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What word or phrase best communicates the idea that a human (or other sentient being) is easily swayed, particularly between moral good and evil? Words I have found that are close are:

  • Impressionable - Easily influenced because of a lack of critical ability.
    • Implies that the subject lacks critical skills, and misses the concept of good and evil.
  • Gullible - Easily persuaded to believe something
    • Misses the concept of good and evil

I created a typical angels and demons scenario to demonstrate the polar extremes of the the spectrum. In this scenario, I lack the word to describe the humans, who can be influenced towards either end of the spectrum if impressed upon by an external entity.

The angels are devoted to good, and are immovable in their ideals. The demons are wicked, and will feign morality only to manipulate others. Both prey upon the humans, who are ________.

I think that the key here is the spectrum of good an evil. Here are examples of other spectrum and their associated words, for comparison.

  • Easily pushed from calm to angry: Temperamental
  • Easily moved from determined to hopeless: Weak-willed
  • Easily influenced by propaganda: See answers here
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I think "impressionable" is perfect for this situation. Context provides the good vs. evil association. –  andi Jun 18 at 17:30
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Not a perfect fit, but "malleable" could work if you give a little poetic license. Easily shaped by external forces; able to be influenced. –  Roger Jun 18 at 17:33
    
Weak-kneed or spineless work for some situations. One term that is missing from the propaganda link is the ever-popular useful idiot (one who is influenced by propaganda to the extent they become a promoter). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_idiot –  Spehro Pefhany Jun 18 at 17:52
    
Honestly, I think you've given the best answer yourself, in the thread title, no less: easily swayed is euphonous, to the point, and works perfectly in the context you give. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 19 at 1:52

10 Answers 10

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Pliable--yielding readily to others

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This is the answer. +1 –  Robusto Jun 18 at 22:37

suggestible

Open to suggestion; easily swayed:

a suggestible client would comply

From Etymonline:

1851, "capable of being influenced," from suggest + -ible.


Some important aspects of suggestibility:

When anyone is absorbed in rapt attention in someone else's inspiring words as they outline an idea or way of thinking, the subjective attention is held because of the logic, the aesthetic, and the relevance of the words to one's own personal experience and motivations. In these natural trance states, just like those orchestrated purposefully by a hypnotherapist, your 'critical faculties' are naturally less active when there is less you would naturally be critical of.

To be suggestible is not to be gullible. The latter pertains to an empirical objective fact that can be shown accurate or inaccurate to any observer. The former term does not. To be open to suggestion, has no bearing on the accuracy of any incoming suggestions: nor whether such an objective accuracy is possible. (As with metaphysical belief.)


And a well-known example of suggestibility towards the good vs. evil from the book "Everybody for Everybody: Truth, Oneness, Good, and Beauty for Everyone's Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" by By Samuel A. Nigro:

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tractable

tractable: easily controlled or persuaded

malleable

malleable: able to be influenced; pliable or tractable

pliant

pliant: easily influenced; yielding readily to others

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credulous

1.willing to believe or trust too readily, especially without proper or adequate evidence; gullible.

2.marked by or arising from credulity.

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Please link to your sources. –  Matt Эллен Jun 19 at 7:40

Your best option may be to use "morally" or "ethically" as adverbs and pair them with some adjectives similar to the ones you dug up that imply a lack of commitment or dedication. For example, morally impressionable or ethically irresolute. Capricious and malleable could also be good choices.

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"wandering in the wilderness without a compass." - Scalese "like a float tossed about by the waves of a turbulent sea." - Tesla

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Fallible can fit on the good/evil spectrum.

Capable of making mistakes or being wrong

Where here wrong would be a moral rather than factual judgement. Fallible has its origins in the Latin fallere - to deceive, and also has the connotation of being 'subject to failure' where in use to describe oneself or another, that failure is often moral.

Alternately, a candidate phrase to complete that sentence might be "susceptible to their influence(s)"

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"searching for conviction" or "without conviction"

conviction: a firmly held belief or opinion.

or something using the word compliant

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Please cite your sources. –  Matt Эллен Jun 19 at 9:38
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I have not come across the use of "searching for conviction" outside of the legal use of 'conviction', can you link a source for that usage? I also somewhat dislike the conflation of someone without conviction as being easily swayed. For example, I might not have a strongly held belief about whether murder deserves capital punishment, but that doesn't mean that I would be persuaded one way or the other by the first person to talk to me on the matter. –  Sam Jun 19 at 9:38

The state of acting against one's own moral values, or akratic action -AKA acrasia

Akrasia: Weakness of will: the condition in which while knowing what it would be best to do, one does something else. The phenomenon intrigued Plato and Aristotle, because the Socratic equation between knowing a thing to be good and desiring it makes it difficult to see how weakness of will is possible. Less optimistic philosophies find it equally hard to see how strength of will is possible.

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At the risk of sounding extremely arrogant:

The unthinking and unknowing are naïvely | oblivious and easily swayed.

Another somewhat perverse way to describe someone who is easily swayed is innocent.

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