General Question

whiteliondreams's avatar

Why are humans thought to be good, if...?

Asked by whiteliondreams (1717points) August 6th, 2012

Why are humans thought to be socio-sensibly good, if “the fundamental institution of morals into society is to impede many of our natural propensities in order to avert the chaotic unruliness that may arise from them” (QCC, 2002)?

If many people believe that human nature is good willed, then how practical is the belief when we need morals to live among one another? How equal is equality without opportunity, and if opportunity is made avail, how equal is the opportunity to each, if each individual is different? Are humans still savage in so much that we require extra-governed temperance in the fashion of laws, mores, norms, and morals?

I’m starving to understand our animalistic nature and our convergence to being identified as humane creatures of cognition.

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17 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Some humans are good (I suspect most of us) and some are evil. Some have morals and some have none.

Morals codify the innate goodness of human beings and give us “rules” of conduct that allow us to live among one another.

digitalimpression's avatar

I think that one of mankinds inherent desires is to survive. In order to survive (by whatever scale each individual uses) mankind has done and will do things that are outside of the norm and the boundaries of morals and law.

I don’t believe that all humans are inherently good . I believe that all humans are inherently (though not necessarily in equal parts) good and bad.

A number of things tip the scales in one direction or another. E.G. There have been a few studies that show that religious people are less likely to commit suicide than non-religious people. Of course, they are just studies.. but it’s an example. There are too many factors to list that can effect this balance between good and evil.

As another example: One child who is abused growing up may continue this trend and abuse their own children. Another child in a similar situation may develop a strong sense of morality to prevent such a thing from happening.

Therefore, imho, it is impossible to generalize mankind in such a way. Mankind is at once generally good.. and generally bad.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@digitalimpression Thanks, great answer! You brought up a new perspective, which reminded me of Aristotle’s Doctrine of the mean. What would be the mean-virtue of “goodness” and “evil” if humans were at a natural state of neutrality? Would goodness become a vice wherein a vice is egoistic, thus goodness is an egoistic state and evil another egoistic state? This is for arguments sake and please no one take this personal. I’m quite disappointed that so many people take things here so seriously, especially since it’s simply a forum. Can we not discuss things and learn from each other?

LostInParadise's avatar

There are practical reasons for being moral. Suppose, for example, that a person has a shop and sells shoddy merchandise. He loses his old customers and, due to word of mouth, he misses out on getting new customers. He eventually goes out of business. Now consider a person who pays with counterfeit money. Again, even without considering possible police action, the person’s reputation suffers and people will eventually refuse to do business with him. When customer and shop keeper conduct a transaction, they both benefit from acting in good faith. There are plenty of similar kinds of examples.

Regarding altruistic behavior, there are two competing theories, one of kin selection, based on helping people who share your genes, and the other, which I prefer, of group selection. The theory of group selection says that a person in one group may succeed by pursuing his own selfish interests. A second group may have an altruism gene that encourages people to make sacrifices for the greater good. When the two groups compete, the second will prevail, helping to spread the altruism gene.

CWOTUS's avatar

Morals are nothing more than “rules for right living” – in the particular culture.

Some people understand these rules and have internalized them to an extent that they don’t need to query every action (or potential reaction) in a situation to decide on what to do: they do the thing that they have programmed themselves to do.

The rules sometimes change depending on culture. So if you’re a new person (an infant or small child) or new to the culture (an alien with no prior training), then it’s very likely that you’ll just do what you want, as most small children do until they “learn better”, or you’ll operate under whatever rules you have been used to in your prior culture, which is one reason we often consider new immigrants to be funny (at best) on a sliding scale to “dangerous” and “bad”. By their rules, their actions may be “moral”.

On the other hand, some people attempt to determine (or enforce) what they think are or should be “universal” rules for right living. “The Golden Rule” is often held as such a model. But that fails in some cultures where “others” may not be equal to oneself, such as women, people from other sects or entirely other religions, people of lower caste, etc.

So one thing that you must do before you can even ask this question in a serious way is to define what “good” is. Some of the ideals that we hold in the secular West, for example, including some of our very highest ideals: freedom to worship (or not) as we choose, freedom to speak as our conscience dictates, equality among all, are some of the things that make us “bad” in other cultures.

“Good” and “bad” don’t exist as absolute values. Or, put another way, if good and bad are absolutes, then much of the world, in attempting to be “good” by the lights of their culture are being bad and worse, the harder they try. How do you tell who is who, except by the yardstick of your own culture?

digitalimpression's avatar

I don’t think we’re at a state of neutrality by any means as “neutrality” suggests an equal balance. Some people are largely bad while others are largely good. The variables which affect the degree of good or bad are numerous.

“Would goodness become a vice wherein a vice is egoistic, thus goodness is an egoistic state and evil another egoistic state?”
I’m not entirely sure what you are asking here. Why does goodness become hypothetically bad aka a “vice”. I’m tired, not quite following you on this one. The way I’m reading it sounds like good becomes bad and bad becomes bad. xD

Good answer.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@digitalimpression Exactly, good can be bad and bad can be itself. Exactly, however if you don’t understand it, it’s okay to not discuss the matter. I appreciate your active participation though. Very insightful. Thank you. Thank you all as a matter of fact.

@CWOTUS I concur with you absolutely haha. Attentively speaking, “Good” and “bad” don’t exist as absolute values. is my interpretation of neutrality. A human is typically in a neutral state. We are not always doing good, neither always doing bad. Of course, there is going to be a catalyst, an intent, a reason, a motive, or perhaps even an inclination, but nevertheless, there is a cause and the resulting effect will be our interpretation of intent whether it be right/wrong, good/bad, righteous/evil…etc. Much obliged for your interaction.

digitalimpression's avatar

@whiteliondreams But in your example all roads lead to bad. That’s the part that tripped me up. Couldn’t the reverse be just as accurate based on what you posit?

Good and bad may not exist as absolute values, however, I believe there is a limit to the cultural influences that @CWOTUS brought up. E.G. If you examine the world’s societies as a whole I’m not sure you’d find one that condoned or encouraged murdering your 2 year old.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@digitalimpression You’re right and the reason I posit a negative connotation probably has to do with my experience in life as being mostly negative. Which in this case, would be an inappropriate method of denoting the importance of a two-sided prospect for good or bad. I agree with you. I apologize for my inconsistency. I am learning_ however and to add, I have a terrible habit of forgetting things, so it may reflect in my writing.

Let’s consider the perspective of good being good and bad being good and equally, good being bad and bad being bad; if you were a Mayan chief, you would crucify children to feed them to your god because a) it’s the right thing to do religiously, and b) because the concept was introduced from an outside source. How is this wrong if it is considered noble?

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t sacrifice my child, but that is because I was nurtured otherwise. It’s a psychological acceptance that is merited by society. If the Mayans didn’t accept it, I’m certain it wouldn’t have become popular. Needless to say, where are the Mayans now? Do not conjecture the notion that what I type is what I know, for I hold no knowledge. This is merely speculation and exercise.

_Whitetigress's avatar

Well it’s kind of mandatory to have a set standard of morals in a city. Before cities (pre-babylon) there were a bunch of tribes with there own set rules and standards. The rise of agriculture and the ability to farm animals meant that more tribes had to hunt less. Farming lead to the rise of cities and cities lead to social standards.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@whiteliondreams…and I get that, but there are still tribes in the Amazon and I am certain their standards are different than ours. My question is, why do people assume humans are naturally good creatures? What gives you that impression? We have proven it for millennia that we aren’t, so why don’t we teach that we are taught to be good or bad based on our social structures?

It seems that the influence at home, in school, among friends and groups, and other social institutions are misconstruing natural order and redefining it, respectively, in their own way. I respect that to the extent that when we teach humans that one will is greater or more important than another method of utilizing our will, that this form can be socially impending and regressive; hence, this is where I admonish the inappropriate education many people are receiving and delivering.

HolographicUniverse's avatar


You essentially “stole” my answer to this.

“Good” and “bad” are semantically null, they are constructed concepts to categorize aspects of our moral code. Humans are animalistic by nature, driven to obtain pleasure and survival by any means necessary. Our higher cognitive abilities and somewhat supernatural (do not misconstrue that) intelligence has established a sophisticated civilization whereby we have created our own rules and discovered the methods we find most fit to obtain that pleasure.

CWOTUS's avatar

Actually, @digitalimpression, I don’t know about “two-year-olds”, but in many Eastern cultures where daughters carry a cost to their parents (since they are frequently raised and trained by their parents to then abandon their birth parents and serve their husbands’ parents and family – with all costs borne by the birth parents for a nominal bride-price upon marriage), it may not be “legal”, but it is common practice to kill female infants, either deliberately or through deliberate neglect.

You’d probably want to reconsider another “universal” moral agreement.

digitalimpression's avatar

@CWOTUS I’m not claiming to know that there aren’t such places .. but I’d bet that if a worldwide poll were taken concerning morality and what is “good” and “right” it would come up with a lot of common themes. Perhaps that is just naivety on my part.

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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

My question is, why do people assume humans are naturally good creatures?
Because no one, (even the most wicked) want to be known as anything but good. Man’s basic nature is wicked, the only thing that really keeps all hell from breaking out is what people believe is a myth, and many weapons and human cages, call prisons for those who don’t use the myth to govern their lives. In a natural state, if you could raise a group of children in an environment apart from adults. Whoever the Alfa male develops to be, that is what the group will adopt. If he wants to take any female for his mate, she is his, unless she or another male champion is able to defeat the Alfa male physically. People speak of survival; survival has no founding in morality. Survival means if I have to wipe out another group of people or put down a member of my own group, I do it. The Golden Rule might be real, but it did not start with man.

Bill1939's avatar

There is neither good nor bad in nature. Animals act in accordance with their instinct for survival. From an anthropomorphic perspective, working cooperatively is ‘good’ for individuals and their group. Sentient creatures can develop the ability for compassion, and may even act altruistically. However raised in an environment with limited nurturing, people do not learn these skills and must depend upon more primitive motives. The divergence between their actions and more sophisticated behaviors is deemed to be ‘bad’ by those for whom survival had been relatively secured.

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