Tag Archives: Good

Heart of Darkness

My older brother and I had a discussion one night during Winter Break. Granted, I was ready to go to sleep and I was not ready to have a long discussion on philosophical matters. And what he said does not represent what we both thought at all. It was something that he thought was interesting and worth talking about, even though the topic itself was a little taboo.

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Being Good Is a Choice

In Meno, Socrates gives several examples of fathers who worked their hardest to try and teach their sons how to be good. However, the teachings do not work. (Meno, 94a-e) Then, Socrates says that teaching cannot be taught. Well, I disagree. As children are growing up, they pick up habits from their parents and family, who are the principal people that teach them. Whatever children are being taught to do is what they will do unless they choose not to. You see, in my opinion, being good boils down to a choice- whether or not you will follow the habits and teachings of the people closest to you or not.

There are four types of outcomes that people can choose based on the habits of their parents: good habits from parents = good habits from children, bad habits from parents = bad habits from children, good habits from parents = bad habits from children, and finally, bad habits from parents = good habits from children. Parents can teach their children habits that are either good or bad, and children can learn from those habits and decide which habits they want to continue doing for the rest of their life. In society today, there are two different types of stories that are frequently heard. The first is the story about the parents that give their children a fabulous upbringing and are nurturing and caring, and their child(ren) end up making a mess of their life by practicing bad habits. The second is the story about a child who had a rough start in life (like the deadbeat parent, the “always drunk” parent, the abusive parent, or the uncaring/unsupportive parent) and made it a goal to become successful and, by practicing good habits, achieved that goal.

Everything about a person’s character, which determines if they are good or not, depends on the choices that he or she makes. It is not a matter of you not being receptive to good things that causes you to be a bad person, but a matter of if you decide to be receptive to the things that you were taught, whether they be good or bad.

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.