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View Full Version : Are people basically good?


JonIrenicus
03-25-2009, 05:36 PM
?

AemJeff
03-25-2009, 05:42 PM
?

Nope, there's always a need for more salt.

TwinSwords
03-25-2009, 06:50 PM
Yes. No doubt about it.

uncle ebeneezer
03-25-2009, 06:55 PM
Define "basically good" and I'll get back to you. Oh and maybe define "are" while your at it ;-)

Seriously my answer would be "sometimes."

Ocean
03-25-2009, 07:45 PM
?

Who?

TwinSwords
03-25-2009, 09:10 PM
People obviously have the capacity to do great evil. (People collectively, that is.) But basically, overall, people are clearly good. Anyone with even limited exposure to human beings should be able to answer this question in the affirmative without hesitation.

pampl
03-25-2009, 09:46 PM
I think the answer depends on where you personally set the cut-off point for goodness. It's like asking if people are basically attractive. It all depends on your standards, and how much you've had to drink.

claymisher
03-25-2009, 10:40 PM
How about, how many and to what degree are people good?

http://img.skitch.com/20090326-qb15n5sku21196e6f58d9ferys.png

I think most people are alright, some are really good, and a few are sociopaths (about 1% according to scientists).

The new thinking coming from behavioral economists is that most people are reciprocating. If you're good, they'll be good, but as soon as someone defects from goodness, all hell breaks loose. Google homo reciprocans (http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en-us&q=homo+reciprocans&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8) for more info on that way of thinking.

JonIrenicus
03-26-2009, 02:37 AM
People obviously have the capacity to do great evil. (People collectively, that is.) But basically, overall, people are clearly good. Anyone with even limited exposure to human beings should be able to answer this question in the affirmative without hesitation.

And there it is, a believer in the proposition that people are basically good. This belief has consequences.

I see 3 main propositions,

1. People are basically good
2. People are basically bad
3. People are basically, it depends.


I fall into the 3rd category. I believe people have a choice to be either extreme and everything in between, and as such, we should treat them according to the choices they make. That is not to say that the choices are equally easy for all people to make, and the reasons are the rebuttals for the first two propositions.


Anyone who has had many siblings, or many kids, or has been a kid in grade school should have Some idea and sampling of the nature of people. Not every kid is equally gentle or equally thuggish. People have these qualities and many more in different weights. Part is almost certainly genetic, the other part environmental, but NOT all environmental. If the latter was the case we would not see sociopaths come from "normal" settings. Some people are just, off.



As such, I think a belief in the first two propositions produces.. counterproductive results.


If all/vast majority of people are basically good, it has a tendency to stay ones hand when dealing with people who engage in bad behavior.

Bobby G
03-26-2009, 12:28 PM
No, people are basically bad.

There are two reasons for this:

(1) The Milgram/Zimbardo experiments
(2) Peter Singer/Peter Unger-style considerations

AemJeff
03-26-2009, 01:18 PM
No, people are basically bad.

There are two reasons for this:

(1) The Milgram/Zimbardo experiments
(2) Peter Singer/Peter Unger-style considerations

Notwithstanding Uncle Eb's cogent point about definitions (and their lack), this is the rightest answer to the question. I lean more toward point (1), I should add.

claymisher
03-26-2009, 02:07 PM
I dunno, my take on that is that people are basically stupid.

uncle ebeneezer
03-26-2009, 03:10 PM
My problem with using 1.) to answer a greater general question about human "goodness" is that 1.) asked people to play roles that are already very well defined to any reasonably aware human. As soon as you ask people to play "prisoner" or "guard" you're opening a pretty large can of cultural worms.

My answer to "are people good?" if I had to be as succinct as possible would be: Who? When? Where? and to Whom? These same people who practiced cruelty as prison guards, how did they treat their friends/family afterwards? How would they act if you asked them to play the role of a defense attorney for a war criminal?

I lean towards the Bob Wright/behavioral economics outlook that people act accordingly based on a HUGE amount of factors. What is the relation between them and the other person? What are the costs/benefits of +/- behavior? Not to mention, people mature and change. I've known some people who did some really nasty stuff in their lives, but would never do them again because they have grown-up, had kids, re-evaluated their lives, found God, whatever. To me there's simply too many factors in the equation to ask such a sweeping question. I do think that reciprocal altruism, explains an awful lot.

AemJeff
03-26-2009, 03:19 PM
My problem with using 1.) to answer a greater general question about human "goodness" is that 1.) asked people to play roles that are already very well defined to any reasonably aware human. As soon as you ask people to play "prisoner" or "guard" you're opening a pretty large can of cultural worms.

My answer to "are people good?" if I had to be as succinct as possible would be: Who? When? Where? and to Whom? These same people who practiced cruelty as prison guards, how did they treat their friends/family afterwards? How would they act if you asked them to play the role of a defense attorney for a war criminal?

I lean towards the Bob Wright/behavioral economics outlook that people act accordingly based on a HUGE amount of factors. What is the relation between them and the other person? What are the costs/benefits of +/- behavior? Not to mention, people mature and change. I've known some people who did some really nasty stuff in their lives, but would never do them again because they have grown-up, had kids, re-evaluated their lives, found God, whatever. To me there's simply too many factors in the equation to ask such a sweeping question. I do think that reciprocal altruism, explains an awful lot.

I agree with this. I used the weaseliest word I could ("rightest") deliberately here, and started off in this thread with a completely smart-assed comment, because I really don't think that there's a legitimate question here. The only choices really available are to define "good" down in some technical sense to a concrete idea which would then itself be fodder for endless debate) or to try to solve the puzzle of human morality - another endless debate (and one to which thousands of words have been consigned right here in the BHTV comments section. I note, sadly, that nobody yet has bowed to my superior conception of how to view the issue, but I'll wear you guys down yet!)

graz
03-26-2009, 03:27 PM
.. and started off in this thread with a completely smart-assed comment, because I really don't think that there's a legitimate question here... I note, sadly, that nobody yet has bowed to my superior conception of hoe to view the issue, but I'll wear you guys down yet!)

Nope, there's always a need for more salt.
Would you be open to additional seasonings as well?

AemJeff
03-26-2009, 03:47 PM
Would you be open to additional seasonings as well?

I'm pretty fond of a combination of garlic, chili, Parmesan cheese, and basil or oregano.

JonIrenicus
03-26-2009, 04:39 PM
No, people are basically bad.

There are two reasons for this:

(1) The Milgram/Zimbardo experiments
(2) Peter Singer/Peter Unger-style considerations

Are they?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment#Results

and what of that one student who refused to go beyond the 300 volt mark?

it says 65% went all the way, but presumably 35% did NOT go all the way and stopped before. Careful with these results, at most they show that the behavior of human beings is not so naturally benign as many assume. The follow up question is why can/do essentially "good" people do terrible things?

I am virtually certain there was an element of authority, oozing from the experimenter, that spurred the people on further than they would normally go. There are countless times in my own life (much more so when a kid) that I have done things I did NOT want to do. Like go to the prom, had no interest in it, but did it for the wants of others around me.

Group mechanics (like group think), authority mechanics, etc, these can push people further along into doing things they do not truly want to do. (for the good as well, not just ill)

This leads to an interesting problems for the purists. The main example is that I think it is Harder to be "good" in radical Islamic societies. So if it is harder for some to be good, and easier for others, should we truly judge different people with different trials by the same standard?

I say yes, with full acknowledgment that such an application is less fair to some, and more fair to others. Because I am not bound by the idea that everything must be egalitarian. At some point, we have to judge the choices people make, even if the choices leading to a down path were easier to fall into for one man than it was for another.

Fair? no. Better for society as a whole than grading on a curve when dealing with bad behavior? Absolutely.

I could be wrong, but that is where I am coming from, hopefully laid out clearly with no hand waving or hiding my underlying supports.

pampl
03-26-2009, 05:20 PM
I don't suppose it's possible (or desirable) to strategically choose what you think is morally right or wrong, but if you can I'd warn against taking the Milgram experiment as showing people acting immorally. Their mistake was, after all, trusting a scientific authority to recommend the moral course of action. That might not be a bad thing to do in general!

I'm not sure what to make of the Zimbardo experiment, all I know about it is that guards acted with varying degrees of cruelty and kindness, and that I wouldn't trust Zimbardo's own conclusions too much as they matched what he had said was a lifelong goal to prove. I think to gain any information from his experiment you'd have to read all the specifics of how the subjects interacted and that's a lot of work. Das Experiment is a sweet movie though.

Bobby G
03-26-2009, 05:43 PM
I'm aware of the 65% figure (it should be noted that in other countries, like Spain, the figure went as high as 80%), but that's why I mentioned both Milgram/Zimbardo considerations (which show the evil actions most of us are ready to do if put in the right situation) AND Peter Singer/Unger considerations (which show the evil omissions most of us make all the time).

So, I have a very demanding standard of what it takes to be a good person: you have to be such that you don't succumb to the temptations of following evil authorities, and you have to be such that you don't succumb to the tempations of valuing indulging your trivial desires over preventing at least some of the severe sufferings of others. At the very least, you have to be someone who tries to do both these things.

Obviously, if you had a different standard--let's say, a good person is someone who doesn't violate any major norms (like, murder or rape), only occasionally violates minor norms (like illegally downloading), and occasionally does good things for others (like bakes them a cake or takes care your friend's kids every so often), and is generally nice, kind, and so forth, then you're probably not going to think that people are basically bad.

uncle ebeneezer
03-26-2009, 05:55 PM
I agree with this....

In that case I will bow down to your view (since it's also mine.)