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Are people inherently good or inherently bad?

In my opinion this is the core difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals, like Rousseau in his book The Social Contract, believe people are inherently good, and can govern themselves. Conservatives, like Hobbes in his book Leviathan, believe people are inherently bad and need kings or oligarchies to govern them. Superficially it may appear that liberals, with all of their regulations, believe people are bad, but dig deeper and you'll find that the regulations, the 'big government' espoused by modern liberals, is a reaction to the modern version of oligarchy: big corporations who want to make choices for the people, most recently codified in the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Mar 5 2014: Hi Jeff,
    I think no one is anything inherently, good or bad. We are all born with certain tendencies, which may either be enforced or changed by our upbringing.

    My understanding is that only once we are mature, we are fully responsible for our actions. In the mean time we're learning.

    Throughout our whole life we are kept in a spiritual equilibrium, freewill, between good and bad. When mentally healthy we can choose to go either way. We are what we love, and love can only exist in freedom and develop with freewill.
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    Mar 4 2014: I think nobody is inherently good or bad. Moral goodness and badness are associative in society. Good begets good, bad begets bad. Governments should work to deregulate and produce social condition that will promote good acts and discourage bad acts.
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    Mar 4 2014: I will not answer the relation between liberal and conservative thinking with people being inherently good or bad, for i believe there are a myriad of other factors that affect that relation, and because each person may have very different perspectives on such, thus it is too subjective for my taste. However, according to my research and my studies, people are born inherently good. The best evidence would be research on 'bad people'. People who are viewed or view themselves as 'bad' are not really happy with it. Unbelievably 'bad' people like Adolf Hitler do their atrocious acts with an inherently good intention, but is incredibly ignorant or 'autistic' in other factors. This is a tactic applied by governments and the military to be able to coax their citizens to do 'bad' things. Like enemy 'dehumanization'. enemy citizens are viewed to be 'less' than human and thus, it is alright to do 'bad things' to them. 'Extreme group pride' views your nation or even a small group, or race, or sexual orientation to be superior than the others, and so it is alright to impose your beliefs on them which may involve, discrimination , murder, rape, and the plethora of other 'bad' things. It is the lack of empathy and selfish pride that causes 'bad'. The sad thing is, these two are very contagious.
  • Mar 8 2014: People are not inherently good or bad.

    The difference between liberals and conservatives is about redistribution, not good or bad.
  • Mar 6 2014: Yes we are both inherently good and bad as we all have the potential for and are capable of both.
  • Mar 6 2014: At heart, you're just a bigot who is trying to hijack your favorite philosopher for your pet political position.
  • Mar 6 2014: Rousseau is considered a "conservative" by modern standards--he believed that individuals should NOT all run to government for every little thing and that government should let businessmen conduct their own business. Under Rousseau, government did NOT have the authority to unilaterally change the social contract by imposing ever-greater restriction. Hobbes philosophy underlies a great deal of modern "liberalism". People are too "racist" or too "sexist" or too "capitalist" to be trusted to make their own decisions, so government has to "enlighten" them and take their profits away to spend in a "better" fashion.
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    Mar 6 2014: if being scientific.. then people with certain set of genes have tendencies to be more bad!! but practically speaking .. these tendencies can be overpowered by the aquired characters one learns from the surrounding and his family..
    so the aquired morals dominates over the genetic characters!!

    in jinx poeple are inherently good and bad.. but what is behave is totally aquired!
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    Mar 5 2014: Most of people very much need a leader because since their early childhood they become terribly confused in choosing between "good" and "bad" for themselves; between what they have been told and what they feel for themselves.

    What one loves may be very damaging for others: nature does not allow us to be the same - everyone is more or less unique.

    THE OLD GOLDEN RULE is very confusing:

    May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me.

    -Plato - Fourth Century B.C.

    Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

    -Jesus of Nazareth- First Century

    In order to improve our existing awkward ethics and mentality THE OLD GOLDEN RULE (our ethics) SHALL BE REPLACED.

    I'd suggest to teach a new Golde Rule in schools - perhaps saying:

    NEVER treat others as you would like to be treated yourself - unless they agree to it first - because what works for you may be damaging for others.
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    Mar 5 2014: Hi Jeffrey,
    I don't believe people are inherently good or inherently bad, and you seem to want to make this a political issue? You say that for you..." this is the core difference between liberals and conservatives." Apparently you believe one or the other is good, and one or the other is bad. That's quite a judgment you make Jeffrey, and it is no wonder that you ruffled a few feathers!

    Some people learn behaviors that may be inherently good, or useful to themselves and/or society, and some people learn behaviors that may be less inherently good or useful to themselves and/or society. The political ideas a person chooses to embrace may have something to do with what they/we have learned in our life experiences. It's very cut and dry, and not very open minded to suggest that all liberals, or all conservatives are either good or bad people.
  • Mar 5 2014: Hi Dear Jeffrey,I think People are neither born good nor bad to judge oringinally,it seems like any plant growing on the earth,people are the same.But I do think good or bad all should be come from educaiton.
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    Mar 5 2014: Can you define what you mean by good and bad?
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    Mar 4 2014: As a Conservative I find your comment offensive, it is a Conservative value that states all men are created equal, and it is Liberals who believe some people need to be overly protected and taken care of do to their nationality or as you liberals incorrectly call them do to their race. There is only one race, it is called human.

    All of mankind is create equally noble, is bad nurturing that turns some bad.
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      Mar 5 2014: Mr. Anderson,

      What makes a person "Conservative"? And what makes one a "Liberal"? What are the conditions that produce "Conservatives"? What are the conditions that produce "Liberals'?

      Please elaborate more on your proposition that "All men are created equal". Are children born of Conservatice parents equal to children born of Liberal parents? Are the children of the top 1% equal to the children of the bottom 99%?

      What are the conditions that produce "good nurturing"? And what are the conditions that produce "bad nurturing"?
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        Mar 5 2014: Wikipedia can explain the origins better than I could, so I’ll just link to it.

        Basically no matter if a person’ parents were royalty or peasants, free or slave, upper class or untouchable, this nationality or that nationality, Conservative or Liberal, handicap or healthy, or any other category, it is self-evident they are equal and have unalienable rights.

        That is not to say we are not different, for we all have our different strengths and weaknesses. Just like Stephen Hawking mental strength makes-up for his physical weakness, some peoples' strength is hidden at first glance.

        Nurturing comes from all around us, as well as from within. (parents, school, friends, society, environment, nutrition, health, and looking within.)
        You ask “What are the conditions that produce good nurturing", that something every parent and leader has been asking themselves and there is simply no single right answer to that question, for we are all too unique in how we learn.
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    Mar 4 2014: i believe that humans are flawed and so are the systems that we live by
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    Mar 4 2014: I believe we are inherently good. Otherwise we would be almost extinct by now. But as it is, the world population is growing at an alarming rate and many of us are living longer and making this world a little better everyday.
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    Mar 4 2014: Every body has the capacity for both good and evil of course. Nurture from our parents and society influence which direction we take in the beginning of our lives. Some of us can develop volition and change our course later . I like your basic point but think you need a corollary to understand the beliefs that motivate many conservatives. I have been testing a hypothesis that reactionary conservatism not only lacks faith in the goodness of Human nature but has the underlying assumption that scarcity of essential resources is the norm. Thus they believe that there is not enough to sustain everyone and since other people are likely to be untrustworthy we must proactively secure supplies to ensure our own survival. This instantly justifies cutting in front of those less worthy ie.. immigrants and those of different religion or race who have no right to "our" resources.
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    Mar 4 2014: Poppycock! Both camps are generally misguided in their perspectives, but neither has anything to do with perceiving people as good or bad.

    "Liberals, like Rousseau in his book The Social Contract, believe people are inherently good, and can govern themselves."
    Why then do liberals have no respect for economic freedoms.

    "Conservatives, like Hobbes in his book Leviathan, believe people are inherently bad and need kings or oligarchies to govern them."
    Why then do conservatives typically seek to limit government power and keep power with the people.
    • Mar 4 2014: Lawren, a further point, if you read carefully, was that conservatives believe a very few people should make decisions for the masses. This is the root of the Citizens United decisions. Nowhere in the first amendment does it say that word money, yet the conservatives on the SCOTUS decided that money is speech. This allows very rich people, because they own the very rich corporations, to buy politicians and in effect make decisions for the masses.

      Conservatives are for limited government unless, of course, you want control over your own body as a female, expanded voting rights as a minority, or the separation of church and state in our schools' curricula. In these cases conservatives want MORE government, not less, and I maintain it is because they believe they, the very few, know what is best for the masses.

      The regulations espoused by liberals are a reaction to the imposition of conservative views on the masses. Environmental regulations are necessary or the very rich will destroy the air and water for the masses. Economic regulations are necessary or the very rich will hoard the wealth by whatever means necessary, and again the masses will suffer.

      If we, as one nation, really believe that all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we must find a balance between these two views. One person's right ends when it infringes upon another's right, for example, your right to make as much money as possible ends when that destroys the safe environment in which I and my family live. A conservative's right to believe in creationism does not mean he/she can impose those beliefs in my science classroom.

      A conservative's concern about voter fraud should be demonstrated as fact before he/she limits the voting rights of someone else.

      Do you see that these examples show how some people believe their view should be imposed on everyone else? That's conservatism vs. liberalism.
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    Mar 4 2014: I would have thought most people, regardless of political leaning, believe that each person has strengths and weaknesses, or both good and not so good aspects. Many people, I have observed, think those like them have more good in them than various others across the globe.