Date: March 04, 2018 10:05AM
"For a while, I completely agreed with the idea that people should be good-- not because they are told to be good or grow up in a society/religion where they 'should be', not even because god tells them to be good. I literally believed that inherent goodness was within the fiber of just about every human being."
COMMENT: In order to address this question, three assumptions must be front and center: First, that there really is such a thing as "good" and "evil" as part of the real world; Second, that human beings have genuine freewill such as to be able to make free choices between actions that produce good and actions that produce evil; Third, that human beings have an inherent property such that their actions are more or less "disposed" one way or the other between good or evil. All three of these assumptions are debatable. However, I will note that any person claiming to be a modern "humanist" must subscribe to one and two. Humanists fundamentally believe that some actions are good and others evil, and that humans beings are capable of making both individual and social choices in the direction of the good. Now, let's consider the rest of your post:
"As I considered what we define as good, I (correct me if I'm wrong) determined that more often than not, doing something good in hopes of some kind of personal benefit isn't actually "good"."
COMMENT: Morally decision-making often involves a conscious weighing of alternatives and their outcomes, and correspondingly involves complex motivations. The fact that a moral decision encompassed a consideration of good to both others and to oneself (the hope of some personal benefit), and was motivated by both, does not defacto eliminate the character of the act as good.
Rather, altruism, TRUE altruism, doing good at a personal COST, is what society tends to consider truly "good". In which case I don't think people are inherently good.
COMMENT: Altruism, as applied to human psychology rather than, say, ant colonies, is performing some act with the intent of advancing the interest of another, with the understanding or belief that such action carries a risk (whether high, low, or certain) that the act will result in some adverse outcome to the person performing such act. If human beings are "inherently good" then, in general, human beings would be disposed to perform such actions. As an apparent empirical fact, human beings are not so generally disposed; but rather are generally disposed to act within their own interest. However, it is also an empirical fact that they in fact do engage in altruist acts. So, the interesting question is why do they do it at all? Why do we have heroes? Certainly, there is something "inherent" in human beings such as to allow them to freely act against their own best interest--if for whatever reason they choose to do so.
From everything I understand about evolution, spite and altruism are the two characteristics that still baffle biologists and psychologists. Why do anything at a personal cost to us?"
COMMENT: Exactly. But let's be a bit clearer. Biologically, we know that biological agents act altruistically, without conscious motivations. Insect societies are the prime examples. So, biology, and evolution, does play a role in altruistic behavior at some level. Human psychology complicates matters considerably because it appears at least that we make conscious choices to act altruistically. It does not appear to be rote, programmed behavior, unlike the ants. To my mind, neither biologists or psychologists have been able to explain such human behavior in biological or psychological terms, neither of which involve a consideration of freewill.
"There is no reason (except maybe in parents protecting children-- which for the most part society considers mandatory, not as "good behavior"). In fact, I don't know if altruism even REALLY exists (again except maybe in cases with parent-child relationships-- gotta get those genes to the next generation, right?).
COMMENT: Well, arguments have been made that there is no such thing as genuine human altruism, but such arguments are weak, at best. Clearly, there are extreme instances where human beings sacrifice or risk their own lives to save a total stranger. To suggest that this motivation is something other than pure altruism is to my mind ludicrous. And if we have examples of such extreme cases, it suggests that there is something innate about human beings that allow for this behavior; again not explained by biology or psychology.
"Long story short, I think that being good doesn't require personal cost. In fact, even when people do good, expecting something in return, I think I consider that inherent goodness.
COMMENT: Now, of course, what you are doing is abandoning the idea of altruism, and redefining "good" in such a way that doesn't depend upon one's motivations, but solely the results of the act. I do not think that move respects what we normally mean by a "good" or "bad" person, or moral or immoral act, which by definition seems to include not just what people do, or what the outcome is, but why they do it.
Suppose, for example, while walking down the street, someone notices a house on fire, and hears children screaming. She rushes in to assist, but everyone, including the person rushing in to help, dies. So, the outcome is actually worse than if the person would have just walked on by. Do we now say that the person's act was not a good act, but rather bad? Isn't she still a hero, to be honored and respected? And what about that choice? How is such a choice explainable in biological and evolutionary terms?
Nice post, thank you.