The Webster dictionary defines good as that which is virtuous, pious and excellent and evil as that which is morally wrong (Strodtbeck, 1990). For many years, psychologists, scientists and philosophers have been grappling with the challenge of identifying if man is inherently good or evil.
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Attempts to answer the question effectively are faced by a lot of setbacks since the nature of human beings has been analyzed using different perspectives. The debate has also attracted contradictory evidences from different scholars; For instance, Jean-Jacque Rousseau believed that, by nature men are good and that, all evil they may have is attributable to influences of the corrupt society.
In contrast Thomas Hobbes viewed mankind as being driven by instinct or passion with intentions of achieving self-preservation. The underlying principles used to determine whether an individual is either good or evil include values, beliefs and morals. These principles form the basis of an argument as to whether human beings are inherently evil or good.
What makes a man distinctly “human” is his ability to reason. The holy bible portrays man, as a creation made of God’s image, hence inherently good. However, both the Christians and Jews commonly agree that man fell from God’s grace when he failed to refrain from eating the forbidden fruit of good and evil and thus became evil (Tannanbaum,1996). Human beings seem to posses some inner instinct to do evil, but the desire to do what is good also seems to be present in most of what they do.
There is an inner spirit of being “good” that dwells in all men, and therefore most people don’t like doing anything “unethical”. Some scholars argue that, all men are born being good but because the people who bring them up do evil to them, they also become evil (Strodtbeck, 1990). The surroundings through which a new born child is raised greatly determines how the child behaves later in life.
The moral, an individual receives through the upbringing process greatly determines the path one chooses to follow by either being good or bad. For a man to be good he merely needs to be brought up in a very good atmosphere that is free from influences of the bad corrupted society (Tannanbaum, 1996).
Although the idea of bringing up a good man by ensuring that the society is free from all forms of evils and corruption seems good, history has shown that in real life situation things don’t work out as expected (Strodtbeck, 1990).
Some of the people who have shown the worst kinds of evil on earth were born and raised in very good environments .Hitler was brought up in an extremely cultured society, but played the piano together with his minion at night after heartlessly killing very innocent people. Although he was privileged at a young age, many consider him to be the most evil person who ever lived.
The ancient kings and rulers, who were treated, worshipped and given all sorts of undue love, such as Nero, are among the most evil people recorded in history. Such people used their position and kingdom for purposes of having any fun they wished to have, they never cared for the other men as long as their fun was never disturbed (Whyte, 1998). This kind of people therefore disapproved the fact that good environment was not necessarily enough in keeping man from being evil.
Others argue that, a man looks at evil in his surrounding and believes that, it is the only thing one is naturally required to do. This argument is often used to explain the behavior and character of people like Nero and Hitler, although Hitler at some point in life almost became a religious leader and Nero presided over a throne which was once ruled by Julius Cesar, one of the biggest rulers in history who although not entirely a good person, was by far among the righteous rulers of his time (Tannanbaum, 1996).
The bible justifies this claim in psalms 34:15 when David tells the Christians to move away from evil and instead do good. This seems to support the idea that man becomes evil through interacting with the environment and therefore should turn from evil to doing good. In other words, when a person interacts with evil so much, the probabilities of being bogged in it are very high.
The pen sexuality theory holds that, while man thinks that he is making conscious decisions, he is actually driven by subconscious motives hence human beings are free to choose between evil and good.
Due to this fact, some sociologists regard man as a product of evolution (Whyte, 1998). His genetic heritage shapes his behavior and character. The human nature is generally governed by self-interest which is greatly controlled by the genetic predisposition.
Recent studies in Neuroscientific findings revealed that human beings are primarily driven by emotions rather than reason in doing good or bad (Strodtbeck, 1990). Yet, since man’s behavior and psyche are products of the surroundings, with deliberate efforts and under favorable environment one is capable of doing what is morally accepted beyond the limits of an individual’s genetic coding.
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Dostoyevsky in his novel “crime and punishment” states that human beings are born with some form of vague evil that reveals itself naturally like pleasure, pain or any other kind of an urge a person may feel. He believes that evil thoughts are inexorable and inherent, a major component of the human mind that cannot be erased through sheer will and force (Tannanbaum, 1996).
In addition, Dostoyevsky demonstrates that, society’s acknowledgement of evil does not necessarily make its members shun from doing what is considered to be evil. Following this argument one can easily come to a conclusion that man is inherently born evil and some time in life will inevitably fall to some degree of committing evil. Charles Darwin argues that the morally upright men might not perform better than the immoral ones but a group of moral people is to be treasured than a band of immoral pirates (Strodtbeck, 1990).
In conclusion, the question of whether man is inherently good or evil can only be answered within a specific context. Actions are considered as either good or bad according to the culture, religion or environment in which there are performed (Whyte, 1998). What is considered as bad or unacceptable within one culture could be acceptable in another hence variation in interpretations of good and evil.
Some practices are deemed as evil while others are deemed as good depending on the observer’s conclusion. Therefore good and evil are subjects to individual’s interpretation. People are neither evil nor good and they behave in the way they do, whether in a morally accepted manner or not with intentions of surviving.
Strodtbeck, F.(1990).Evalution of man:the concept of good and bad. Talent and society,16(20),154-162.
Tannanbaum, R.S.(1996). Values, man, and organizations.California:University of California press.
Whyte, W.H.(1998). The organization man. Pennsylvania:university of Pennsylvania press.