What is a Morally “Good” Person?

What is a Morally “Good” Person? September 17, 2014

WillardHere is the essence of virtue ethics: character produces behavior. Even more: a good character acts out in goodness. Virtue ethics, to be sure, contends that habits produce the character that then lives the good life. But what is a good person? Dallas Willard and Gary Black, Jr., in The Divine Conspiracy Continued, in their pivotal chapter for leaders called “moral knowledge,” sketch what a good person is — and this is worth the price of the book (95-96). [I see their sketch to be very close to a Christian version of virtue ethics.]

I am interested how you see this listing of goodness. Like it? Disagree? Add something? Delete something? 

What is a good person?

A morally good person is a matter of degree — all are on the spectrum of virtues to vices. There are then thoroughly good persons and thoroughly bad persons. Evil persons then are ought to undo and destroy the list below; good persons are ought to create the list.

1. A morally good person is one who is committed to preserving and enhancing — in an appropriate order of importance — all the various “goods” (individual aspects of the “good”) over which he or she has influence. This includes pursuing one’s own moral goodness as well as the well-being of others.

2. A morally good person is one who cultivates understanding of the various “goods” of life (by education) and the capacity to reason clearly about those “goods” and about the conditions necessary for their preservation and enhancement.

3. The good person is a thoughtful person who seeks to be informed and who is, though not in an overly sentimental sense, a person animated by love. Thus, being a good person is always first a personal choice and achievement.

4. A good person is one who arranges life in such a way as to become morally upright and who seeks out and implements the means for remaining so. Becoming and remaining a good person does not just “happen.”

5. A good person is one who effectively cares for him- or herself and those who are close. This is the principle of proximity.

6. A good person is someone who can be trusted.

Which leads to the big question: What are the goods, the common goods, to which a good person is committed?

Yes: Tolerance, understanding and grace.

Yes, especially: Love.

Most importantly, though, for Willard and Black the common goods are the fruit of the Spirit.

These can only be achieved (or become part of our character) through God’s grace in his Son through the Spirit.

A good person, then, is one in whom the Spirit makes the fruit of the Spirit one’s character.

Goodness and good character must be distinguished from ideology. Someone might be absolutely or rigidly consistent in an ideology but be entirely unreasonable in the matter of critical thinking well enough to see the narrowness of the beliefs. Leftist and Rightists sometimes are entirely consistent but lacking in goodness. Put differently, ideologues are intolerant and cannot abide or maintain a good relationship with someone with whom they differ. They are tribalists.  Goodness then is a character issue not a belief issue.

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