Whether or not I am a 'good person' is of great concern to me. I often consider my actions retrospectively and am pretty self critical. Studying philosophy has probably compounded that, what is more convenient as a study subject than myself anyway? I am very certainly an atheist, and very certainly (and proudly) I claim that no religious doctrines govern my actions.
So in a world where so many subscribe to a moral code supposedly set forth by God. How do I determine whether or not my actions or beliefs are morally right or wrong and what motivation do I have to perform morally right actions in the first place? I feel this question is pretty mindless - to ask this assumes that humans are mere animals, or children who don't know better when their master or parent is absent. Those that ask this question should really examine themselves, and consider why it is they would imply this, and why their doctrine would encourage them to think in this matter.
There are a number of ethical and moral theories that I will refer too, some I feel strongly about, others I feel are convenient and provide a point of view that others may lack. Virtue ethics, set forth by Aristotle, and Utilitarianism determined by Mills are by far my two 'picks'. I hold very strongly that I never perform a moral act with fear of God in mind, I don't believe in damnation or eternal life in heaven. I have only one short life in which to leave my print on the world before I pass into nothingness. I have no way to be absolved of my bad decisions, my 'sins' stay with me all my life and are just as much a part of me as the good things I do.
If I don't act out of fear of God, then what is my main motivation for being a 'good person'? I feel I have a pretty reasonable and standard answer. I act to always to maintain or improve my standard of welfare and to enjoy what I have in life. Welfare has a very broad definition, and the beauty of it in my eyes is that it is malleable. In my personal opinion, having a tertiary education, a loving male partner and an active role in my community all contribute to my personal sense of good quality welfare. The same may not be true however for somebody else. What also positively contributes to my welfare is stable government, good medical care, adequate nutritional food and a warm, secure place to sleep at night. These things, it can be said have an influence over everybodies welfare, but its almost impossible to have personal control over many of these instances.
Being happy, enjoying my life is also of great importance to me and having a high standard of welfare only encourages that. It is no wonder then that Hedonism and Utilitarianism aim to promote happiness as inherently good. Being happy is an indication that something is going well in my life, seeing others be happy is an indication that their lives are on a positive path and seeing people who are unhappy shows me that perhaps there are people out there far less fortunate than myself.
This consideration for others is key in morality. If I were the last human being alive on the planet I would surely have no reason to act any particular way other than how I pleased. I could take what I want from wherever I wanted. I could do whatever I should wish. But I am sure that due to the lack of possible victims my capacity for immoral action would be hampered. The reason that morality is such an important consideration is because it requires us to recognize that our actions impact people other than ourselves this understanding is an amazing function most likely brought about by our evolution as a social species.
I begin my assessment of a morally related situation by considering the effects on me. This is important because I do not want to sabotage myself. I would never want to willfully make a decision that would lead to my harm in any but the most extreme circumstances and ideally I would always want to ensure that I received most benefit. I also want to ensure that I can rationally accept and defend any position I have in line with all of my beliefs and understandings. After considering this, and checking it all out I can then take time to look at how my actions might impact others, whether harm would come to them on account of me, whether they receive any benefit, or if I would be responsible for leaving them at a particular disadvantage. Taking into account the laws of my government and social conventions is also pretty important because I am quite sure that being in prison would not classify as an improvement in my welfare or as a happiness inducing situation, even though I would have a few years where I would never have to stress about how fashionable my wardrobe is.
Does following all of these checks result in me being a good person? Do they result in me doing or believing good things? I follow Virtue Ethics to provide myself with yet another check. This system sets out all of the qualities, or 'virtues' that the model of a good human being would posses. What I really like about this system is that if you work hard enough, any human being at all can posses these virtues. You can find virtues in almost anyone - in the average person they will be generally balanced, but in some they may be twisted or particularly off centre. Criminals with a well developed sense of discipline are often some of the most dangerous people you will meet.
I guess I have spoken very generally here to cover the foundations of my personal moral code. I am sure that the God fearing person would claim that I have no right to freely determine what I know is or is not good action. There are volumes I could write concerning my stance on abortion, gay marriage, free speech and theft. I have a fair bit to say about what a waste of oxygen that parliament question time has become. I guess if anyone really wants to know what I think, they will ask. But in the meantime I am content to explore the massive little personal piece of the universe that I hold so dear.
"Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something." - Henry David Thoreau