Dear Iris,

What is the line between a good and bad person? Can one bad action make you bad?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Tatevik,

Being a good person seems to me mainly to be a matter of one’s whole outlook in life. Acting badly is a human inevitability, even if it stems from thoughtlessness and not malice, or from a momentary feeling and not a long habit. So, if one celebrated one’s errors – or just said “that’s the way I am; so be it” that might be what makes one bad. I wonder whether there are such people, who are so content with their wrongdoing that nothing in them resists it. But a single action seems less important than one’s response to it and one’s willingness to learn. Of course, our actions do matter and they tend to shape us.


Philosopher's profile

Dhananjay Jagannathan

Columbia University, USA

The philosophy of Iris Murdoch (which is found both in her essays and in her novels) opened up for me not only a number of fascinating questions in moral philosophy but also a way of approaching these questions that was sensitive to the way many of us struggle to understand one another and themselves. Murdoch encourages us to give answers as complex and indefinite as the practical questions of moral life.

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