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It seems unreasonable to suggest a good person is somebody who acts morally 100% of the time.

So I was wondering if any philosophers have defined what makes a "good person". It seems clear that Hitler would be considered a bad person while someone like Jesus would be considered good.

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  • It is hard to believe that we can have a clear-cut definition... Reasonably, a good person is someone that usually perform good actions. Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 9:17
  • Does this answer your question? How is/was "good" (as the contrary of bad) defined?
    – user14511
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 10:40
  • There exists a very strong argument which suggests good (positive) and bad (negative) behaviours might not be any evidence of moral responsibility at all. See The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility. Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 11:51
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    For Diogenes the Cynic the good simply means straightforwardly honest: carrying a lamp during the day, claiming to be looking for a man (often rendered in English as "looking for an honest man"). He criticized Plato, disputed his interpretation of Socrates, and sabotaged his lectures, sometimes distracting listeners by bringing food and eating during the discussions... Also see Plato's emphasis of the good in a recent post... Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 3:54
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    So per Diogenes as long as you post this OP in honest then you're good. He modeled himself on the example of Heracles, and believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. He used his simple lifestyle and behavior to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt, confused society... Alexander then declared, "If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes." "If I were not Diogenes, I would still wish to be Diogenes," Diogenes replied... Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 4:42

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I mean that depends on what ethical framework you apply. Like you could give a tautological answer like good is who does (mostly) good, but that just moves the question to what is "good".

And there are apparently a number of possible contestants:

Virtue ethics : What is moral is what makes us the best person we could be.

Deontology : What is moral is what follows from absolute moral duties.

Utilitarianism : What is morally right is what generates the best outcome for the largest number of people.

Rights-based Ethics : What is moral is that which is in accord with everyone's rights.

Care-based Ethics : What is moral is that which promotes healthy relationships and the well-being of individuals and their interdependence.

And there may be even more than that. And as you can see depending on what you describe as good or moral, has different implications on how you should act. Some are concerned with what you do, others with the result of your action, others with rules and rights, others with a functioning society. And as a consequence at least some of them can produce situations which are mutually exclusive with the rest.

So it's pretty much impossible to answer this question in a general straight forward way. As Mr. White in the comments mentioned it's probably easier to define good via it's antonym bad. Because it's often easier to say what doesn't work than what works. But that again has the problem that you can only argue after the fact what was good or bad.

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Aristotle treats 'good' in his books about Ethics. Here you can find a translation, http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html. I have only read the beginnings briefly but here's the 2 cents.

Aristotle proposes that 'good' is like a middle ground (a virtue) between vices. If you imagine a line with evil on one end and angelic on the other then what is good would be positioned about the middle. He goes into a lot of detail about what it means to be that middle ground, how we are supposed to achieve it and how it relates to 'happiness' among many other concepts.

So using the above, someone that does good 100% of the time isn't good at all because good is a medium between extremes. Someone who is good 100% of the time is not medium, it is at an extremity.

Hope this helps to answer your questions about what it means to be a 'good' person.

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