On Being an Ethical Person

I – Defining ethical behavior is less a factor of whether a person is intrinsically good or bad as it is with how they deal with a moral dilemma that presents them with two or more conflicting resolutions. What is important is the code they use (process of reasoning) to arrive at the choice they make in resolving the dilemma.

We all, at one time or another, face moral dilemmas in life. They are unavoidable. They create conflict because the potential choices of resolving them are so at odds with each other and because they test the very foundation of the morality we have been brought up to accept. The actual position we take in resolving them are less important to ethics than how we prioritize and reason out the position to come by whatever decision we reach. We can also learn more about the character and internal workings of a person not by the position taken for resolution but in the way their process of thought proceeds to come to that decision.

We often confuse being an ethical person with being a good person, as if goodness has anything to do with it. Very often, the position taken in resolving the dilemma is one that a majority of people may not agree. The value judgement we place on any given choice is not what makes the person ethical or not. It’s often the way we (society) would like to define a “good” person as being ethical and a bad person as being unethical.

II – What makes a good person good, and a bad person bad?
Again, when we are referring to whether a person is ethical or unethical, what we think we mean is whether they are good or bad. So, how do we define someone who is good or bad? A good person is someone who does good things, and a bad person is someone who does bad things.

What society attributes as good or bad is essentially more important to defining goodness and badness as any other factor, since we as individuals take those interpretations and internalize those values as our own.

How we act them out in our behavior (which society labels) will be ultimately how we will be defined as good or bad, while religion often use evil synonymously with bad, but it’s essentially the same thing.

Most things we associate with a good person include being true to those attributes deemed valuable and important in defining a person as a positive contributing member: helpfulness, magnanimity, honesty, kindness, bravery, reverence and others. Which ones have i forgotten?

Being a bad person would include doing things that are counter-productive to society, being destructive to others, selfishness, irreverence towards religion, the laws of society, etc.

The important thing to remember is that however we are defined by society or by ourselves, ethics has nothing to do with it. A “bad” person can have an ethical code by which they live as much as a person defined as “good”.