“Thoreau suggests that it is better to try to become good than to try to do good. It is not that Thoreau avoids doing good. Rather, he finds the way people take for granted what is good disturbing.
“The difference is in what actions are inspired by these two aims. Thoreau’s concern is that ethical life ought not be the doing of a certain set of prescribed good deeds. Ethics is relational, the working out together of what our relationship and our world ought to be like. Someone who does good without thinking about whether he is good enforces his view of the good on the recipients of his charity, which – if he does not have justified authority to discern the good for them – is an act of arbitrary power over them. Someone who is good can do good, but only unintentionally, through the working out of his relationships.”