Are people naturally good?

Questioning whether humans are naturally good, one must firstly define a standard of goodness to which one may compare all humans. Considering that individuals never seem to do actions which they do not deem they are justified in doing, that is, an individual never seems to commit an act they consider evil. At the very least, at the very instant in which the act is committed, and in some often cited paradigmatical cases never. Hitler for instance is almost universally considered an evil human, however he justified his acts in one way or another. From his point of view, he was not evil. There are other such examples, however Hitler will suffice. His example shows that actions can only be judged from an objective point of view. The individual cannot judge his own actions, they must be judged by others.

Perhaps the simplest way to define then what a good action is, is that which is deemed good by a collective decision of some sort. Collectively humanity agrees that Hitler was evil, therefore he must be evil. Mother Theresa is collectively deemed good, therefore she must have been good. This however does not seem like a satisfactory account. Hitler after all, wanted good. He was simply misguided in what would bring it about. This sort of ignorance, while certainly not exempting him from being blameworthy, certainly takes away from him being evil.

In Paradise Lost, Milton quotes Satan as saying “Evil thou be my good”. Satan perhaps can be taken as the most paradigmatical idea of evil, often being classified as the polar opposite of good. God is taken as the idea of good. The interesting thing in Milton’s poem is that Satan blatantly aims at evil. He is clearly aware of the good and bad choices in a given situation. He simply decides to chose the bad choice knowing it is bad. This aiming at evil is necessary if one was to be considered evil. Similarly, aiming at good is necessary if one was to be truly considered good. If it suddenly turned out that Mother Theresa secretly was planning the demise of humanity, the popular opinion of her would likely change. This all points to the necessity of the will to do good and the will to do evil when good and evil are concerned. Therefore, if humans are to be considered naturally good, it must be shown that naturally humans not only do good, but also aim at doing so.

It is impossible to determine the intentions of every human being. However, that does not necessarily eliminate the possibility of arguing for the natural goodness of humanity. Most people find the crimes of the Holocaust disgusting and disturbing. Given the free choice to participate in it or stopping it, it seems most of humanity would not hesitate to stop it.
To take a common code of what morally worthy actions are, the Ten Commandments may be considered. Religious dogma aside, precepts such as “do not kill” or “do not steal” are legitimate moral claims. If such claims are considered, most of humanity certainly does not kill nor does it steal. Most of humanity aims at not doing those things for they know they are wrong. If one aims at avoiding bad actions, surely then, what one aims at is good. Therefore, due to the fact that most of humanity is not a group of murderers and thieves, the claim of humanity’s natural goodness can find sound grounding. Since most humans do not aim at evil, they must be aiming at good. Therefore, humans can be considered naturally good.

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