Can a truly good person exist? If a murderer helps a blind man, is he then a good person?
One of the many pop cultural icons of our time is the advertiser Don Draper from the show Mad Men. When the viewers are introduced to Don, he appears to be a very progressive character. He talks to an African American waiter (this was uncommon in the ‘60s) to find out why that waiter buys a particular brand of cigarettes.
Later, we see that Don is romantically involved with an artist and values her opinion when he tries to run some advertising ideas by her. This shows that he has an enlightened attitude towards women. His only shortcoming seems to be that he is advertising the sale of cigarettes. It isn’t until the last scene that we see Don in a very different light, when he returns home to find his wife and two kids sound asleep. Can a progressive person like Don be considered a bad person?
In asking the question, it might be tempting to simply compare his positive traits against his negative traits. Does an enlightened attitude towards race relations counterbalance a lack of respect for one’s marital vows? Don has many positive traits. Not only does he talk to African Americans in a respectful manner, but he also seems to genuinely disapprove of racist stereotypes. In addition to his egalitarian attitude, Don also exhibits a consistent ethical streak when dealing with clients. It’s the kind of sense of honour that his co-workers lack. When asked to drop a client to pursue an opportunity with a larger one, Don balks that no client deserves to be thrown out for another. For all his noble statements, however, in the end, Don does what he’s asked: he drops the company. This would suggest that Don is not nearly as ethical as his words would suggest. When you consider his more glaring faults, it seems hard to call him a good man.
So is he a virtuous person? There are many philosophical theses regarding virtue. One of the ideas regarding virtue is the Reciprocity Thesis. The idea is that virtue is of many parts, like a wall constructed with bricks. If you don’t have a complete working system of virtues, then by theoretical means you are not a virtuous person. Many people resist this idea, on the grounds that they are a mixture of both good and bad. But if it is true of virtue, then it must be true of vices, right? No one would be a bad person if they had any virtuous qualities. The fact that we have found character traits that undermine certain virtues — such as adultery undermining honesty — means that Don can’t possess a completely virtuous character. It is clear that Don has some good characteristics: a respect for people in general, a desire to follow a code of conduct and an interest in finding happiness.
So is he a good person? The important fact here is that he is a person, a human being like any of us. He has certain good qualities and some bad ones. This makes him perhaps the most suitable fictional character to look up to if you ignore his negative side and acknowledge his progressive mind because he is easy to relate to and he doesn’t sparkle.
By Muazzikri Zamaludin 17, Kuala Lumpur