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Posted by: mightybuffalo ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 03:12PM

I have oft reflected on this idea. It is something I picked up from reading into buddhist philosophy as well as transcendentalism years ago.

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.

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".

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.

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? 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?).

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.

Change my mind? I'm curious

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Posted by: scmdnotloggedin ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 03:32PM

I don't have any great answer to your primary question, but parents protecting children exists (in just the female parent among some species but with both parents in others) in the more K-selected organisms of the animal kingdom. I personally believe that the desire to protect one's offspring is innate in our species for the most part. Obviously not everyone is wired optimally, and consequently, others are not nurtured properly, and not everyone can learn to nurture without himself or herself having been nurtured.

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Posted by: elderolddog ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 03:44PM

People generally stick to doing what's easiest, but have no problem modifying that behaviour if the price, real or imagined, is great enough, or the penalty harsh enough.

This is no answer to your precise question, but does set the stage...

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Posted by: Kendal Mint Cake ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 03:54PM

The people who set up this Board seem to be inherently good, as do posters like Summer and many others who go out of their way to give sound advice.

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Posted by: mightybuffalo ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 03:58PM

Indeed. I am very grateful!

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Posted by: Kendal Mint Cake ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 04:04PM

Me too.

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Posted by: summer ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 06:02PM

Thanks for the warm fuzzy. :)

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Posted by: summer ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 06:04PM

I think that the majority of people are inherently good because we are social beings. We live within family groups and need to cooperate with others in order to meet our needs. The exceptions are the sociopaths -- the outliers.

I also agree with the lyrics of that old song -- "You have to be taught to hate and fear -- you have to be carefully taught." Very young children are not bothered by differences. They have to be indoctrinated in order to fear others.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/03/2018 06:11PM by summer.

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Posted by: dagny ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 04:17PM

I think they can be good but I suspect they are not conscious that they are good for reasons that provide rewards for themselves.

Evolution has rewarded forceful evil and also collaborative goodness. We want our offspring to live in a safe world with support. We don't want to suffer and thankfully most have empathy to recognize we don't want other living things to suffer.

The highest good to me is being good for the sake of being good, without others knowing or expectation of eternal reward or any reward.

I have a hard time thinking Jesus dying for everyone's sins is admirable. The expectation is to accept his "gift" (eye roll) and Christianity (in general) thinks everyone needs to know about it. This is manipulative, not goodness at work.

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Posted by: cl2 ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 04:41PM

I am often very naive about how people will really treat me, but in the end, I do believe most people are inherently good.

I can't give a reason I believe that. I just do.

It's nice to be outside the church and not have to feel any longer that if someone smokes a cigarette they are a bad person or if they have a drink of alcohol or have sex outside of marriage, etc.

So you are the guy who just became a ward clerk. So your wife has been married previously? I think you have a better chance of this marriage working as she surely doesn't want another failure and no matter what I've heard, I'd much rather my husband quit believing in mormonism than to have a real addiction to porn.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/03/2018 04:41PM by cl2.

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Posted by: rhgc ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 04:47PM

There are some who hold to the doctrine that man is inherently "good" and others that man is inherently "evil". The concept of a "Satan" is often held by both: that man is somehow "lead astray". Rather, I would submit that man is both, that we all have the ability to act and think "good" and also to act and think "evil". There is no Satan.

The difference between men is the matter of which inherent part of each prevails. I am writing a book presenting the difference between two men, actual people.

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Posted by: Human ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 04:55PM

I think it is manifest that people are inherently good and evil at the same time, are capable of selfish and selfless acts at the same time, and are driven to tell you which is which; which may or may not align with your own telling of the same.

And thus the stage is set for our strut along this place...

I'm all for the telling.

Human

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Posted by: CateS ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 05:00PM

There is no such thing as altruism. At the very least, the good-doer will get a sense of self-satisfaction. I frequently do good because I want to feel good about myself. I'm not sure if it isn't a good deed unless the good-deed-doer gets absolutely NOTHING in return. Is that even possible?

If that's the standard than I don't believe there are good people.

If not, then some people are good and others are not. It's a complex world out there.

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Posted by: koriwhore ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 05:27PM

No. And they're not inherently evil.
I think we're both.
We have potential for both good and evil within us.
We all have the potential to be either Hitler or Gandhi. We will all fall in between the two on the spectrum between pure evil and pure good. (however you define them). But like everything else in this universe, there's a careful balance between all things, good and evil.
One would not exist without the other.
They are both necessary in order for us to have enough pressure upon us to motivate us to actually change, like the rest of the universe, it progresses. Nothing is stagnant.
It's up to us to choose every day which potential we want to determine.
We change because we get sick of maintaining the status quo.
Conservatives want to maintain the status quo, the patriarchal order, authoritarianism the more authoritarian, the better.
Progressives want to join hands and celebrate diversity and cosmopolitan, democratic society, without war, without poverty and strife with peace and free trade.
Kind of like Switzerland, but warmer.
Libertarians just want everybody to leave them the fuck alone. Until their house catches on fire, then they need the government, now.

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Posted by: rhgc ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 05:43PM

Most of what you write, koriwhore, is right. But I would disagree as to a true conservative. Many years ago I wrote that the difference between a conservative and a liberal is not that one wants the status quo but that both want change - the difference being what changes should be made and, indeed, sometimes they agree. What is astonishing to me is that so many today of the so-called conservatives are simply wrong. Rather, they are fascists and have left all semblance of rationality.

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Posted by: koriwhore ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 06:04PM

WHat I said is kind of a summary of what John Haight said in his TED talk, "The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives" which was one of the more worthwhile TED talks ever,

https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind

I guess when I say conservative I mean the literal term, they want to "conserve" the social order established by (White Men) laws and customary practices.

The Republican party today has been overtaken by racist, authoritarian science deniers, because it chose a race baiter to be their authority figure, who built his political campaign by attacking his predecessor because of his race. I worked. Because there are still a hell of a lot of racists in America. Nobody voted for Trump more than Mormons. Why? because they love themselves and authority figure and what better authority figure than a Big White Guy with an obscene amount of wealth (blessings) who doesn't drink?
He has also won the vote of the working man in America. White middle aged white men. I know a lot of them, Trump Supporters. All white. I work with a lot of them. I have a lot of them in my family. They're not all racist, but they are mostly very religious or well off and just want to protect their assets. I'm not saying that Republicans are evil or that democrats are either. There's a whole spectrum between good and evil in any party. I just think the Country got taken over by a super religious, science denying, rape the resources while we can, sort of mentality in this country. It's like we're having a fire sale on our natural resources. We're acting like their limitless, when we've got limitless power in the sky, free.

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Posted by: jacob ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 05:54PM

koriwhore Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> Conservatives want to maintain the status quo, the
> patriarchal order, authoritarianism the more
> authoritarian, the better.

I'm not sure why you have to qualify the conservative in such a manner. If I lived in a place that had established a libertarian government that stayed out of everything and I wanted it to stay that way I would be a conservative.

> Progressives want to join hands and celebrate
> diversity and cosmopolitan, democratic society,
> without war, without poverty and strife with peace
> and free trade.

Again kind of weird. If I lived in a place that already had all of those things and I was in favor of changing them I would be a progressive.

> Kind of like Switzerland, but warmer.

Switzerland is almost the most conservative country in the world.

> Libertarians just want everybody to leave them the
> fuck alone. Until their house catches on fire,
> then they need the government, now.

The desire for free will, autonomy, political freedom doesn't by definition mean they don't need or want the government, they just want that government to represent those values.

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Posted by: jacob ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 05:47PM

I'm not sure that doing something beneficial for someone else no matter the personal cost is inherently good. Perhaps if I give my life to save another's I have cut the world off from all of the other wonderful things that I could have offered the world. Perhaps even the wonderful things I could have accomplished would outweigh the wonderful things of the person I gave my life for.

I think you should phrase it another way, simply because it is easier to define. I believe that people are not inherently malevolent. That is, I believe they want to do the right thing by nature. Of course what the right thing may or may not be is up for debate. I was raised Mormon and I thought I was doing the right thing when I went on a mission. I know now that I could have caused great harm to the people I was trying to help.

I'm not even sure that people being good by nature is even a mystery. I think the real mystery is what is good or right. And to compound the issue it is my belief that the right action is greatly impacted by the situation. Essentially making the whole argument an exercise of choosing red or black at Vegas.

So in conclusion, who the hell knows.

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Posted by: Nottelling ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 06:38PM

> I'm not even sure that people being good by nature
> is even a mystery. I think the real mystery is
> what is good or right. And to compound the issue
> it is my belief that the right action is greatly
> impacted by the situation. Essentially making the
> whole argument an exercise of choosing red or
> black at Vegas.
>
> So in conclusion, who the hell knows.

This....what is good or right and it depends on the situation. Every dynamic between 2 people is different and requires a unique response that applies only to them.

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Posted by: Tevai ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 09:02PM

This is one of the continuing questions I have been sparring with in my own mind since I was growing up.

[For those who don't know: the maternal side of my family was significantly racist regarding black/white issues...and (from another perspective) that SAME side of the family has Native American family members and ancestors, so trying to think all of that through and make some kind of sense out of it was the first real life philosophical problem I encountered).]

In the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about Homo naledi (a new hominin species discovered in South Africa in 2013---which is a sort of close cousin to our species; if you are interested: go to You Tube and search for: Homo naledi). At one of the academic presentations about Homo naledi, the question was asked: What happened to them? (In other words, why did they suddenly "die out"?) And the answer was, basically, that either our species, or another species very closely related to us, very probably murdered them all, wiping out Homo naledi as a species---and that this is, more or less, what our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, seems to be about...which is something that is really obvious in the recorded history of our species, and in what we can reasonably assume from events like the Neanderthals being wiped out (even though, by that time, there had been a significant biological connection made between them and what we now conceive of as "us").

When you read history, a consistent through line seems to be that we, Homo sapiens sapiens, of a specific culture, go out exploring...we find a new place or a new land...we exterminate any animal species we find there (including other humans and the other animals)...and we then claim the place as our own. Whether it is the skraelings ("little men") and the Vikings...or Native Americans and European explorers and colonists...or the Khoisan peoples of southern Africa and the Dutch...or many of the Polynesian societies...(and on and on)...what we, as a species, seem to be very deeply attracted to is wiping out the existence of everyone we encounter who is not sufficiently seen as being "us."

On the other hand, we are also inherently and pretty much always engrossed in the concept of "good"---so in the western part of the USA, as a handy example, we can annihilate a Native American village and then go to church on Sunday where we read and sing and hear about what good people we are, bringing the word of the Lord to the places on this planet who are culturally different from us.

If by using the term "people" we assume that this means Homo sapiens sapiens only, we have frequently throughout all of recorded history shown that we have the capacity to be deeply and viscerally "not good"...but we are also the species that contemplates this concept constantly and continuously, and has created enormous good...albeit, for those who we have chosen and allowed to experience that good.

I dunno...I don't think I have advanced much on my comprehension of this question since I was around nine years old, and the adults all thought I was asleep, and they were talking about the way things actually were during their earlier lives (in the Midwest, and before that, in the Deep South), and "who" did "what" in things like the Tulsa Massacre of 1921...and the heroine of my family was my step-aunt who, as a newly-arrived (from Oklahoma) student at Los Angeles High School was kicked out of that school because she absolutely refused to change into her gym clothes in the same dressing room where there were students who were black.

With the recent discoveries (and You Tube presentations) about the previously unknown Homo naledi species, I have been thinking about all of this a lot.

We (Homo sapiens sapiens) certainly CAN be (and we very often ARE) "good"...and this is proven over and over and over again throughout all of history we are aware of.

But the question is: "ARE people INHERENTLY good"???

And to that question, I have no idea.

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Posted by: donbagley ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 10:42PM

I have told this to children, and I'm not sure how close it is to talking about Santa Claus. I just can't tell a child that humans are inherently bad.

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Posted by: auntsukey ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 11:07PM

Harris considers morality as doing what benefits the most "well-being".

Morality is complicated by conflicting and competing goals - the protection of children, what serves the well being of the larger group, balancing the needs of the individual against the needs of the group, etc.

Koriwhore mentions Jonathan Haidt. His TED talk and book, "The Righteous Mind" on the differences between Conservatives and Liberals ought to be mandatory reading/viewing for everyone.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/03/2018 11:08PM by auntsukey.

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Posted by: Dave the Atheist ( )
Date: March 03, 2018 11:08PM

"People ... They're the worst !" -- Jerry Seinfeld

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Posted by: Greyfort ( )
Date: March 04, 2018 08:34AM

I think most people are. Most of us are just average folk, busy living out our lives, going to work, school, or wherever, trying to get through each day as best as we can.

If people in general were inherently bad, then this world would be pretty chaotic.

It's just that it's the people who cause trouble who get talked about. They're the ones who take up all the news reports, so it looks a lot worse than it is.

Because we get bombarded with bad news, it sure can be depressing at times.

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Posted by: Henry Bemis ( )
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.

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Posted by: Jersey Girl ( )
Date: March 05, 2018 08:08AM

No, people are inherently a mixture of good and bad to different degrees. One or the other wins out in individuals and in groups.I think it is an error to assume people are inherently all good or all bad, when we are a mixture of both and do have to discern and choose the good in each situation, based on compassion and decency. Just my take on this question.

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Posted by: alsd ( )
Date: March 05, 2018 09:46AM

Yes, people are inherently good. We are biologically predisposed to ensure survival and perpetuation of the species. Our morality, our sense of good and bad, grew out of that evolutionary need. If people were inherently bad (by our standards), humans would have died out very quickly.

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Posted by: anonus ( )
Date: March 05, 2018 10:57AM


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Posted by: Henry Bemis ( )
Date: March 05, 2018 11:23AM

We are biologically predisposed to ensure survival and perpetuation of the species. Our morality, our sense of good and bad, grew out of that evolutionary need. If people were inherently bad (by our standards), humans would have died out very quickly.

COMMENT: This is common nonsense. Our sense of morality did not "grow out of" our evolutionary need. Our evolutionary need is individual biological survival, which has nothing to do with our moral sense. Ant colonies, as one example, thrive quite nicely (including altruistic behavior) without requiring any moral sense of individual ants. This demonstrates that there was no "evolutionary need" for morality in order to perpetuate survival of either individuals or species.

Morality is a psychological phenomenon that presumably correlates in some way with the biological brain through social interaction. But that does not mean that morality has evolutionary significance. If you (or evolutionary psychologists in general) think that it does, you need to provide a *convincing* Gouldian "just so story" as to (1) how having a moral sense increased the survival advantage of individuals, over and above its obvious detriments; and (2) how group selection managed to incorporate such moral sense into the biology of individuals. There is no evidence for either.

Human morality is a product of human freewill in the context of social interaction. Freewill is necessary for the idea of a "moral sense" to have any meaning. Since freewill cannot be explained by biology, neither can morality.

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Posted by: nevermojohn ( )
Date: March 05, 2018 02:27PM

I guess the non answer to your question is that some people are inherently bad.

You are going into medicine. You will undoubtedly meet psychopaths and sociopaths if you haven't already.

While most people I deal with are basically decent, under the right circumstances they can go off the rails. However, the sociopath and psychopath are bad to the bone.

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