Western democracies pride themselves on their humanistic values founded on religious and philosophical principles. The constant threat of terrorist attacks, perpetrated by young men prepared to embrace mass murder and death has revived the debate around the role of teachers and the vital importance of imparting moral values to all generations of pupils, irrespective of their religious creed and background. Part of the task of philosophy teachers is precisely to introduce future generations of responsible citizens to a range of philosophical moral positions from which every pupil can later draw his or her moral inspiration.
The greatest works of world literature give direct access to the minds of characters caught in a moral dilemma such as Dr Rieux’ dri5ven by his love for humanity in Camus’ ‘The Plague’ or Raskolnikov giving in to the temptation of a gratuitous murder. Literature has this advantage over philosophy that the former can develop evil scenarios and portray individuals and societies in the grips of forces imposing a moral vacuum. Such is the case in Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. In both dystopian novels, the reader is invited to assume the moral dilemmas facing a hero trapped in a nightmarish existence. What literature offers in terms of moral frameworks or amoral examples, philosophy presents in the more dispassionate context of logical analysis. Studying Kant’s categorical imperative or Augustine’s conception of good and evil are central to a sound understanding of the variety of human motivations. Yet, great literature gives us the unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of the darker side of the soul and hence, acquire a more rounded knowledge of our complex human nature.