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Nitish Panda

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Nitish Panda


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Fri, Nov 11, 2016 - 11:47 PM

Do humanists hold the view that humans are inherently good?

Do humanists believe that humans are born good but due to some external factors are driven towards bad deeds? I like humanism very much and want to imbibe it's values in my life but I don't believe that humans are born good or bad. I believe humans determine through their actions whether they are good or bad. Is my view compatible with humanism?



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Bill Haines
Garden State Attitude in the Old Dominion

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Bill Haines

Garden State Attitude in the Old Dominion

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About Bill Haines

"Love well, seek the good in all things, harm no others, think for yourself, take responsibility, respect nature, do your utmost, be informed, be kind, be courageous: at least, sincerely try."
-- A. C. Grayling
Print Tue, Nov 15, 2016 - 04:49 PM
My short answers are, "No, this isn't a core belief for all Humanists," and, "Yes, your view is compatible with Humanism." But I would add, "Nearly all Humanists believe nearly all people are capable of goodness."

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Bo Bennett, PhD
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Bo Bennett, PhD

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Print Sat, Nov 12, 2016 - 05:53 AM
Humans are born "good"—for a lack of a better word. That is, the vast majority of us are born with a strong sense of empathy that serves as the biological basis for our morality. As a social species, our evolved default behavior is to get along with each other. Some people are born with a dampened sense of empathy, no empathy, anti-social tendencies, heightened aggression, and other predispositions that give them little chance of being seen as "good." Fortunately, this is relatively rare. From there, environmental factors significantly influence our behavior. Without getting deep into moral theories, it is safe to say that most humans are born to be good.
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Amy E Hall
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Amy E Hall

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A freethinker, a world traveler, a pilot, and an artist.
Print Sat, Nov 12, 2016 - 06:49 AM
My chosen career takes me all over the world and I can tell you, people are people. We all want to live, raise our families, and be secure. Go to a foreign country and watch the children play. The scary human is not the one who has different ideas or beliefs.
I am not saying that all humans are "good".
The capacity for empathy is the real trademark. Ah but lacking that quality doesn't show on someone's face. The villain doesn't wear the black cape .


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KO
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KO

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Print Sun, Nov 13, 2016 - 08:45 AM
Do humanists believe that humans are born good but due to some external factors are driven towards bad deeds?
You ask a really good question (and very complicated!). But to make sense of it, we have to think about what people mean when they use the phrase “inherently good” as applied to persons.

In one sense, we use the word “good” to just mean “valuable.” I take humanism to be a worldview that holds that human beings are inherently valuable. But this is probably not the sense you’re concerned with.

We also say that persons are good when we want to talk about their character. In this sense a good person is one that tends to do the right thing for the right reasons. In this sense, babies have neither good nor bad character – they lack the capacity to choose the right action for the right reason. Given normal human development, and a normal human brain (see Bo’s point, above), we can develop a good character.

Lots of great work has been done on how we develop moral concepts. One nice recent study is “The Ontogeny of Fairness in Seven Societies” in the journal Nature, Dec 2015 (truly, there is so much written on this). The authors conclude that our ability to be averse to inequity when we are the person receiving more than our peers develops later in age than being averse to inequity when we are the ones getting less. If this study is good, it’s a partial answer to your question: we are born with an innate capacity for fairness, and culture plays a role in how it’s shaped.

There is one last point I need to make. Your question is really good because wrapped up in it is one of the reasons I left religion. Consider the doctrine of original sin: people are born inherently bad in the sense that they have inherited responsibility for an act committed by the alleged first human beings. But, there is a problem with this view: such babies can’t have chosen that act for themselves because they can’t “choose” any actions. And in fact they didn’t even perform that act (and evolutionary theory tells us there is no single “first human”). Thus, as a humanist, I reject this view as deeply confused and even morally repugnant. I prefer to use good studies and careful reasoning to decide how we develop our innate moral concepts and try to create a world in which the most number of people possible can develop their moral capacities to their fullest.


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Sue Parry

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Print Sun, Nov 13, 2016 - 10:15 AM
I take evolution seriously. I think it's clear that the human species evolved the capacity for many different kinds of behavior, some of which are beneficial to us and other living beings, and some of which are not. We evolved the intellectual capacity both to label behaviors good or evil, and to imagine a god(s) out there who exists independently of us, and who decides what's good and evil.

And at some point, the creators of the Judaeo-Christian god (I don't know enough to speak about others) decided that their god believed that humans were inherently evil because they didn't do what he told them to do. I imagine this worked pretty well as a means of social control for those who were claiming to speak for that god. That idea has stuck around, to the point where now people think it makes sense to ask whether humans are inherently good or evil. But it doesn't, it you think of us as one species among many, which happens to have evolved some pretty amazing intellectual capacities.

I suspect most humanists would prefer not to stay stuck in a question that's defined by one bronze-age group's religious ideas, but would rather do the human work of figuring out what we really think is good and how we can act in more beneficial ways.








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