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Author Topic: What Makes Someone a Good Person?
Christine
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Just one of those random question moments. What do you think? What makes someone a good person?

Conversely, what makes someone a bad person?

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Strider
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good: someone who attempts to be aware of how their actions affect other people and the world around them, and who tries to minimize harm and maximize happiness(broadly defined) in their interactions based off their knowledge.

worth noting, it's possible to only do the second half, which is still pretty good.

bad: not so sure how I'd define that. I certainly WOULD NOT say that a bad person is someone who doesn't do the things that a good person does. it might take a good bit of thought to button this one down in a sentence or two.

[ December 21, 2009, 04:33 PM: Message edited by: Strider ]

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The Rabbit
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Here are some of things I think contribute to being (becoming) a moral individual.


1. A moral person is able to control their selfishness in order to work cooperatively with others for the benefit of all

2. A moral person is concerned about the well being of others.

3. A moral person strives to understand the long term and far reaching results of their actions, and modifies their behavior accordingly.

4. A moral person strives to be fair and justice.

5. A moral person is at least as concerned with ensuring that everyone is adequately reward for good works as they are with a making sure that bad people are properly punished.

6. A moral person is willing to delay gratification to achieve longer term goals.

7. A moral person respects the truth and is unwilling to distort it for gain.

I wouldn't call that a complete list, but its a good start.

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The Rabbit
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I know I switched from "good" to "moral". For some reason, I am more uncomfortable about the term "good person" than "moral person". I think that maybe because there are too many ways to understand what is meant by good.
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Christine
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
I know I switched from "good" to "moral". For some reason, I am more uncomfortable about the term "good person" than "moral person". I think that maybe because there are too many ways to understand what is meant by good.

I was just going to ask...what do you see as the difference between good and moral?
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scifibum
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I would say that a good person is one whose net effect on society is positive.

Kind of a dodge, isn't it.

But in my view:
It doesn't take much stealing to offset a lot of productivity.

Unmaking is easier and faster than making.

Relationships are a lot trickier but it comes down to giving as much as you're taking (and again, it's easier and faster to take than to give).

Bad is just the inverse.

Now, sorting people out is the real challenge.

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Synesthesia
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Respect and compassion.
Especially for the vulnerable.
Doing the right thing for the right reasins.

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Christine
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I would say that a good person is one whose net effect on society is positive.

Kind of a dodge, isn't it.

Yep. Here's my big problem with it: Despite their best efforts, it is very easy for a person's net benefit on society to be negative (well, I guess that depends upon how you define net benefit, so that's another issue). But let's say for example, that a person has a severe disability that makes him/her a drain on society? By your definition, it almost doesn't seem like he could easily be a good person. Or am I reading this wrong?
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
I know I switched from "good" to "moral". For some reason, I am more uncomfortable about the term "good person" than "moral person". I think that maybe because there are too many ways to understand what is meant by good.

I was just going to ask...what do you see as the difference between good and moral?
I'm not exactly sure. I worry that "good" can be interpreted as a statement about a persons intrinsic worth. Not that it necessarily means that, it just can. To me "good person" implies some sort of ultimate immutable quality that you either have or you don't. I think that all people can choose to be moral, or to act morally.

I know those aren't universally accepted definitions and don't expect them to be.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
... By your definition, it almost doesn't seem like he could easily be a good person. Or am I reading this wrong?

Maybe, maybe not.

But either way the issue you note doesn't necessarily go away with some of the other definitions. For example a sociopath would have trouble meeting most of The Rabbit's initial definition. Alternatively, someone that is mentally retarded in specific ways would have trouble with the control, concerned with others, understanding, delayed gratification goals as well.

Actually come to think of it, I think someone that is merely in a coma and is unaware of the world around them would have trouble being a good person with Strider's initial definition.

(Of course, an easy way to resolve this is just to note that some people may not be either "good" or "bad", but merely neutral)

quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
...
Now, sorting people out is the real challenge.

I've heard of one proposal which was just simply to kill them all [Wink]
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rollainm
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
Here are some of things I think contribute to being (becoming) a moral individual.


1. A moral person is able to control their selfishness in order to work cooperatively with others for the benefit of all

2. A moral person is concerned about the well being of others.

3. A moral person strives to understand the long term and far reaching results of their actions, and modifies their behavior accordingly.

4. A moral person strives to be fair and justice.

5. A moral person is at least as concerned with ensuring that everyone is adequately reward for good works as they are with a making sure that bad people are properly punished.

6. A moral person is willing to delay gratification to achieve longer term goals.

7. A moral person respects the truth and is unwilling to distort it for gain.

I wouldn't call that a complete list, but its a good start.

I think I can get behind all of that except "making sure that bad people are properly punished." I'm not so sure that in itself is a necessary concern for a moral/good person.
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Strider
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I agree with rollainm. I'd be more likely to say that a moral person should be concerned with preventing individuals and society from being hurt by the actions of "bad" people, both in the short and long term. I personally don't think punishment is the best method of bringing that about. I'd also say that the prescription you state is probably in conflict with at least one, if not a few, of your other prescriptions.
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Mucus
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I think the "at least as" in #5 just meant that (effort in creating rewards) >= (effort in punishments) meaning that even a person that punishes no one could still pass the condition.
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natural_mystic
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quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I would say that a good person is one whose net effect on society is positive.

Kind of a dodge, isn't it.

Yep. Here's my big problem with it: Despite their best efforts, it is very easy for a person's net benefit on society to be negative (well, I guess that depends upon how you define net benefit, so that's another issue). But let's say for example, that a person has a severe disability that makes him/her a drain on society? By your definition, it almost doesn't seem like he could easily be a good person. Or am I reading this wrong?
This is a good point. I think an element of intentionality is necessary.
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Strider
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Good call mucus. I didn't read it that way the first time. My general point still stands though.
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scifibum
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quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I would say that a good person is one whose net effect on society is positive.

Kind of a dodge, isn't it.

Yep. Here's my big problem with it: Despite their best efforts, it is very easy for a person's net benefit on society to be negative (well, I guess that depends upon how you define net benefit, so that's another issue). But let's say for example, that a person has a severe disability that makes him/her a drain on society? By your definition, it almost doesn't seem like he could easily be a good person. Or am I reading this wrong?
I don't think you're reading it wrong. It's a very unforgiving rule.

Intentionality could certainly be important for some purposes. But for defining good and bad? I don't need it. Certain bad acts ought to be illegal and have legal consequences. Other bad acts ought to be discouraged by social consequences. Bad people just are, or are not.

I'm comfortable saying that a bad person is someone who harms humanity more than helps humanity. This doesn't rule out calling someone with severe disabilities who is a total drain on society a bad person. Intentionally bad? Probably not. I wouldn't even say that being thus evaluated as a bad person ought to have any particular consequence (other than to get the person to try to reverse the balance, if possible).

Please note that I don't really want any part of deciding who specifically counts as a good person or a bad person (although I've had and will have moments where I think I've identified exceptions). [Smile]

Part of why I prefer this kind of definition is because I think human behavior is determined (except where it is random). I would give these terms approximately equal meaning:
1) Bad person
2) Person badly adapted to community life

I do have to admit that part of why I'm willing to stick to this proposed definition of "good person" and "bad person" is because measuring the net impact of a person on society (by which I pretty much mean humankind) is such an impossible task. And that works for me because I don't think there's any authority who has a legitimate interest in doing such sorting. It's an entirely ethereal and ultimately pointless judgment, in my view. [Smile]

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rollainm
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Mucus, good point, and ditto to Strider.

Maybe I'm just reading too much into it, but I'm still interpreting an underlying implication from Rabbit that actively seeking punishment for "bad" people is a good thing.

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scifibum
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
It's an entirely ethereal and ultimately pointless judgment, in my view. [Smile] [/QB]

Whoops, I want to follow this up a bit.

It's pointless when rendered by an external entity or authority.

It's nice and good for people to evaluate themselves insofar as that drives them to be better. (Not always the result of such evaluation!)

It's more effective for other people who deal with a possibly-"bad person" to address behaviors they think are bad than to judge the person as a bad person. Consequences, mainly.

And, as I said, I don't think there's any legitimate authority to actually judge people good or bad, but an internal self evaluation can be useful (though hardly objective enough to be considered valid).

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malanthrop
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A good person is someone who strives to be the best that he can and is generous to the needy.

A bad person is someone who is lazy and takes from others against their will.

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Strider
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scifibum, let me give you a hypothetical situation(I know...in the immortal words of Kenneth Parcell, "I don't believe in hypothetical situations...that's like lying to your brain.")

Jack is the ceo of a company that does cancer research. He doesn't particularly care about curing cancer, his father had made it his life's cause, but Jack just inherits the company when his father passes away. All Jack cares about is profits. In his pursuit of curing cancer he kidnaps thousands of people against their will and subjects them to all sorts of risky treatment. Many of them suffer horrible prolonged pain as a result of this treatment. And most of them die. After years of this, he finds a cure for cancer and millions upon millions of people are saved, now and in the future.

Would you say the net effect on society is positive? And would you say Jack is a good person?

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Fusiachi
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quote:
Originally posted by malanthrop:
A good person is someone who strives to be the best that he can and is generous to the needy.

A bad person is someone who is lazy and takes from others against their will.

"Best" is the superlative form of good. Please try again.
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scifibum
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quote:
Would you say the net effect on society is positive? And would you say Jack is a good person?
I hate to be stubborn, but I said already I'm not interested in judging individuals. [Smile]

If that makes my participation in this thread merely a distraction, I'm sorry.

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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by rollainm:
Mucus, good point, and ditto to Strider.

Maybe I'm just reading too much into it, but I'm still interpreting an underlying implication from Rabbit that actively seeking punishment for "bad" people is a good thing.

to expand, I realize that with what mucus points out, the emphasis in #5 is on the fact that if you're concerned with punishing people, you should be at least as concerned with rewarding people. But by even including it there at all, it implicitly suggests that punishing people is inherently moral, as long as it's tempered by an equal level of reward.

rollainm and I disagree with that(assuming that's even Rabbit's intention, which we don't definitely know yet), and I do so for, in general, the reasons I stated above.

Christine, what are your thoughts on the qualities of a good or bad person? What would you say about my initial definition?

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scifibum
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Sorry my thinking (and posting) is infuriatingly staccato tonight.

Whether Jack is a good person or not doesn't materially matter to anyone who knows Jack. If anyone discovers the kidnappings, then of course they should act to stop the kidnappings. Kidnapping is illegal and gets people put into jail, even if the jailing interferes with great works (though the moral dilemma has been explored in fiction plenty of times, and in the minds of real judges and juries too, I suppose).

It really helps that it's extremely unlikely that Jack is doing anything that only Jack can do. While a pretty good demonstration of a moral dilemma, it's not a practically realistic one.

So again, I'm not too interested in whether Jack is a good person, although I have an idea of what that means to me. I'll be content to participate as a member of a society that imposes consequences for certain acts.

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Launchywiggin
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Medium rare with a barbecue glaze. And you have to get the meat before they turn 2--too ripe otherwise.
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Strider
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
quote:
Would you say the net effect on society is positive? And would you say Jack is a good person?
I hate to be stubborn, but I said already I'm not interested in judging individuals. [Smile]

If that makes my participation in this thread merely a distraction, I'm sorry.

bah! Well then I will figure out a way to rephrase that question so you will be forced to answer! Check back soon. [Razz]
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malanthrop
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quote:
Originally posted by Fusiachi:
quote:
Originally posted by malanthrop:
A good person is someone who strives to be the best that he can and is generous to the needy.

A bad person is someone who is lazy and takes from others against their will.

"Best" is the superlative form of good. Please try again.
A good person is someone who selfishly works and studies to improve his greedy lifestyle and uses charitable tax deductions to avoid paying taxes.

A bad person is someone who sits on a porch drinking and doping while voting for a tax increase on the one mentioned above.

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Sterling
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quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I would say that a good person is one whose net effect on society is positive.

Kind of a dodge, isn't it.

Yep. Here's my big problem with it: Despite their best efforts, it is very easy for a person's net benefit on society to be negative (well, I guess that depends upon how you define net benefit, so that's another issue). But let's say for example, that a person has a severe disability that makes him/her a drain on society? By your definition, it almost doesn't seem like he could easily be a good person. Or am I reading this wrong?
Somewhat humorously- and before the addition of intention- what came to my mind is: by this definition, if someone acts despicably but self-destructs in such a flamboyant fashion that they become a society-positive example of what not to do, are they then a good person?

As far as the original question goes, I guess the heart of my sense of "good" would be: willingness to benefit others without benefit to self; unwillingness to harm others despite an opportunity to personally gain in doing so. But I realize there's a lot of blank space in there with regard to things like justice, the greater good, one's personal willingness to consider all the consequences of one's actions, and so on.

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Strider
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okay scifibum, I think I get what you consider to be the important things to consider, so I'll quote what I think is the most relevant part:

quote:
It's more effective for other people who deal with a possibly-"bad person" to address behaviors they think are bad than to judge the person as a bad person. Consequences, mainly.

And, as I said, I don't think there's any legitimate authority to actually judge people good or bad, but an internal self evaluation can be useful (though hardly objective enough to be considered valid).

For the most part I agree with that. I think judging someone good or bad is ignoring the relevant questions, or the questions we *should* be asking. But I have two follow ups.

1) what's the point of defining what makes a good person or a bad person if you are unable or unwilling to ever judge that person? Is it solely for personal evaluation to better direct future actions? Is it to convince others to embrace your definition and alter their behavior to be considered a good person? just curious. Given your statements it seems a somewhat pointless endeavor to even define good and bad, depending on how you'd answer the preceding questions.

2) I disagree with your emphasis on consequences(though I don't disregard them). Our legal system holds intent to be pretty important. What are your reasons for discounting it?

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scifibum
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I may have been unclear about consequences. I mean that they should be used to influence actions.

As far as how to react to the actions of others, I see no reason not to hold intent to be pretty important in evaluating those actions.

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Samprimary
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I'm unimpressed by many people's attempts to buy 'good-person-ness' as an offshoot of their personal income. I'm more likely to consider someone a good person if they avoid the perils of ignorance.
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malanthrop
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
I'm unimpressed by many people's attempts to buy 'good-person-ness' as an offshoot of their personal income. I'm more likely to consider someone a good person if they avoid the perils of ignorance.

Hopefully you didn't interpret my definition as income based.

A good person does the best he can and helps those less fortunate.

A bad person is lazy and victimizes others.

I realize this is the 3rd version of my comment, yet they are the same. They might read different but the difference is spin. Donations to charity are not greedy tax avoidance and hard work to improve one's life is not bad.

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Strider
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quote:
I may have been unclear about consequences. I mean that they should be used to influence actions.

okay, that makes sense.
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sinflower
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A good person is a person who is loyal to that which she loves.
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malanthrop
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quote:
Originally posted by sinflower:
A good person is a person who is loyal to that which she loves.

"she/he/transgender/transexual" loves. Lets keep it PC here.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by malanthrop:
quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
I'm unimpressed by many people's attempts to buy 'good-person-ness' as an offshoot of their personal income. I'm more likely to consider someone a good person if they avoid the perils of ignorance.

Hopefully you didn't interpret my definition as income based.
your moral schema is fixated greatly on economic concerns, but the only way I interpreted it is that I really could care less.

It's basically "Malanthrop's Trickle Down Moral Economics 101" thrust on us in multiple posts. We get it. You hate welfare and you want to talk about how cool tax-avoidance 'charity' is, therefore you are a good person.

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Christine
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We've got a few definitions going here and we seem to be fine-tuning them, so let me just throw this out there:

Which is more important: intentions or results?

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Raymond Arnold
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I think if you're judging a person's "morality" than intentions are more important. If you're judging how good a person is for the world than results are more important.

If the purpose of having a definition of good is to encourage people to be good people, it's more important to teach people to have good intentions. HOWEVER, I'd define good intentions as including the ability to learn from and predict the outcome of your actions. So a person who goes through life with noble intentions yet still goes around ruining the lives of everyone they meet is mostly likely ignorant/self-absorbed to the point where being good/moral is meaningless.

Critical thinking is part of good-ness.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
We've got a few definitions going here and we seem to be fine-tuning them, so let me just throw this out there:

Which is more important: intentions or results?

If my intent is to blow up the world and kill everyone for my own perverted pleasure and I fail and accidentally just somehow give everyone a puppy, I'm definitely still a bad person. If I try to give everyone a puppy and accidentally blow up the world as a result, whether or not I am a good person is at best only questionable. It weights itself in favor of intentions being more important.

Now, would you like a puppy?

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Christine
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Eh, no. I'm a cat person. [Smile]
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rollainm
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
We've got a few definitions going here and we seem to be fine-tuning them, so let me just throw this out there:

Which is more important: intentions or results?

If my intent is to blow up the world and kill everyone for my own perverted pleasure and I fail and accidentally just somehow give everyone a puppy, I'm definitely still a bad person. If I try to give everyone a puppy and accidentally blow up the world as a result, whether or not I am a good person is at best only questionable. It weights itself in favor of intentions being more important.

Now, would you like a puppy?

Heh. That's definitely the quote of the day.
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Sean Monahan
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quote:
Originally posted by Christine:
Eh, no. I'm a cat person. [Smile]

Good people are dog people. [Wink]
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Christine
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Oh, I already knew *I* was a bad person. Cats are evil, after all. [Smile]
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malanthrop
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Cats are connected to territory and dogs are pack animals. Cats are loyal to your property and dogs are loyal to you. When cat owners move, they lock them up for a while to get used to their new territory. Dog's are territorial to protect the pack.
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