First of all, I don't think it's very logical to describe human beings as good, evil, neutral, innocent, et cetera. It's an attempt at boiling down the moral state of a person to one word. Everyone is more complicated than that. So are our actions, that which motivates them, and the consequences of our actions. Even if labeling a person was possible, you would need to know the totality of their existence and then you would have to weigh each portion against each other to come up with a final verdict. It's clearly impossible in the case of anyone but the most egregious of offenders and saintly of heroes. Focusing on each individual "component" of an action gives you different moral systems:
- If the consequences of an action are what's important to you, then you're a teleologist.
The problem here is, if you decide whether an action is good or bad based on the outcome, then people are going to do bad things all the time simply because we cannot know the consequences of our actions in advance. That seems like a rather fickle basis for a moral system. Plus, if we're acting based on intended consequences, what's really happening here is fixation on what we intend to do, so Utilitarianism is not only fickle, but more than likely completely impossible even for the most devout of follower and self-contradictory.
- If what a person intends to do is what's important to you, then you believe in <I don't know what this is called>.
Focusing on intent alone basically absolves people of the consequences of their actions. This puts emphasis on sincerity even if that sincerity is backed by delusion or insanity. Furthermore, I'm not sure if anyone exists in the world who doesn't believe that what they're doing is for the best, even Hitler thought his actions were going to bring humanity into the future by promoting the growth and prosperity of the master race. It isn't enough to have good intentions.
- If what a person actually does is what's important to you, then you are a deontologist.
Those who believe in the ten commandments fit in this group. I personally have a problem with deontology because although other moral systems can be expressed in terms of deontological moral systems, you arrive back at the basic fundamental problem: how do you arrive at these rules which form the basis of morality? Ultimately accepting that there are moral rules to follow and duties that we all have is well and good, but buying into this doesn't help you actually find those ethical rules.
- If you're spiritual you can always buy into the philosophy of divine command, but "this is right because god says it is" isn't exactly ironclad either.
- The golden rule is crap because it's completely biased to your own expectations of how things should be. For example, you might want someone to kill you because you're depressed and think life isn't worth living, that doesn't make it OK for you to kill other people.
These philosophical bents (and many others including character ethics) try and solve the problem, but none really succeed whatsoever. What's interesting is that focusing on the components of action does lend some interesting (albeit imperfect) results. It makes sense that you have to consider the consequences of what you do, but at the same time some acts almost always lead to negative consequences (such as rape) and some failures can be excused on the basis of good intent.
The problem is that all of my scattered thoughts do not in any way lead to a clearing of confusion that results in the emergence of a moral system. There's faults in all of those kinds of thinking, so how can you ever know how to act? The answer is pretty simple: you can't. It's an approximated process, and in some situations you're set up to fail without ever even making a choice. Life is full of unsolvable moral quandaries, and to me the fact that there is not a solution to every problem speaks volumes on the nature of morals. Morality is not a hardcoded, mathematical, or scientific system. It's a touch-and-go mixture of ideas, doing the best you can, and with a focus on remaining practical -- which is pretty much the opposite of philosophy.
One thing I will contend is that it doesn't make sense to make moral decisions about beings and/or things that are currently not capable of making moral decisions and never will be (which isn't to say a being's future capacity for moral choices gives them present moral worth -- that's a quandary I haven't resolved myself, especially in the context of abortion). This explains why it's OK to chop down a tree, but not a stab a person (both are a form of life, so life doesn't really make a very good basis for argument there).
For me, the single most important thought is that even if there isn't an absolute ethical code build into the nature of reality, treating some principles as right or wrong make the world a better place (in terms of suffering and joy) overall, thus there's obviously some worth to social contract concepts. This is a mixture of Hobbes and Utilitarianism really, and at the most basic level it rings true. I also like a lot of what John Stuart Mill had to say.