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Good vs EvilAre people naturally good or natually evil?  Is it easier to be good or bad?

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brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted March 19, 2010 at 10:20 AM via web

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Good vs Evil

Are people naturally good or natually evil?  Is it easier to be good or bad?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 19, 2010 at 11:02 AM (Answer #2)

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I'm going to play the devil's advocate and mess with your terms.  Sorry.  The following would need to be defined before an answer can really be devised:

  1. What does "naturally" mean?
  2. What does "good" mean?
  3. What does "evil" mean? 
  4. What does "easier" mean?

 

 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 19, 2010 at 12:08 PM (Answer #3)

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While I agree with post 2 that you would need to define your terms, I would say that (given what I have in mind for those terms) people are naturally evil but also have a natural capacity for good.

I think that the easiest way to see this is to look at kids.  They are naturally selfish and a bit brutal.

That is not to say that they don't have the capacity for good.  If they are pushed in that direction, I think kids really do want to be good.  But until they get socialized, I think they definitely tend towards selfishness and evil.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:21 AM (Answer #4)

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I ask my students to debate this central philosophical question every year because I want them to see how much their answer to it affects almost every other aspect of the human experience (our justice system, educational standards, governance, etc.).

Personally, I believe that humans are inherently evil.  While many struggle with the strong connotation of "evil," I would argue that it is certainly easier to prove from human history that it is more natural for a human being to commit "bad" acts than it is for him or her to do good.  Isn't this why we champion and are amazed by acts of heroism and universal kindness?  If humans were inherently good, why would those acts be so impressive?  Similarly, most of the world's charitable and altruistic organizations/individuals result from humans trying to undo or correct mankind's evil (i.e., victims of genocide and war, the unnecessary spread of diseases, etc.).

Because it is so simple to cite examples of humans committing evil acts, my students have a very difficult time logically proving that humans are inherently good.  Their argument is often that society corrupts individuals, but then they cannot provide a source of corruption for society itself.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:40 AM (Answer #5)

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I don't thinkpeople are necessarily good or evil. they just have socialization skills that are either used for one direction or the other. If people do not socialize, they do not become evil. It generally takes socializing with others to determine where they end up on the scale of good or evil.

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted March 20, 2010 at 3:50 PM (Answer #6)

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I ask my students to debate this central philosophical question every year because I want them to see how much their answer to it affects almost every other aspect of the human experience (our justice system, educational standards, governance, etc.).

Personally, I believe that humans are inherently evil.  While many struggle with the strong connotation of "evil," I would argue that it is certainly easier to prove from human history that it is more natural for a human being to commit "bad" acts than it is for him or her to do good.  Isn't this why we champion and are amazed by acts of heroism and universal kindness?  If humans were inherently good, why would those acts be so impressive?  Similarly, most of the world's charitable and altruistic organizations/individuals result from humans trying to undo or correct mankind's evil (i.e., victims of genocide and war, the unnecessary spread of diseases, etc.).

Because it is so simple to cite examples of humans committing evil acts, my students have a very difficult time logically proving that humans are inherently good.  Their argument is often that society corrupts individuals, but then they cannot provide a source of corruption for society itself.

If people did not contain goodness, why would acts of heroism and universal kindness be so impressive?

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted March 20, 2010 at 4:03 PM (Answer #7)

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Most people are born with potentials for good and evil.  The purpose of education (not speaking here of job training, nor only of schooling, but of parental raising and such scooling as contributes to broad understanding of people and society and goodness and guides toward goodness) is to bring people to a much higher plain of understanding and goodness. 

If thrown in with a bunch of bad apples and without good education, people will tend towards evil.

Psychopathy is a mental defect.  A portion of a psychopath's brain is underdeveloped.  A psychopath will certainly commit evil, and whatever good the psycopath performs will not be from altruistic motives.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 21, 2010 at 5:10 AM (Answer #8)

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I ask my students to debate this central philosophical question every year because I want them to see how much their answer to it affects almost every other aspect of the human experience (our justice system, educational standards, governance, etc.).

Personally, I believe that humans are inherently evil.  While many struggle with the strong connotation of "evil," I would argue that it is certainly easier to prove from human history that it is more natural for a human being to commit "bad" acts than it is for him or her to do good.  Isn't this why we champion and are amazed by acts of heroism and universal kindness?  If humans were inherently good, why would those acts be so impressive?  Similarly, most of the world's charitable and altruistic organizations/individuals result from humans trying to undo or correct mankind's evil (i.e., victims of genocide and war, the unnecessary spread of diseases, etc.).

Because it is so simple to cite examples of humans committing evil acts, my students have a very difficult time logically proving that humans are inherently good.  Their argument is often that society corrupts individuals, but then they cannot provide a source of corruption for society itself.

If people did not contain goodness, why would acts of heroism and universal kindness be so impressive?

I didn't write that humans did not contain goodness.  In fact, I cited examples of organizations doing good.  My personal belief is simply that mankind is inherently evil but struggles to do good.  That struggle does result in goodness, and I believe that that is why we champion those who do good (because it is such a struggle).  Again, this is simply my personal belief.  I don't teach this to my students--I ask them to discover a perspective for themselves so that they can logically support that perspective when challenged to do so.

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raminagrobis | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 23, 2010 at 2:54 PM (Answer #9)

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Q:Are people naturally good or natually evil?  Is it easier to be good or bad?

A:There is nothing "natural" about people, people are socially determined. Strictly speaking, people are not "bad" or "good" in the absolute. They only commit actions that can be considered as "bad" or "good", on the basis of a socially determined norm which varies over time and over space. For instance, abortion is evil for some Christians but not for other beleivers or atheists. A "bad" person is the one who transgresses the norm established by a particular society. For nazis, Hitler was great, he tried to keep the Aryan race "pure", for the rest of the world he was generally but not always seen as bad. As well, a person can be considered as a terrorist by some and a freedom fighter by others. This raises of course the question of ends and means: can you achieve "good" ends by "bad" means, e.g. by killing people? For instance, the war in Irak: was it right to topple Saddam (a terrible dictator) at the cost of thousands of dead? What about Hitler?

Nuclear war: If a mad dictator was to send an atomic bomb and destroy New York City, should we retaliate and destroy the country under his thumb? This strategy is appropriately called MAD (massive assured destruction) in balance of terror terminology. It is supposed to have kept us safe over the last few decades. Will the president who pushes the button be "good"?

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aftabahmad | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 24, 2010 at 6:38 AM (Answer #10)

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Good vs Evil

Are people naturally good or natually evil?  Is it easier to be good or bad?

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aftabahmad | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 24, 2010 at 6:50 AM (Answer #11)

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well, in this connection i would like to say that to find the answer of this query we have to look upon the composition of human being.

1. Is human being merely a exterior physical body?

2. How human beings are different from other creaturers?

3. Does human species have a soul or not?

the answer of these questions are:

human beings are made up of two things, we can say that human beings are primarly characterisied by the mixture of animal and angels.

It contains the elements of both. 1. Animal 2. Angel

His exterior body and body organs are similar in functions with the animals, but his inner side is related with Angels.

In Conculsion we can say that human being is neither an animal nor an angel. it is the combination of both.

Now if Human beings live in the enviorment of good people ( Good means= those deeds which are accepted universally in every society) they will becom good.

If they accomdate themselves in the enviroment of evil people( the things which are consider wrong among intellectuals of every Society)

so we can say that it depends upon the enviroment of human beings. Truly speaking human being posses both type of characteristics Evil and good. but it is also the quality of human being that when they commit any mistake or evil. they accept their mistakes and tries to remove the difficiency. but evil forces or satan does not accept his mistakes and he stand like an iceberg on his actions.

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charcunning | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted March 29, 2010 at 12:20 PM (Answer #12)

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People are definitely inherently evil. Thankfully enough, we are blessed with free will and most of us choose to keep our evil thoughts and ideas in check.

Think about it--it's much easier to be an evil person than a nice one, isn't it? When angered, we have to try really hard to remember what we know are polite social customs and not 'snap' as we'd like to...well, at least usually we remember them!

Take a look at the following studies and read some work written by Zimbardo.

Stanford Prison Experiment (some footage is also available on youtube.com)

Stanley Milgram's Obedience Experiment

And also relate this to modern day events such as Abu Ghirab--when looking at all of these pieces, it's clear that these humans chose evil over good.

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frizzyperm | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted March 30, 2010 at 2:48 PM (Answer #13)

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'evil' and 'good' are outdated words that present human behaviour as a struggle between two genuine, opposed, abstract forces. This is a deeply flawed way of considering the subject of human behaviour.

As a partially-parallel example; consider the two words 'hot' and 'cold'. They present the idea of two opposing influences. We often feel that hot and cold are different things and that they oppose each other. But in fact there is no such thing as cold. 'Cold' does not exist. There are only varying amounts of heat. There is no such property as 'cold'. To model the world using the word 'cold' (air, water, car engines, body temperature etc etc etc etc) is a flawed model and creates ignorance. There is nothing special about zero degrees C for example. When you go from 2 degrees above zero to 2 degrees below zero, you haven't gone from 'warm' to 'cold'. But most people think you have. Cold is a word which diverts accurate thinking.

Your question has the same problem. You presented your question using the ancient terms 'Good' and 'Evil'. These things do not exist. Show me the molecular structure of 'good'. What is the unit for measuring 'evil' forces? Good and evil are not real. They are just old religious terms. Any model which reduces the parameters of the whole of human behaviour to two, simplistic, polarised forces (Good and Evil) will be so hoplessly unsophisticated that it's conclusions will be meaningless.

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geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted March 30, 2010 at 4:55 PM (Answer #14)

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The thoughts that occur in my brain and the other organs or glands of my body that are involved in thought and emotion, are molecular.  Are not good and evil, thought and emotion based?  If good and evil don't exist, it must be for some other reason than that they do not have molecular structure.  Else I am mighty confused.  Actually, yes, I am mighty confused.  Somebody help me.

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nusratfarah | Valedictorian

Posted May 13, 2010 at 11:57 AM (Answer #15)

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In my opinion, every human is born good. This good does not mean angelic. S/he is born, though with the original sin, but is paradoxically innocent. Thus, naturally a human is born good. But a mature human is definitely neither too good, nor too evil. S/he must be a combination more or less. S/he holds on the grey position.

And, it is not possible for a "human", in my opinion, to be either entirely good, or totally bad.

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