I finished an interesting book today about some characters and a discussion ensued. I won't name the book but the scenario has been seen before.

There is a character, supposed evil villain, let's say his name is Bobo. We don't know his past. The group of protagonists have an argument. One called Bobo evil and says it's the inside that counts. Another person said it's not our words or thoughts in the end but our actions that determine our character.

Not sure how to word this so question is:

  • Is a person evil who is evil on the inside but makes the right choices?
  • Is a person who is "good" on the inside but doesn't make right choices, makes no choice, or makes mistakes evil?

If you watch Dr Who you will know somewhat what I'm talking about but I've seen same question in other stories, Naruto, for example etc.

My real question is based in politics. Let's say the process, as it is, of becoming a politician or it could be any position, results in someone being corrupted or turning evil, but a strange thing happens in one person where in the end that person makes the right choices, how do you describe that person's character?

I'm not talking about anything recent, but something recent reminded me of this question that I've had for a while I'm sure everyone has had this question. If I become "this" [insert position] will it corrupt me? If I do [insert thing] will it change me? Etc

Note: I say "evil" but maybe it's corruption.


2 Answers 2


People can ultimately only be judged by the things they actually do, not the things they think. It's completely possible for a person to believe themselves to be good and think good thoughts, but in practice carry out selfish acts regularly. It's also possible for someone to think evil thoughts regularly, but to have a moral conscience which filters them out and promotes only good action.

At the end of the day our relationship with other human beings and living things can only be subjectively judged by how we treat them in practice, not in theory

So with that said I would argue that the only way you can label someone as 'good' or 'evil' is based on what they actually do, and nothing else. This means that 'good people that do bad things' and 'evil people that do good things' don't exist, rather there are only 'evil people who do evil things' and 'good people who do good things'.

The reality of it, however, is not that cut and dry as everyone has capacity for good and evil, but my main point is that you can only judge a person by the output, and nothing else.

  • I mostly agree, but I would say you judge people based on what they've actually done and what you expect them to do in the future. If you know the only thing stopping a person from acting horribly is just happenstance, and it may change at any time, you're justified in treating them with suspicion. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 16:08

Let's take politics out of this, as that tends to bring a lot of alternate agendas into the discussion, and consider a parallel situation - drug use in professional sports. And let's look at this as ethical or unethical - good and evil tend to invite judgment calls more.

In the 1990's, the new biotech drugs, specifically the blood boosters and rapid recovery drugs like artificial testosterone, came on the scene. The aerobic sports that stress endurance: tennis, football (soccer), and especially cycling, benefit from those drugs. There is a downside as well... young cyclists were dying from heart attacks in their sleep when their hearts at rest couldn't push the over thickened blood that raised their endurance substantially. Young cyclists were becoming modern day gladiators, much as the F1 drivers of the 1960's and 1970's were, when that was truly a dangerous activity.

And so the drugs were banned, but the detection methods weren't all that effective, so it became a matter of having to dope just to remain competitive, because everyone else was doing it.

In the late 1990's, the now disgraced Lance Armstrong rose up, bringing an American market with him. Scads of new money into the sport: television revenues, merchandising revenues. The doping methods became more refined, and the governing body of cycling, the UCI, was, shall we say, a bit less than diligent about pursuing performance enhancing drug use, despite the risks to the athletes. As long as the money continued to flow, the UCI didn't look that closely, especially at their new star bringing in all that fresh money from the US.

So, were the cyclists unethical in cheating? On the surface, yes.

However, if faced with the choice between using performance enhancing drugs and living a rock star life with the multimillion dollar/euro salary that a top cyclist makes, or not using drugs and going back to a minimum wage job, what would you do? It is a test of character that a lot of us might not pass.

Or, is the real ethical problem, the organizing body that turned a blind eye to the widespread doping, and set the conditions to offer young men a temptation that most young men couldn't turn down?

Today, everyone hates Armstrong for being a fraud among frauds. No one remembers Hein Verbruggen, the chair of the UCI at that time. He walked away pretty much unscathed, and kept all of his earnings.

So, much would depend upon the motivations of your evil protagonist doing good... why did they do good? Was it pure character, did they have an alternate agenda, or were they originally offered a temptation that most of us couldn't turn down?

  • In the story I'm referencing the evil protagonist does his "good" deed and then dies. So we don't know his motivation but he saved peoples lives in the end. He was a traitor but changed his mind when then didn't want to see anyone die so possible motivation from that. In the political example, the person wants to be a politician to save the world, but gets corrupted by the process but wants to do right when it counts (when he votes). Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 18:56

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