The Middle Ground

While reading the passages of Meno, I wondered if what they were arguing about, whether being good is taught or inherent, was a completely valid argument. I do not believe that being good can solely be taught, nor do I believe that being good is solely due to nature. It is somewhere between the spectrum of these two extremes.

Firstly, we must define what good is. I will stipulate that good means doing what is morally correct. Understanding what the morally correct thing to do in a situation is not inherent. We are taught moral standards that allow us to judge whether or not our actions would be right. However, what is inherent is the ability to act on the situation, or having the will to do so. We all have different capacities of will, and it is not something that can be taught. Yet motivation only gives reasons for an action, which can affect the outcome, but it does not effect will itself. Will is the unadulterated thought process that influences our actions, and to motivate is to adulterate these actions. Will is what will initially influences our decision, and, without the time to think through a course of action, it is the sole influence on it. Yet, as I previously stated, motivation can influence an outcome of a scenario, and motivation can be, in a sense, taught. For example, someone can teach you the benefits of exercising, or eating nutritiously, and this will affect your decision to do these thing. But it is a combination of a person’s will to act on this and the motivation from the knowledge that they gathered that will ultimately effect the pursuit of an outcome.

People must be taught what is morally good. It is not innate as will is. We do not inherently understand that violence is bad, but it must be taught to us. We also have to learn the distinction from bad violence and violence that is acceptable, such as self-defense or protecting someone. Just like motivation, morals can be taught to effect the outcome of a decision.

If we were to discuss whether or not people are born or taught to be good in Menos’ sense of the word, which is that they serve a specific part of society, the argument would change. In Menos’ stipulation of the word good, good is the quality that increases the intrinsic worth of a person in a specific field. And thus, it is mostly taught. What it means to be a good pacifist is to never react in a violent manner. Yet, the instinct of self-preservation is inherent, and instinct and what is morally good will contradict. So it must be taught to pacifists that no violence is morally good, and, in this case, this is something that we are not born knowing.

In conclusion, the outcomes of this argument is determined by how you are currently using the word good. Good, as in morally correct, has more of a middle ground between what is innate and what is taught when it comes to making a decision, while good in Menos’ sense of the word is skewed more to what is taught.

2 responses to “The Middle Ground

  1. I really enjoy your thought process behind your post regarding a “middle ground between being taught and being inherently ‘good'”. You stipulate that good in this case means, “doing what is morally correct”, but you go on in the fourth paragraph to say that Meno’s stipulative definition of good is different than what your argument what on. I liked the thought process behind stipulating what exactly “good” means, and I feel that it was more of the subject in the post than arguing a “middle ground” of nature vs. nurture.

  2. Your thought process on nature vs. nurture is on point. For instance, psychopaths are inherently born bad, and there is no teaching to be done that could make them good people. On the other hand, a good child, who is kind, might become a ruthless child-soldier if she is trained to kill others at a young age. Thus, like you say, good is a quality that is both instinctive and rational. In addition, I like how you also mention “the spectrum of these two extremes”. In this context, good is a kind of moderation if we apply Aristotle’s thoughts on virtues.

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