A philosophical view on not being a massive cunt
Many of us have had the moral of goodness instilled in us from a very young age and likely grew up wanting to be ‘good people.’ But what does being a good person actually mean? Is it returning the $5 note you find on the ground to the campus lost and found? Smiling at a stranger in your lectures? Or not fabricating lab data when you had no idea how to run the experiment?
According to Socrates, to be good one must consider their actions and act in a good and just manner. According to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, to be good would probably mean one must never wear sweatpants out in public.
The point is that being a good person is obviously subjective.
But broadly speaking, there are two main schools of thought amongst philosophers on what being good means. Plato and Aristotle seem to equate goodness to being able to perform all your social roles, and possessing qualities that result in you being an object of moral approval to those around you. They claim that being good means you must possess certain traits and these traits influence your actions and inevitably result in you being a good person. Kinda like being born with a halo over your head and then automatically being angelic and spraying fairy dust everywhere you go!
Other philosophers argue that as humans we have the power to act freely and this power is more closely related to our actions than our seemingly innate traits. Thus, although we may possess certain traits that make us more likely to be ‘good,’ our free will makes us responsible for our actions, even when they may feel predetermined by our nature.
However, both these views seem to agree that in order to be considered good, your actions must generally benefit society as a whole.
Well then what makes a person bad or evil? Do people just wake up and decide to be massive cunts for no good reason? In Protagoras, Plato claims that evil is only a mere consequence of ignorance, because no one would go against their well formed judgements, and such judgements can never truly be evil. However, in literature, the theme of inherent evil embedded in human nature has also been explored, where we are ‘bad,’ not because we don’t know any better but simply because of who we are. Golding writes about this theme in Lord of the Flies where he suggests that being bad or evil is inherent even when one is young. Which of these two takes on the evil nature of mankind is correct is frankly something that I can’t decide just yet…
But, in the interest of poetically contrasting the simplified version of good and bad, let’s talk about moral relativism! This idea denies the dichotomous division of the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and states that either way of being depends on the moral norms of the society that one exists. Say your scumbag ex is a ‘bad’ person when you rant about them to your friends, their actions, however, may be justified and even considered ‘good’ when they retell the same story to their group of friends. This idea of relativity explores how nobody is inherently just a good or bad person, but likely has traits which allow them to be both, and their perceived goodness depends on the society itself and the characteristics that they exercise most often.
So why doesn’t everybody just adopt the ‘good person’ persona?
I believe that being a good person is something that is organic and perhaps even impermanent. As we navigate our journey through the alleged ‘best years of our lives,’ many of us undoubtedly have had a complicated relationship with being good. We have all been the supportive friend, the shitty friend, and the dick who cuts you off in line at Munchy Mart. A plethora of different experiences, people, past relationships, and seemingly insignificant interactions determine the way in which we exist in the current moment. I have come to understand that the way we are is perhaps just a reflection of those who we have met and the lessons that they’ve taught us. In saying that, I’ve learnt how to be good because I am lucky enough to be surrounded by it. I see goodness in the way my mum cuts up fruit for me when I’m studying, I see it when my friends link arms with me when we cross the road together, I see it when the bus driver lets someone on the bus even when their AT Hop card isn’t working. The simplest way to be good is to appreciate the good around you. And then deciding to add to it. So choose to be good today.
Zai 🙂 xx