How to Know if Someone is a Good or Bad Person – Psychology & Motivations

How to know if someone is truly a good moral person, or if they have other more selfish, darker, perhaps even evil motivations?

Knowing if someone is good or bad
The Eagle and Serpent are symbolic of good and evil

We all like to make judgments about people, but many of these judgements will often be wrong. There are many reasons for these incorrect judgements, but much of the problem will stem from people not properly knowing themselves, and if you don’t understand yourself, you will have difficulty understanding others.

Herd Morality Nietzsche Quote

In this post I will be using what I have learned from studying psychology, philosophy, and from my own personal experiences. With the aim of giving some insight into knowing whether someone is a good moral, or bad, perhaps even an evil person.

Is Someone Good or Bad? Psychology & Motivations

Friendly Smiling or Unhappy Looking Person

This is probably one of the most common ways that people will make a judgement. A happy-smiling social person equals good, and miserable-looking equals bad. I would say that there is little to zero correlation between appearing happy, friendly, and being social and approachable and moral. On the surface it may appear connected, but on deeper inspection, no. Morality and extroversion are different traits.

When you want to help people. Thomas Sowell Quote.

In fact, many sociopaths and psychopaths will appear friendly and social in order to manipulate. They may even fake compassion and empathy to give a certain perception. So, looking happy and being social should definitely not be used as a primary signal as to whether a person is good or not.

You may also be seeing someone’s persona. This is just the version themselves that they display to the world, or in certain situations and environments. Many people will display a happy, friendly persona because it benefits them personally.    

Personality & Psychological Motivations

Understanding a person’s motivations is key to knowing whether someone is moral or not. Let’s use the example of the careers of a politician and police officer. Both of these careers could attract very different people with very different motivations and desires.

These careers will attract those with a high desire to have power and authority over others. These people will also be focused on self-interest and ego gratification. These are potentially the bad and corrupt police officers and politicians.

Only those who do not seek power. Plato quote.

These are the ones who will abuse their power at the first opportunity. They will try to intimidate and bully those who they can. They get a kick out of having power, they are exactly the ones who shouldn’t have power.  

However, these careers will also attract those that are highly motivated by their empathy and morality. They have a desire to do good and make the world a better place, and they see these careers as an opportunity to do that. Unfortunately, however, I believe these moral people are a minority.

Other careers that attract those who desire power are managers, heads of companies, and even teachers.

Being Good or Appearing Good?

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between those who are trying to appear good for narcissistic reasons, and those who are genuinely good and moral.

A narcissist will make the effort to signal their virtue to the world. They will jump onto the bandwagon of any new supposedly virtuous cause simply to appear good. The causes that they will support are dictated by the common majority perception of what is good. Many of these views could be considered politically correct views.

As well as narcissists, you also have psychopaths and sociopaths that will support certain views to appear good. You could include those with all the dark triad traits.

Not all people who support politically correct views are bad or selfish people. Some are simply ignorant of the truth, facts, and are oblivious to alternative views.

A true moral person will support causes that may go against the common perception of what is good. They will often risk being criticised, negativity labelled, and their views and opinions may even put their lives in danger. This can happen when the individual’s morality wins out over other motivations and desires.

While I believe that the majority of people are good, I think only a small minority would actually take a public stance on views that could potentially damage them in some way. Truly, moral people are rare. Their morality will dominate all other motivations, including their desire for status and popularity. They will risk alienation and being cast out from the social group, they don’t compromise.   

Hierarchy of Motivations

If you want to know if someone is truly good, you have to know their hierarchy of motivations. How do we discover this? Their personality traits and intelligence may help us to discover this. These are connected to our interests and our sense of empathy.

Discovering Someone’s Motivations

Quick judgements should be avoided because you would likely need to observe a pattern of behaviour to more accurately discover their motivations. Do they have a genuine sense of empathy? Because I believe empathy is strongly connected to a highly moral individual.

If someone expresses views that go against the common perception of good, such as politically correct views. You have to ask why someone would express views which could lead to them being heavily criticised and even attacked. Some risk their career, relationships, and even their lives to express certain views.

Perhaps they believe that truth and morality is worth the risk. They see the bigger picture, they risk and fight for what they believe in.  

What someone generally likes to talk about is an indicator of their personality and psychological motivations.

Ideal Leaders & Politician’s

These people should ideally be highly intelligent, motivated and driven by a strong sense of morality. They should also be able to see past their own lives. They should want to see the human race evolve. Unfortunately, again, this type of individual is rare. The majority of people can’t see past their own life, and their selfish desires for social status and ego-gratification.

Examples of people that I think are highly motivated by their sense of morality and the wish for the betterment of humanity.

Elon Musk is a great example of someone who is clearly motivated to see the world progress and expand even after he is gone. He believes free speech is linked to freedom of thought, and is vital to democracy. He expresses his views even at the risk of being heavily criticised and negatively labelled by the social justice, or woke activist types.

Jordan Peterson is another great example. He shares all the same traits However, he focuses more on the psychological betterment of individuals. Better individual’s lead to the betterment of society.


The truly good people aren’t motivated by a need for ego gratification, including status-seeking. They also don’t have a desire to control others. They can also see beyond their own lives, and they want humanity to thrive and reach its potential, even if they never get to see it.

These people are the creators, not the self-interested, resentful destroyers. They are the strong, not the weak.

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