Are People Good?

Recorded live in Cambridge England. Also published as “A Theory of Reconciliation”

I want to talk about something that is a bit heavy, rather controversial, and that has to do with the question, “Are people basically good?” This is a new version of an old theological issue: “If God is good, then why is there so much evil in the world?” Here, I will be addressing a related question: “If people are basically good, then why do they do bad things?” In a way I’m using some of my philosophical training, because, believe it or not, I was here at Cambridge in 1963, studying Moral Sciences. In honor of my time at Cambridge, I begin with a philosophical reference. I would like to refer you to Aristotle, one of my favorite philosophers. 

He believed that there were two kinds of good: intrinsic goodness: things that are good in themselves, and instrumental goodness: things that are good because they lead to other things that are good. Looking around, you can ask yourself, “What things are good in themselves, and not just good for something else?” My conclusion is that the only thing that is good in itself is communion, the state of being related to another person or persons by means of communication, sharing of experiences, and affection. Everything seems to be related to creating relationships with people and the furtherance of our own and others’ well-being. This may be a controversial position, because some believe that it’s wrong to be person-centered; they hold that we should be life centered, we should  value all life, and we should not necessarily value people above other life forms.
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