Are We Inherently Good or Evil?

I recently receive the following email from my great nephew. I’ve decided to answer him here.



Let me ask a question uncle Dwight, no right or wrong, just philosophical. Are humans inherently good or bad? Just curious to hear from an older and experienced (i think you are wise and very intelligent even though we disagree on some political issues) person such as yourself.
Monday at 3:42pm · Like

Or to be correct kind vs evil.


John,
First you asked my thoughts about whether we are inherently good or bad (evil). Then you changed good to kind.

To me, good vs. evil is more of an “either-or” question than kind vs. evil. If one argues from Biblical authority, we are created in God’s image. God is considered good (that’s why we named him God), therefore we, being made in his “image,” are fundamentally good. But then there’s the problem of our disobedience in the garden of Eden where it turned out we were not so good after all. If we acknowledge that we have free will (not all philosophers do) it suggests that we have a choice between good and evil. Obviously we are capable of both. We have Mother Teresa and Adolph Hitler as prime examples.

In my experience, no one is always evil or always good. It’s dangerous to describe people using broad generalities. In fact, I think all labels applied to people limit them in a destructive way. People are complex, made up of many factors applied to many functions. A policeman, for example, may also be a fisherman, an EMT, a father, brother, husband, cousin, safety instructor, etc. He might, at the same time, be a petty thief or a drug dealer. So to keep this short, I believe, it’s behavior we should judge, and not people (though we all do it. It’s a form of shorthand.)

By substituting kind for good, I think you’re limiting overall goodness to just one form of goodness. If Mother Teresa shooed a dog out of her way, it might have been unkind, but not bad or evil. And, while I have little evidence for this, I suspect that even Hitler showed kindness from time to time, even if only to Eva Braun.

I suspect that you may have substituted “kind” for “good” because you may be struggling with the desire for a society where kindness reigns. I believe that many young liberals decide that being liberal necessarily means being kind, and they work to establish universal kindness through government. Experience shows me that establishing any kind of societal model has necessitated totalitarianism, i.e. coercing all people to adhere to a theoretical model of behavior. I do believe that we are born free and that denying people their freedom is evil behavior.

I know there are many more “if’s, and’s, and but’s” to this whole discussion, but I’ve belabored it enough for now.

Uncle Dwight

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