What is a Human Being?

Posted by: William Mottolese - Sacred Heart Greenwich
Designed for: College/University, High School
Topics Covered: First Eight Chapters of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Free will, technology, human nature
Estimated Time Necessary: Two to Three Class Periods
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Learning Objectives

  • Understanding what it means to be human - Is humanity purely biological? Or are there other components to being human?
Attached PDF

Tool Text

The first half of Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley depicts a socially programmed society in which advances in science and technology have created a world full of people who are biologically human but may not be fully human in other ways.  This lesson sequence can be done after a few days of initial work on the early chapters of the book: ­­ how the text is structured, the major characters, the features of the World State etc. It may also be helpful, but not essential, to have had some preliminary discussions about the concept of free will.


Class Period 1


Journal. Have students begin class by journaling for about ten minutes on what it means to be human.  What is a human being?  What defines a human being as fully human? Is being human merely a biological definition? Or something more?


Share/Discuss. Students are urged to share and discuss what they wrote.


Pair up. Then send the students in pairs into the text to find passages that link to, connect to, corroborate etc. their claims about humanity and the limitations of humanity. Of particular interest are passages that suggest that humanity has in some way been mediated or limited.


CLASS 1 DISCUSSION GOES HERE (see discussion questions below)


Class Period 2


It might be helpful to plan 10 to 20 minutes of context about Aldous Huxley and technology (1910s­30s), or send students to collect some information. Contexts that might be of interest.
WWI and chemical warfare.


  • Huxley’s own experience working in a chemical factory as a young man.
  • The rise of multinational capitalism, consumerism, advertising.
  • The rise of the modern city.
  • Mechanization ­­ automobiles, trains etc.
  • Mass communication technology.


As part of establishing context, watch this clip from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (approximately four minutes).


Watch this second very short film, “I Forgot My Phone” (approximately two minutes)


CLASS 2 DISCUSSION GOES HERE (see discussion questions below)

What is a Human Being?

Have Your Class Watch This Video

Possible Discussion Questions
  1. What claim is the film making about technology? About our human relationships and our humanity?
  2. (Class 1) Do they have free will and what role does free will play in deeming someone fully human?
  3. (Class 1) What is the role of science and technology in shaping the lives of these characters in the novel?
  4. (Class 1) What kinds of anxieties might Huxley have about technology? What kinds of anxieties about technology might you have in your day to day life in 2016?
  5. (Class 2) What did you notice about the film? What Struck You?
  6. (Class 2) How is technology/machinery presented? How does it affect Chaplin?
  7. (Class 2) What are the positives and negatives of technology and technological progress?
  8. Larger Connection. How can technology affect our relationships? Our free will? Our humanity? Think about how you defined it yesterday in class.

Resources for Further Study
  • Philosophy Walk Podcasts - While there are many excellent resources on free will out there, these podcasts by RD Coste are excellent and accessible introductions to the philosophical concept of free will. Listen to one or more of the podcasts on free will from October, 2013

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