Two sides of goodness

When I was younger, I spent a long time thinking about what it meant to be good. There were two definitions I could see. One was that being good meant doing things which were good. There other was that being good meant having good intentions.

(It might seem like this is just a different way of phrasing the consequentialism vs deontology debate. It isn’t. What makes an action right or wrong is different from what makes a person good or evil)

If you judge people by their intentions, a person who consistently does evil things but believes them to be good is good. A zealot who kids unbelievers in the belief that doing so saves their souls is good. This is wrong.

If you judge people by their actions, someone who tries to do evil but accidentally ends up doing good is good. A man who tries to kill a stranger by injecting then with what they think is aids, but what is actually a cure for cancer, is good. This is also wrong.

It’s difficult to judge a person. I think the reason both intentions and actual effects appeal as ways of judging is because when we ask whether a person is evil, we actually mean two things. First, whether they are a force for good or evil in the world. Second, whether they as a person are good or evil, whether they strive do what is right or choose not to. In recognising this distinction, clarity is achieved.

A good man is one who genuinely tries to do what is right. Even if he’s mistaken, he is still good. Even a retard who kills a child by feeding them medicine is good. Ignorance alone does not deprive you of your moral worth. 

A man in the service of good is one whose actions further the light more than the dark. Even if his motives are as black as sin, as a piece on the playing board he is a piece on our side.

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