Being Good

I like to think that basic nature of humankind is goodness. This is a complete opposite to Hobbes view of humankind’s nature. He described man’s natural condition as “war of every man against every man“…he writes:

“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I find this view so alien to my experience of other fellow humans that it is inconceivable for me to imagine that this kind of world, even under the harshest conditions could exist. Would humans be humans if there was no love, caring or trust; do we display these qualities contrary to our nature? I choose to believe Hobbes was and is wrong. Hobbes it seems believed that humans are basically nasty but I believe humans are basically good; but under harsh conditions nastiness shows its ugly head. That’s why we have law enforcement and wars.

So how can we “be good” and avoid the ugly head of the nastiness? As Dalai Lama says …..”All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness,the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”

There are only one way to be good but many ways to be vicious; we have to know and act with the right attitude in all interactions with others. We all know what being overtly vicious and causing pain to others is and how to avoid it. What we often overlook is when we are indifferent to others in pain and mistakenly think that it doesn’t matter. How many times I walked past a beggar or poor person in the third world country or in the city and thought it’s not my problem….far too many time, more than I care to remember. I was too distracted or in too much of a rush….. it is easy to be indifferent.

It is no point in increasing ones own pleasure after a certain point because it doesn’t add any more value to pleasure one already has; it doesn’t bring more or lasting joy. However, if we were to take sometime to be compassionate it would bring joy both to us and to the person in need.

Cynicism can also be an ugly trait and one should try to avoid it. A cynic think world is a bad place. He doubts or despises human sincerity or merit. He thinks most people are basically selfish, their apparent concern for others is only a show, while the few genuinely unselfish souls are exploited, so only the bastards thrive. So far the cynic is being pessimistic, and mere pessimism isn’t a vice. But cynic goes further, instead of being saddened by people’s selfishness, he secretly delights in it, he wants the world to be bad and by wishful thinking persuades himself that it is. A cynic denies human goodness because he hates it and wants it not to exist, and that makes his cynicism a simple vice…..just like Hobbes’s….not conducive to being good.

So where is the problem? It’s not the lack of material goods, there is enough of that around. Its not the lack of knowledge. Maybe we have not yet learned to live well. Maybe we are still in the early stages of learning. Some commentators on human condition have said that we have come a long way with technology but not very far in wisdom. That maybe so, but we are loving and caring beings…..still evolving and learning. Let encourage each other to be good and speed up the natural process!


The Best things in Life, by ThomasHurka

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  1. I have not yet arrived to a very articulate position on the matter… but I doubt there is such a state as natural goodness and natural evil. Locke view of the original state of nature is necessary only to make a larger point regarding how things should work now.

    A theory somehow needs a basis, a cornerstone idea that holds the whole view together… but it is not because theory has application nowadays that its predicates are correct. They might not be false either. My point is that we cannot know and we might not need to know.

    That said, going back to my first statement I am inclined to think that we live in a perpetual search for balance and that good or bad are only expressions of balance or lack thereof.

    Take for example, the beggar on the street… is it good to help or not? What is help? Is help just making the “bad” feeling go away? I dear say there is no straight (good 🙂 answer. Has this beggar found a sens of balance begging? then helping on a punctual basis may only reinforce the sens that this is livable and keep him in that condition. Does this beggar (or somebody else) have a plan to get him out of poverty? Is this person loosing hope? Is this person distracting you to steal from you? Does this person need just a little help? Who knows?

    My point is that good is not a reaction not a feeling. Good ultimately is a result of a thought which takes into account our knowledge of our surrounding, knowledge of our own natural drives and the notion of balance.

    • Thank you for the insightful comment, its great to have comments like yours.
      As you probably know, many philosophers have tried to deal with the question of what is good and what is evil. To my knowledge there is no universal agreement so far: so I will not try to define it. In the article the general point I am making is that people are kinder to each other than what Hobbes thinks.The sort of society Hobbes envision would mean not trusting anyone and without trust we will not be able to exist as any sort of community. There has to some level of trust. With trust comes favorable disposition to each other or to be kind to each other.
      I cannot define objectively what is good for the beggar, but I can communicate or take interest in the beggar to see if I can be of any help to him. It is only with connecting and having a conversation one can decide what is good for the beggar.
      There are no absolute answers and I was not try to give any, that is why one has to cultivate wisdom to decide how to act and what would be good in a given situation.
      Thanks again for the wonderful feed back.

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