It is the ability to tell good people from bad people just by observing them. It is like being a good judge of character, a connoisseur of human nature. I would like to find a single word that succinctly captures this characteristic.

For example, there is a fictional character called Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead who is said to have the ability to tell good from bad. Here is a more detailed explanation for you to get a better idea (spoilers ahead so I used the spoiler tag):

In the TV series version, in Season 5, Rick and his group arrives to a safe zone called Alexandria which is a walled-off community. They are invited to this place by someone who is called Aaron. He is a recruiter of this community who tries to find people outside that can be helpful to the community. (with the help of his partner Eric who was injured in one episode). One night, Aaron reveals that he wants Daryl to be Alexandria's recruiter because he doesn't want to risk Eric's life anymore and Daryl can tell the difference between a good person and a bad person.2

Interestingly, it is also said that our ability to tell good from bad is universal and unlearned. It is based on a study1 where it is found out that babies as young as six months old are able to tell friend from foe. But this should apply to only basic distinction as an instinct to survive. The context I provided suggests being experienced also.

The words that came to my mind were discerning and sagacious but they are about showing good judgement and having a keen insight in general. I think there might be a more precise term for this.

1 telegraph.co.uk

2 walkingdead.wikia.com

  • Probably *have the sixth sense: - grasping the inner nature of things intuitively.
    – user66974
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 6:23
  • Charismatic Christians have "discernment of spirits" as one of their Gifts of the Spirit, so the word discernment does have some form here.
    – David Pugh
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 7:56
  • 2
    It's presumed we intrinsically know the difference between bad and good, but I don't believe that. We take for granted that good and evil are easily identifiable, but the real question is, what is “good”? Define what is “evil”? (You tell the difference between good and evil, or right and wrong less so with "good and bad")
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 8:21
  • I agree with Mari-Lou - that baby study merely showed that babies can tell the difference between agents who act helpfully and agents who act unhelpfully, based on obvious observable behaviour. In real (adult) life, there is no black and white distinction between "good people" and "bad people", and there is no such thing as a magic ability to tell the difference; and there is no single word for such a precise magical ability either I'm afraid. Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 8:43
  • The expression I was looking for was "social convention" It's society that tells us what is "good" and what is "bad". You get punished for doing "bad" things, hence we equate badness with evilness. This question belongs on philosophy IMHO .
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 10:04

6 Answers 6


I think showing good judgement is exactly what you're describing in "telling good people from bad people", so I would use discernment as the quality.

If you're looking for a more scientific bent, you could use discriminating, which can still be used to mean "exhibiting good selection abilities" even though its alternate meaning of "showing bias" is beginning to take over. It's rarely used when talking about selecting people, for the obvious reason that it can much more easily be confused with its negative alternate meaning.

If you're looking for a more supernatural connotation, you could use perceptive, which has a bit of "unknown origin of the ability" connotation to it due to its use in "extra-sensory perception". Perceptive, however, doesn't limit itself to "telling good people/things from bad" but rather implies an ability to discern hidden depths or meanings regardless of their quality.


You could try perceptive, which is the ability to perceive; in this case the ability to perceive the quality of the person being scrutinized.


Even a Cassandra does that, by telling you the evil in advance.

But perhaps you prefer a Mother Theresa, who emphasizes the good.

  • Interesting approach but I want a word that defines the ability, not an allusion. (not my downvote).
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 7:10

Since humanism can be :

An ethical system that centers on humans and their values, needs, interests, abilities, dignity and freedom; especially used for a secular one which rejects theistic religion and superstition.

Why not a be humanist?

From wiktionary :


The study of human action or conduct.

  • This is a scientific approach. Thanks for the word but it doesn't refer to the ability. There is the term praxeologist also who studies praxeology. It looks like praxeology is used in the development of economic theories and the term was often used by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 7:04
  • @ermanen It's all I find about it for the moment. Still searching...
    – Yohann V.
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 7:11
  • @ermanen edited
    – Yohann V.
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 8:44

What about-

moral judgments

of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical <moral/ethical judgments>



A noun for this quality is discernment.

  • Thanks. I mentioned "discerning" in the question. The word I'm looking for is like a specific type of discernment.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 3:48

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