Can People be All Evil or All Good?A recent question in the Q and A area got me thinking. One of the main themes in Lord of the Flies is good and evil... do you think anyone can be "pure...

Can People be All Evil or All Good?

A recent question in the Q and A area got me thinking. One of the main themes in Lord of the Flies is good and evil... do you think anyone can be "pure evil" or "pure good"? Can a good person be brought down by a few bad traits, can an evil person be redeemed by good qualities? Have at it! 

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Good and bad are made up descriptions, constructs of language, not fundamental existential states. To me, this means that people cannot be fully described by these terms (or any terms). 

Also, morality is relative. It's ok to kill someone if you're at war with them because they will kill you if you don't kill them first. But it's not ok to kill someone if you're not at war with them. The act is the same, but the context is not. 

For this reason, the concepts of good and bad must be seen as being contextually relative and, thus, not absolute. 

Given these two arguments, it seems that people can be reasonably classified in a general way as being either good or bad as a description of the decisions they make in certain contexts. Assigning a "totally good" or "completely evil" designation to someone would be like saying that someone is "always the tallest person in the room", a claim that is almost sure to be false sometimes unless we're dealing with the tallest person in the world.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Gut reaction is: Pure good cannot exist as man is by nature sinful. Pure evil can exist as is evidenced by some of societies most heinous individuals. However, man having a sinful nature is based upon a Christian philosophy. If that is the case, then since God created man in his own image, can pure evil really exist?

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cmcqueeney | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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This is a difficult conversation to have without designating the standards for good and evil.  How do you classify one or the other? It's easy to point a finger at Hitler and say he was evil or possessed evil characteristics because his case is extreme - but what about all of us?  What defines whether we are good or evil or part of both?

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renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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I don't think I can find good in Hitler, but I can say that the boys did not come to the island all evil. The circumstances must have psychologically damaged them, and the freedom to act on their impulses unchecked allowed the evil to reach the levels it did. But, if the accident had never happened, I do not think the boys would have participated in evil acts in a civilized setting, at least not the majority of them.

gbeatty's profile pic

gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Can People be All Evil or All Good?

A recent question in the Q and A area got me thinking. One of the main themes in Lord of the Flies is good and evil... do you think anyone can be "pure evil" or "pure good"? Can a good person be brought down by a few bad traits, can an evil person be redeemed by good qualities? Have at it! 

The short answer is, no, people cannot be all good or all evil. The somewhat longer answer is, one of this novel's strengths is that it shows us how good requires a social structure in order to flourish. These were all "good boys" who got stranded here. However, without a context and guidance, their strengths went dark.

 

Greg

sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Certainly those theologies that believe in Satan, or a figure like him, that rebelled against the pure goodness that is God--thinking based on such theologies would believe a person could be all of one or the other.  Of course, many (eastern) theologies do not endorse this bifurcastion, but the either / or principle of western thought certainly does.  It has much to do with the Manichean principle...if anyone would care to research that idea

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jp2015 | eNotes Newbie

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It's certainly hard to offer anything in defense of Hitler.  but to say he's "all bad" (assuming we all agree he's not "all good") does not seem reasonable or helpful based on what can be known about him.   He certainly is much mystery! His public life is well known and documented.  His private life is not quite so known.   Interviews with those some who were  close to him have included statements that seem surreal just for the normalcy (of life) they reflect.  I.e. I'm thinking of the woman who served in the secretarial staff (you can find her     To decide Hitler or Idi Amin or any number of others are "all bad" (or "all good") seems to me to move them into an category of non-human and thus a kind of irrelevancy for the kind of cautionary-tale lessons we need from them.  Demonizing them seems too easy----i.e. they become such anomalies, the rest of us need have no fear of falling into the grips of such evil.  I'll end with this book suggestion: Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis, byTim Townsend. 

 
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jiggle-boi's profile pic

jiggle-boi | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Honors

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This is a difficult conversation to have without designating the standards for good and evil.  How do you classify one or the other? It's easy to point a finger at Hitler and say he was evil or possessed evil characteristics because his case is extreme - but what about all of us?  What defines whether we are good or evil or part of both?

What defines whether someone's action is "good" or "evil" is whether the deed is accepted in the person's social environment.

For me, in a civilised society most people are good, but once this structure diminishes (no food, water, shelter, ect.) people will be more likely to commit deeds that can be considered "evil". Although this deed may be necessary for their survival. That is, we as human beings have animal instincts given appropriate circumstances presents itself.

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deathandtransfiguration | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

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reply to 2

 This is true, but did hitler not also bring about an end to the Great Depression? Did he not also give jobs to the unemployed, building highways and roads, some of which are still around today?

In effect, no, no one person is totally consumed by good or evil, they always have some good traits.  It is very easy, though, to just quickly put most people in a category of one or the other.

taco7's profile pic

taco7 | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted on

There's something called Godwin's law which basically states that any internet discussion eventually invokes Hitler... which I'll do right now. Hitler. Totally evil? I'd say so, because there's nothing he did that could have possibly outweighed his evil actions. For example, I think he was a dog lover, but who cares?

Totally good is, for some reason, a lot harder, I'll have to think abou that one a bit more...

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