jun 05, 2012 03:38PM ) Jun 05, 2012 03:34PM   1 vote
I disagree. I think people have a natural recognition of right and wrong, and that the actions you are talking about in ancient cultures resulted from need.

There is something called 'mirror neurons' that literally make us feel other peoples pain. That's why so many people have trouble looking at injuries. Empathy is in our biology.

I agree with Beth in sofar as that we have a neurological/biological prerequisite for empathy: "mirror neurons". We are able to feel empathy with someone.

But is empathy the same as moral?

I believe we are born with feelings, morals are something society sets up to cater to those feelings. So I think morals can be developed in one shape or form without society in place and evolve with the evolution of what will eventual become a society. Society meaning living and interacting in a life with multiple people. They may evolve to be different than the morals you're used to, but they will be in place with what works in their environment and experiences.

In my opinion, the human animal is born with an innate sense of right and wrong with a tendency to seek that which is right. Society, and its norms, are an ongoing evolving affair premised upon the innate understanding of right and wrong. That's what makes the human animal so unique. We have the ability of judgement to choose one from the other. Consequently, the norms and mores of society have become the end result of eons of evolutionary development; and continues to evolve.

Scott (last edited Oct 13, 2012 12:57AM ) Oct 07, 2012 05:06AM   0 votes
I believe it's both, like language. We are hard-wired to learn morals. Then we learn those morals from society. Without the hard-wiring capacity, no amount of societal influence would produce a morally aware person. On the other hand, even with hard-wiring, unless there is moral input, nothing develops.

So in essence I believe that morality is a case of irreducible complexity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreduci...) . Though this concept is usually applied to biological systems, the biblical framework of morality and its development fits. It takes all parts of the system working together, and no one part could have come before the others.

I'm kind of late to this party and it looks like people have already explored this pretty well. But I will take the side of those who say we are borne with morals. The best argument for that, in my opinion, is that if it were not for a basic capacity for right and wrong, there would be no basis for "society" in the sense of rules and governing behavior.

But I think the best argument for humanity's inconsistent behavior comes from Arthur Koestler. He basically said that the problem with the human brain is that it's basically a conglomeration of parts. You have the cerebral portion on top of the latent/emotional portion on top of the purely instinctive portion. It's like a primate brain on top of a mammal brain on top of a lizard brain.

The conflicting nature of these three areas, between reason, emotion, and atavistic impulses, is what ultimately leads us to be selfless and loving one moment, brutal and ruthless the next.

I definitely have to say I think how people are raised is where their morals come from.

it objectively impossible to know how humans are born. However, the society does impose a certain type of morality to people. Yet, people, through their own life, come up with their own versions of morality, through experience and thought.

So, the question is, where does society's understanding of morality comes from? This makes me think that there is some sort of innate moral code in human beings (conscience?), since there is some sort of universality of ethics in different societies.

deleted member Dec 18, 2012 09:06PM   0 votes
I believe that there are "universal" beliefs and morals that people intrinsically know -- such as "don't kill/injure innocent people," "don't do things to people that they don't want done," "don't steal peoples' stuff," "don't make too many enemies," etc. All of those are survival things and just generally obvious.
You know, if you walk up to someone and hit them with a club, that person and their allies are going to eventually come back for revenge. If you grab something of someone's and run away, they'll come looking. If you piss someone off, they'll strike back. It's just very basic stuff that even animals know about.

However, the more complex aspects of "morality"/"ethics" are often mainly subjective and formed based on the society one is raised in.

This is an unanswerabe question, because we are all born into a society, it is part of who we are. Moral virtues and transgressions are inbuilt into that society, and are therefore intrinsinc to who we are as we are. Where we are in that society, the place we see for ourselves in the pack largely determines what we see as immoral I think. If you feel alienated from mainstream society, for example, you may adopt a different set of morals or beliefs to gain acceptance in a sub-culture e.g a gang or something similar. Your rules adapt to that of the group you can gain the highest staus in. (slightly randm thought interjection there - sorry about that)

deleted member Aug 18, 2012 08:43AM   0 votes
Margarita wrote: "I think that humans are not born with morals. I think society is what keeps us from killing one another."

I disagree with your statement. I believe that every human has a guilty concious which enables them to know what's right and what isn't. This gives way to morals.

deleted member Apr 24, 2013 03:22PM   0 votes
I think humans are born with only the will to survive, no matter how savagely. This would mean innately, they are born with no morals. However, perhaps the first means to survival are community, cooperation and conformity. With these come the need to respect and help those with which one lives, specialize and, yes, develop a society with morals and expectations for behavior. Man is an intellectual enough creature that this development seems inevitable, so my answer is twofold: no, we are not born with morals, but they will always develop. Unlike almost all other natural tendencies, it seems in this case order comes out of chaos.

I believe ethics are born into every being. Whatever the society and pack seems ethical or harmful for the whole at the time is the ethics of that pack. This of course will change over and over again. These are based on who's majority or societal expansion of thoughts and needs. What's deemed bad today, excellent tomorrow, then tossed again. Then comes the individual ethics each being follows on their own precedence. Owning only to itself. cause and effect helps with this.

Man invented religon to act as a means of societial control. It was through the belief in a "higher" entity that certian behaviors were enforced while others frowned upon.

Isn't morality forced upon us by an omnipotent god? The Bible is our guide to morality and thus any non-believers of Christ are deemed immoral. It's not possible that morality is a transient state of personal conduct agreed upon by a group of people living in close proximity, with the intended aim of creating a harmonious living environment so all my prosper and live in peace.

I think it's impossible-for me at least- to separate out morality from society. A child will learn its culture including morals. Morals change depending on the society-for some dancing is evil, for others it is fun. For some to kill for a just cause, according to the society, is right and moral. For others all killing is wrong.
A baby learns these rules and as an adult either decides to abide by them or not.
I think that compassion is much stronger than any prevalent moral code and would like to think that compassion is innate. But fear I am wrong.

Rachel (last edited Jun 10, 2012 10:09AM ) Jun 07, 2012 12:48PM   0 votes
I think it's both, if someone was deserted on an island and grew up they would create their own morals, on the other hand we do adopt morals from others in society. Also, people go against their morals all the time, and they must learn that from others. In addition, society doesn't stop us from killing each other, they encourage us, ex: the death penalty. They show us that if you something wrong you need to be punished and the most extreme punishment is death. Take police officers for example, they sometimes kill criminals but they make it OK because they were criminals.

Morals are influenced by a person's background and everyone's morals are different. Some people are mainly concerned about the results of an action in question while others are concerned about the act itself.

It's simpler to say what we are hardwired to be social animals and when we are put in social settings, we tend to conform to behaviors that let us function as a social group. We socialize and get socialized into community behaviors, and these behaviors become what's right, and deviating from them is wrong.

We see this in the creation of subgroups within dominant culture (gang cultures, student houses, police departments, etc) and we see it in psychology (Stanford Prison Experiment, groupthink, etc), so you don't actually have to look for absence of civilization to see these trends. Of course, if you really do wanna look for basics, feral children and children raised in neglected orphanages develop language and group behavior rules (a kind of moral code).

Also, whenever we have a conversation about morals and whether we're born with them or not, it begs the question of, "Whose morals?" and "What moral system are we talking about?" Morality is fluid. Even very easy examples such as "It's immoral to kill other human beings" get all sorts of caveats, from death penalties, to killing in self-defense, to serving in the armed forces where you're expected to heroically kill other human beings.

So, maybe a better question is, if we're born with morals, what morals are these?

Tarzan and Moglie, both had good morals = kill or be killed. Law of the jungle. Just a survival instinct, so higher morals are taught. Social behavior, is justified when you get humgrey enough.

I've not read everybody's comments on this, so if i have repeated anything anyone has said, i apologise. I think that society does set it upon us beacause, it's like, when we're born, we don't know how to talk and we dont really know any language (except, i suppose, what we pick up on whilst we are in the womb) and thats something we learn how to do from copying parents and being taaught and everything we know is becuase we've been taught it or we've learned about it one way or another. we never just know anything. so i personally dont see how knowing what is 'moral' and not could really be any different...

Evolutionary psychology tells us that those with an inherent ability to recognize and perform pro-social behaviors (in other words, behave morally) had greater reproductive success. Therefore, these traits have survived to the present day. Even young toddlers display an ability for empathy. There's little question that morality is an inborn trait.

What society does is expand the definitions of what actions are immoral. Sadly, much of this is based on regulation of sexual behavior and other actions that harm none, while actions that clearly are harmful are often lauded. This creates a struggle in the intelligent mind between what one innately knows as right and the messages given by society.

In Lord of the Flies, the boys have spent years in the British upper-class boarding school culture. This is an atmosphere that has been widely criticized for promotion of bullying and a "might makes right" mindset.

Morality is something we learn.


It seems to me we are born physically & morally naked....Society shapes & maintains what we become.


J Jun 10, 2012 07:05AM   0 votes
Great topic and conversation, Let's add something. If the person were from birth taught to cheat, lie, steal, and kill , the person growing up would believe that it is right to do that. Or, would the person have a conflict over their 'born' morals ?

In Russian orphanages there are children (many thousands of them) raised without love, without touch, and without moral guidance. They are raised as nearly starving animals chained to a bed with no education and very little interaction. Consequently, they develop almost no moral compass or empathy. Sometimes they can't even develop speech, no matter the intervention. There is a modern term for it, detachment disorder. It, more or less, proves we (humans) are born empty vessels. Morality is learned. That's why it changes over time and is different for different cultures.

Could it be that those who believe morality (the "good" in us) is intrinsic fear the true nature of humans the most? What could be scarier than an intelligent thinking animal such as a human roaming the earth with no moral compass, dominating and killing with no purpose other than self interest, with no rule book and no remorse? Or what about the person who can kill, rape and torture only to then go home and love their family equally well? Isn't that why, as readers of literature, we need our "evil" characters to act with some predetermined code of ethics, behavior and/or purpose? Or, if not that, then the evil doer must in the end change and learn and become good somehow? Without these two tropes most people are cast into a sea of uncertainty; and it is fascinating to hear them say, "This is pointless, I would rather the character be killed than read one more word." A good example of this is The Painted Bird. Many people react to it saying it has no meaning. The violence isn't "sexy" like in American Psycho or Silence of the Lambs, so where's the entertainment? There isn't any redemption, justice or morality tale they say, so what's the point? The point is that humans (everyday people) are capable of, and do commit, the deepest darkest horrors for no real reason. It's the scariest aspect of life, apart from death, that I can imagine.

I don't wanna get in the discussion of feral children, but that's how it can be sometime.

I think society is both good and evil. It's a matter of picking short term sacrifice for long term sacrifice and vice versa.


Neither. We create morals through our actions.

Another behavioristic vs. humanistic debate

Humans have the ability to distinguish right from wrong. That sets us apart from other living creatures.
the society affects the way we perceive things, yes. But society will not exist without people who can define and set morals.

Frans De Wall has written widely, and brilliantly, on the evolutionary mandate for morals and ethics.
Here's he wiki page on him that has a list of his books and articles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_de...

I really think morals and ethics are instilled rather than born with us.

I agree with Sarah, in some ancient cultures it was alright to kill. Some cultures that practice this aren't even that old.

Roman gladiators were worshipped for murdering other humans and amazing beasts, many enslaved and forced to fight against their will, and openly innocent of any crime. Beheadings were prime entertainment throughout Europe for 100's of years, hangings and lynchings were even recently popular in the United States, whose caucasian culture embraced such things.

I have to disagree that it hasnt been right in any culture to "kill one's kin" as plenty of cultures in Southeast Asia and the Middle East embrace the idea's of Honor Killings, whose justification is usually rather scant, but is kept alive through a cultural conception that it's not wrong to kill a person who lowers your families value or status.

Moral ground is created by society - thats something you can easily see when something like a riot brakes out. People start doing whatever they please, taking whatever they want, and harming others. The value of right and wrong in my opinion is only what we've made to believe it is.

Many people think it is wrong for homosexuals to exist publically (or at all) where as others believe it is their right to do so, if we were born with an innate ability to know right from wrong, there wouldnt be disagreements.

Looking within the scope of LOTF, I'd say it's a societal conditioning. Note how the littluns are never quite on one side or the other? I think that's because they haven't been conditioned enough to have a sense of right or wrong. It follows that the ones without considerable societal conditioning were morally ambivalent.

There are some very recent studies that have been performed on 3 month old babies. They actually exhibit the ability to favor right over wrong. However, their desire to "belong" within a pier group over-rides the "right". Hence, racism!
Don't know what info they get while still in the womb.

Society couldn't impose morals on people if the capacity for morality did not already exist. What we learn are the rules, how to function in a society. Once we learn them, the rules are part of us, it can be stressful to have to change our rules. Moral rules would not come as easily for a hypothetical intelligent alligator. One of the rules that seems to be common in all societies is you don't kill people in the group who are in good standing. Honor killing is abhorrent, but the people killed are considered to not be in good standing with the group. Honor killing is seriously maladaptive, as you reduce your chances of further descendants. But the pressures of the group to conform can be extreme. In some societies, to not engage in honor killings in certain circumstances can result in punishment from the group. That gets so deeply ingrained, that some will engage in honor killings even when the emigrate to a country where there is no such societal pressure.Humans are social creatures, and we're much better off in a society. People in a society can accomplish things that a hermit never could. But the group can also work against its members, such as honor killing.

Virtually every society kills. What differs is who is acceptable to kill and in what circumstances. Plenty of people are appalled by what they execute people for in some other country, but eagerly accept executions in their own country. Some people will consider other people's wars barbaric, but will cheer their country's wars.

Prohbition on stealing, at least from members of the group in good standing are common. What constitutes stealing depends on how that society views property. There are some societies where it is expected that you will take something, but that isn't considered stealing. In some societies, people had the right to glean from fields. They could take what they could eat right there, but couldn't take a loaded basket with them. When that is accepted, it's not considered stealing.

I'm with Beth. Ðavid Hume put this for in the mid eighteenth century. For a more modern philosophical take on empathy and ethics see some of Michael Slote's recent books on ethics of care. Worth the read.

I would suggest that the difference between the past and the present is an issue of identification. In the past, people were empathetic with their own, family, friends, neighbours, co-religionists, ethnic group. Now, most of us have a larger sense of identity. We see a starving child with its mother in Africa and feel empathy. Sometimes we even send money. In Western society, we no longer feel free to rob, kill, enslave those we perceive as being different from us.

This is not to say that we won't rob, steal, or enslave given the right conditions. We would just have to relearn how to dehumanize others...or feel really guilty all of the time. No matter how we feel about the death penalty today, that can easily change when we read the court room horrors of the child sex molester/killer.

I vote for morality being taught by society. Language is an important factor as well.

Val Walton I agree about basic commands-dogs and children. Words may not be necessary. Even for good things like love and compassion.
But so much of morality is
Oct 30, 2012 06:29PM · flag

deleted member Jun 07, 2012 12:46PM   0 votes
Society is born of man so it's a moot question.

Think of The Road. The Boy was born into a world that seemed to lack that human morality, yet he still possessed the ability to know right from wrong, good from bad... I believe he was born with morals whereas the Man had to learn on his own in order to protect his son.
So maybe it works both ways, I'm not sure

Christopher Hitchens said it best; we would not have survived this long, or got this far without human solidarity.

The children in Lord of the Flies were educated in an all-boys private school, ironically known as 'public' schools in the UK. If the class-ridden educational system produces amoral power-hungry brutes, is that so surprising? Only the imposition of even more forceful authority can save society from anarchy, is the message of the book.

another humanistism vs. behaviorism debate

Humans have the ability to distinguish right from wrong. that sets us apart from other living creatures. society affects the way we perceive and respond to things, but society would have never existed without people who can define and set morals.

You raise a good point. I don't know much about this sort of thing, but I must say that while sociological factors will always cause some of our behaviour, we do have in-built primal instincts. Part of morality is protection, and this can be seen as a primal instinct. So I believe that while society definitely encourages morality, that doesn't necessarily mean it is the cause of it.

Instincts for social behavior, procreation, and defending kin or "group" exists in most of us at birth. Without having much neurological or social science background, for this layperson, it seems that society plays a role in attempting to control behaviors, procreation, and how to define "group." I would consider these controls to be what we call morals or ethics.

For the time being, I am posting here to follow the discussion and appreciate book recommendations.

I don't think it is as much the question whether humans are born with morals as much as it is "will they actively choose to follow them?".

I personally believe that all humans (notwithstanding mental illnesses and the like of course), are born with an inner moral compass of basic right and wrong. I do believe that this compass however is greatly influenced by the society they live in, their parental upbringing, their experiences etc.

Recent studies show babies display a sense of morals at just 6 months of age. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/artic...

History has proven that on the whole, if left alone, a society will break down over time without morals being enforced & upheld in some organized way (clearly being depicted in the book).

Sadly, our darkest chapters prove that humans are capable of ignoring their inner moral compass if their society, or authorities/superiors condone it. (Take the horific example of nazi Germany, & let's say on the opposing side the cleansing of the Baltic regions). HOWEVER, in every case in which the majority had lost sight of their moral compass, you will find individuals among them who refused to do so, even if it costs them their life. It is possible. Yet sadly not enough of us act on it, we simply observe. In many situations, upholding morals takes action, not just compliance.

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