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Thread: What is "good"?

  1. #1
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    What is "good"?

    This thread was actually started back in June. It's been delayed several times, and added to slowly. It serves to initiate the dialog of the nature of Good, and provide the groundwork for the many theories and definitions of good.

    PREFACE

    We have discussed such things such as "What is morality?", "Is morality absolute or relative?", "What is evil?", and "What is right?" (which is similar to this thread, but went off on tangents it seems). When discussed at length, it often comes down to a disagreement or confusion about the same thing: What is good?. That is what we will attempt to address in this thread.

    The question about "good" (or what is the nature of "morally right"), has existed for ages. There are many theories, practices, philosophies that concern themselves with the nature of good.

    Before providing an argument for what I believe "good" to be (or how it is determined to be good), I thought I'd post some of the many theories on the subject as well as their common objections. Perhaps this will allow you to see which view you most closely hold as a belief about good, and it will arm you enough to participate in this seemingly elementary, yet actually challenging debate that has been discussed for literally, thousands of years.

    This thread serves the purpose of identifying and critiquing the various views on the right. I've tried to provide links to as many sources as I can for further study.

    For clarity's sake within this thread, "right" is in a moral sense that refers to "good". They are used interchangeably. The summary below is based on Dr. Norman Geisler's argumentation concerning morality, it's nature, and the essence of good in his book An Introduction to Philosophy.
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    Re: What is "good"?

    THE THEORIES OF 'GOOD'

    Ethics is the study of what is right and what is wrong (morally). Epistemology is concerned with the true, and ontology is the study of the real, but ethics concerns itself with the good. Before any meaning discussion about morality or ethics, its nature, application, etc... may begin, it is important to understand what we mean by the right or the good.

    Here is a brief survey of the way various philosophers have conceived of the right that will set the stage for the discussion of what is right and wrong.

    Might Is Right

    We've all heard it, but few know of its origins. The ancient Greek philosopher Thrasymachus is supposed to have held that "justice is the interest of the stronger party". That is, right is defined in terms of power. Persumably this would mean politicaly power (cf. Machiavelli), although it could mean physical, psychological, or any other kind of power.

    It is not a widely held ethical view, even though it seems to be human practice all too often.

    Objection: First, most men see a difference between power and goodness. It is possible to be good without power, and powerful without goodness. An evil tyrant is sufficient practical disproof of this theory of right. Second, some have argued that almost the opposite is the case...that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is much evidence in human experience for rejecting the view that "might is right".

    Morals Are Mores

    Some hold that right is determined by the group to which one belongs. Ethics is identified with the ethnic; moral commands are considered community demands. This implies a cultural relativity of morality. Any overlapping of ethical principles between cultures and/or societies that would seem to give the appearance of universality is accidental. The most one can say for these apparent universal ethical norms is that all groups "happen" to come up with similar codes -- probably due to common aspirations or situation.

    Objection: First, it is based on what David Hume called the "is-ought fallacy. Just because something is the practice does not mean that it ought to be. It is the case that people are cruel at times; they hate and kill. This in no way means that ought to be the case. Second, if each community is right, then there is no way to solve conflicts between communities and nations. Whatever each one believes is right -- even if it means the annihilation of the other -- is right. This is an obvious problem that this theory is faced with.

    Man Is the Measure

    The Greek philosopher Protagoras said "Man is the measure of all things." If this is taken in an individual sense, then right is measured by an individual's will. The right is what is right to me. What is right for one may be wrong for another and vice versa.

    Objection: The most common criticism is that this would lead to chaos. If everyone literally "did his own thing," then there would be no community, that is, no unity in society. Further, what particular aspect of man should be taken as the "measure"? One cannot answer "the 'good' aspects." For in that case it presupposes that "good" apart from man is really the measure of man, and not man the measure of good.

    The Race Is Right

    One way to avoid the individual and ethical solipism of the former two views is to insist that neither individuals nor individual communities are the ultimate arbiters of what is right but, rather, the whole human race is the final court of appeals. In this way the part does not determine the whole; the whole race determines what is right for the individual members. In short, mankind rather than man is the measure of all things.

    Objection: The first objection to this view is that just as groups are often wrong, so the whoel race could be wrong. Communities have committed mass suicide. What if the race decided suicide was right, and all dissenters were forced to do likewise? Second, the race is in a state of flux. If the race were the ultimate norm, thn how could one make judgements such as "Mankind is not perfect," or "The world needs improvement"? These statements are meaningless unless there is some standard outside the race by which its degree of goodness can be measured.

    Right Is Moderation

    According to the ancient Greek view, especially exemplified in Aristotle, the meaning of right is found in the path of moderation. The "golden mean", or moderate course between extremes, was considered to be the right course of action. For instance, temperance is the mean between indulgence and insensibility. Pride is the mean between vanity and humility. And courage is the mean between fear and aggression.

    Objection: There is much wisdom in taking the path of moderation. The question is, however, whether the middle course should be seen as a definition of what is right. First of all, the right sometimes seems to call for extreme action, as in emergencies, self-defense, war, and so on. Even some virtues, such as love, seem best expressed not moderately but liberally. Second, the "middle of the road" is not always the wisest (or safest) place to be. It all depends on how extreme the situation is. One extreme sometimes calls for another. For instance, extreme sickness (cancer) often calls for an extreme operation (removing the diseased tissue). Finally, moderation seems to be at best only a general guide for practice, not a universal definition of right.

    There Is No Right

    Some philosophers simply deny that anything is right or wrong. They are called "antinomian".1 (against-law). Few actually claim to be complete antinomians, but many views can be reduced to this. A.J. Ayer insisted that all "ought" sentences actually translate to "I fell" sentences. Hence, "You ought not to be cruel" means "I do not like cruelty." Ethics is not prescriptive; it is simply emotive. There are no [moral] commands; there are only emotional utterances of one's personal feelings.

    Objections: The first objection to this view is its radical solipsism. The right is reduced to what "I like," which reduces truth to mere taste. The ethical content of "Hitler should not kill Jews" is considered no different in kind from "I do not like chocolate." Second, the view does not listen to the meaning of "ought" statements; rather, it legislates what they must mean. In other words, on what basis is "ought" reduced to "I feel"? There are things that I ought to do (such as be loving and just) whether I feel like it or not.

    1 This is not to be confused with theists who believe in antinomianism. Philosophical and theological antinomianism are not synonymous. We refer only to philosophical (or more accurately, ethical) antinomianism here.

    Right Is What Brings Pleasure

    The Epicureans (4th century, BC) are credited with the original philosophy of hedonism. Simply put, hedonism claims that what brings pleasure is right and what brings pain is wrong. The actual "formula" for right is a little more complicated. It is: What brings the maximal pleasure and minimal pain is the right thing to do.

    Objections: There are obvious difficulties with this theory. First, not all pleasures are good and not all pain is bad. Sadistic pleasure from torturing people is bad. The pain of study or hard work can be good. Second, one may ask -- pleasure for whom and for how long? Pleasure for the individual and for the moment? What about for all mend and for all time?

    Right Is the Greatest Good for the Race

    Utilitarians answer the last problem of the hedonistic view by claiming the right is what brings "the greatest good to the greatest number of persons (in the long run)." Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) suggested that good should be understood in a quantitative sense. That is, it depended on how much pleasure was gotten for how long for how many. John Stewart Mill accepted utilitarianism, but insisted that good be understood in a qualitative sense as well. Some goods are higher than physical (and other) goods. An unhappy man is better than a happy pig, said Mill.

    Objections: Clearly Mill's view is an improvement over both hedonism and Bentham's quantitative utilitarianism. There are however, other difficulties. First of all, how does a human being (who can rarely predict short-run consequences) determine what will result from his actions in the long run? Many evil actions (lying and cheating, for example) seem to "work" for some people for long periods of time. Does this make them right? Second, how long is the long run? If it means the remote future or end of the world, then it is too out of reach to be of any help in making decisions today. But if it means the near future, then that would justify obviously evil things which work well for a short time (corrupt governments, cruelty, and deception). Finally, even when the results are obvious, how does one know they are "good" results unless he has some standard of good beyond the results? But if there is a norm for rightness or wrongness beyond the results, then the results as such do not determine rightness.

    Good Is What Is Desired for Its Own Sake

    The difficulty that has emerged from the above criticisms is this: no matter how one defines right or good in terms of something else, one can still ask "But is that right?" If good is defined as pleasure one can as, "But is the pleasure good or bad?" If right is defined in terms of results, then one can still ask, "Are the results good or bad?" Perhaps the solution to this is to follow Aristotle and define the right or good in terms of itself. Maybe the good is that which is desirable for its own sake, namely, that which has intrinsic value in and of itself. In other words, good should never be desired as a means, but only as an end.

    Objections: Sounds pretty reasonable on the surface, but it is riddled with difficulties. First, men seem to desire some some evil ends for their own sake. For example, how can the desire to annihilate a race be called a good desire? Aristotle believed that every evil action is performed for a good end. Even a suicide victim acts for the alleged "good" it will bring himself by eliminating all his problems. However, this leads to another criticism, some "goods" are only apparent goods and not real ones. If we defined good siimply in terms of the end, then what we call "good" is often not really good at all but is evil.

    Lastly, there is a problem with providing content for the meaning of good. If good were simply the object of what is desired, then logically, one should be be able to examine the object(s) of his desires and discover the content of the meaning of good. But this will not work, as has already been noted, what we desire is not always geniuinely good; sometimes it is only apparently good but actually evil. Thus, we are faced with the dilemma that good cannot be defined in terms of anything else, and yet it seems to have no content when undersdtod in terms of itself. Which brings us to our next theory...

    Good Is Indefinable

    G.E. Moore insisted that the good is an unanalyzable and indefinable concept. Every attempt to define good in terms of something else commits what he called the "
    naturalistic fallacy." This fallacy results from assuming that because, for example, pleasure can be attributed to good then it is of the nature of Good, that is, identical with it. All that we can say is that "the Good is good," nothing more. The Good is known then, only intuitionally.


    Objections: Moore does have point (to an extent), but there are also some problems here. The first problem being, that apparently not all people "intuit" the same content in the good or right. Further, many argue that intuitions are vague. They lack clarity, which is one of the things a philosopher pursues. Further, there is the problem of how to avoid the charge of tautology when all one can say is, "Good is good."

    There is some truth to Moore's assertion however, especially since he recognized that ultimacy of "good" makes it resistant to definition in terms of something else. Eventually, every discipline and point of view must acknowledge something as its ground or source, in terms of which everything else is understood.

    Good Is What God Wills

    One solution to the problem of defining good or right is to proclaim that something is right if God wills it right, and wrong if He wills it wrong. This would solve the problem of determining content in the meaning of good, as well as the difficulty involved in defining good in terms of something not ultimate. Christians claim God's sovereign will is ultimate and the Bible spells out the content of that will to us.

    Objections: Although it does solve many of the problems above, it does create a few new ones. First, is something right because God wills it, or does He will it because it is right? If one takes the former (voluntaristic) alternative, then it seems to make God arbitrary. Could God actually will hate, instead of love, to be the right thing to do? Could he change His will and make cruelty right and kindness wrong? But if one takes the latter alternative, then God is acting according to a standard beyond Himself (goodnes). This would contradict the Christian definition of God as the Ultimate. Many Christian ethicists (essentialists) have insisted that God can only will in accordance with His unchangingly good nature, which is not beyond Himself. Something is good because ultimately it is in accord with God's immutably good nature.

    Further, if good is defined as what God wills, then we must first ask, Which god? Which revelation? There are many contenters for the title "God." This of course, would initiate another discussion as to "What do we mean by God"? and/or the "Nature of God".

    But what about those who do not believe in God? Does this mean that there are no ethical norms for those who do not believe in God or the Christian God? If ethics are to be normative for all men, thenc ould not limiting the meaning of right and wrong to a particualar religious revelation of right and wrong deny ethical norms for those who do not have any revelation or from or belief in God?

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    The above is intended to serve only as the battleground for which we will begin the debate on "What is Good?" I thought it would be interesting to show that there are many theories and definitions of "Good", and that not all are equal. My arguments for the actual definition of Good will be posted in the near future.
    Last edited by Apokalupsis; October 18th, 2004 at 09:42 PM.
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  3. #3
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Excellent foundation for this discussion, Apok. Well done. /\

    Good (and evil), to me, appears to be at least somewhat relative to societal norms. The fact that each of the definitions listed along with their objections represents a legion of observations made throughout history by a huge sampling of cultures speaks to this in some degree. It would appear that if there were a set standard for what exactly "good" is, it would be more readily identifiable and concrete. However, as you have so aptly demonstrated here, this is not the case.

    To me, "good" is far more difficult to define than "evil". There are a few acts that more or less can be agreed upon as "evil". Rape and murder of innocents (not to be confused with killing) tend to be almost universally accepted as immoral or evil acts without much opposition. And even those few who condone these acts are dismissed as lacking a good sense of moral structure. In spite of this, people often challenge the level of punishment to be administered to those who commit such acts for fear of allowing yet another moral "evil" to take place by their own hand or even a judicial behest.

    Good, on the other hand, is more often obscured by circumstance. One could say that helping another in any situation is a "good" act while others may assert that if the one being helped is immoral, the act of helping that person is by extension not "good", but "evil". Seeing as this approach can be more readily applied in instances where an act of perceived "good" is taking place, it makes "good" very difficult to pin down.

    So, with that said, I feel that "good" is simply to do no harm to your fellow man or through inaction to allow harm to come to your fellow man. But I'm open to other ideas.

    I look forward to seeing where this goes.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    I choose the one about what benefiets most. People want to be assisted, and many take pleasure in assisting others. While at times "might makes right" may be effective in controlling action, it does not ultimately necessarily benefiet all people.

    In ideal circumstance, the most "good" that can be had is if all people give. If this is the case, then all people shall also recieve, and need disappears. Without need, so-called "sinful" activity is reduced.

    I do not say disappear. There are "bad" people, by any definition

    But reduced maximally. As one can see within a cell, or globally percieved, it is necessary to allow mistakes because good can be made from learning from them.
    |)|
    Fortunately, the darkest of darkness is not as terrible as we fear.
    Unfortunately, the lightest of light, all things good, are not so wonderful as we hope for them to be.
    What, then, is left, but various shades of grey neutrality? Where are the heroes and villains? All I see are people.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    'GOOD' is a SUBJECTIVE TERM and therfore wide open to interpretation, argument, dissention and neverending debate. Even this definition is open to controversy and conflicting interpretation. It is further blurred by sometimes passionate and heated debate between theistic and atheistic interpretation over whether the concepts of good and bad are 'natural' or 'divine'.

    ps. Fyshy: The Benthemite - Lockean definition of 'what is best for most people' can still lead to minority will controlling the majority voice(s). In the end whatever system is used, it is a case of 'trickle down' of benefits - minority at the top of life's table always getting a disproportionate slice of the 'benefits' or GOOD.
    Last edited by FruitandNut; October 19th, 2004 at 01:41 AM.
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Quote Originally Posted by FruitandNut
    ps. Fyshy: The Benthemite - Lockean definition of 'what is best for most people' can still lead to minority will controlling the majority voice(s). In the end whatever system is used, it is a case of 'trickle down' of benefits - minority at the top of life's table always getting a disproportionate slice of the 'benefits' or GOOD.
    Actually what I was leaning toward was a sort of ideal communism kind of thing, only developed by the citizens and not impressed upon them, so no real tangible government structure would be necessary, and no real class structure would result. There need not be such a thing as "minority."
    Fortunately, the darkest of darkness is not as terrible as we fear.
    Unfortunately, the lightest of light, all things good, are not so wonderful as we hope for them to be.
    What, then, is left, but various shades of grey neutrality? Where are the heroes and villains? All I see are people.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    There is no possible way to define what is good. Even if we say it is what God wills, does this still mean we can define it? It is not possible for us to understand God, so even if we have him to show us what actions are good and which are bad, that does not mean we understand what is good.

    I think the fact that so many different definitions exist proves the point that true understanding of what is good is not possible.
    I typically cite original research papers and reviews that are available only to a personal or institutional subscriptional. If you wish a PDF copy of the papers I cite, send me a request.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    Fysh, you are not describing the nature of good, but what you believe would be a "good societal structure". You said that you most agreed with "what benefits the most". Did you mean this one: Right Is the Greatest Good for the Race?

    Chad, simply because the being known as God is beyond our reasoning, does not mean that there are some things which we can know about him. Also, simply because many people have different ideas or theories about the nature of good, does not mean that 1) they are all right, 2) they are all wrong, 3) all definitions and theories are of equal value, validity, or application.

    Also, Chad would most identify with the Good Is Indefinable theory, is this correct Chad?

    Also, perhaps until my next long-winded post (argument) is made, and we discuss some of the ones above, we should answer some of the objections given to each theory. In otherwords, explain WHY you identify most with one of the definitions above, and attempt to explain away the objection that comes along with it.

    Of course, if there are other definitions/theories of good, we can add them to the list as well.
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Apokalupsis
    Fysh, you are not describing the nature of good, but what you believe would be a "good societal structure". You said that you most agreed with "what benefits the most". Did you mean this one: Right Is the Greatest Good for the Race?
    Most agreed with. More like "Good is that which benefiets all."
    Fortunately, the darkest of darkness is not as terrible as we fear.
    Unfortunately, the lightest of light, all things good, are not so wonderful as we hope for them to be.
    What, then, is left, but various shades of grey neutrality? Where are the heroes and villains? All I see are people.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    Also, Chad would most identify with the Good Is Indefinable theory, is this correct Chad?
    Yes.
    I typically cite original research papers and reviews that are available only to a personal or institutional subscriptional. If you wish a PDF copy of the papers I cite, send me a request.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    I tend to think of how we define "good" in the same way we learn language. Stay with me here.

    We are born with a natural instinct to communicate. The capability for speech is hardwired into us from birth. Indeed children are already starting to vocalise themselves as early as their first cry or first laugh right out of the womb. And people are instinctively wired to respond: Crying = unhappy = bad; Laughter = happy = good. This is the most basic of basic form of human communication and it is entirely instinctive.

    From there it gets much more complex. It is not taken for granted that humans must use language the same way. Although we know that all most if not all human civilizations used vocalized words to communicate thoughts, we know that some cultures didn't even have a written language. The vast majority of civilizations do use writing to communicate but they vary greatly in the form that writing takes. This suggests that although certain aspects of communication are predefined in human nature but a large part of the external representation of those methods is induced by societal influence in the form of memes passed down through generations of learning.

    I see morality in the same light. As a species we have some very basic but inconsistent skills built into us for recognising simple concepts of right and wrong. But the human mind acts on a complex mixture of selfish impulses, familial impulses, societal responsibiliities and evaluation of new concepts. There is enough variation in human nature in my opinion that individual personal mores will sometimes, or even often, conflict with established society.

    The claim can be made that although the concept evolves it is prudent to accept the conventional wisdom - unless unusual circumstances prove otherwise. For example: No language is static, it does evolve. However, no one would claim that the English language is wrong today simply because it has changed from what it used to be. The governing concepts of communication and the goals it accomplishes did not change, merely the expression of that form of communication shifted. But at the same time it can still be expected that the guiding rules should be followed within the currently accepted system even while allowing a fair degree of flexibility.

    There is a caveat however. Special circumstances require altered rules. If a person is deaf or blind they are not expected to use oral or written language like we do; although reasonable attempts are made to accomodate their involvement in society. If a person is mentally handicapped they are not expected to apply societal ethics the same way we do; although reasonable attempts are made to minimize their risks to others and to themselves (at least in modern Western society).

    History shows us that the interaction of rival cultures can drastically alter the ethical assumptions of later generations. It appears to me that once an idea has been presented (whether derived from any variety of personal convictions or from another society without) then individuals in a society have the option to confirm or reject the idea. Although each individual may have any variety of personal convictions on the subject eventually the relative priorites which have already been formed will filter the issue down to one conclusion or another. When this happens on a large scale a lengthy social experiment results and normally isn't resolved for generations.

    If language is universal it is merely that each individual is born with innate simple communication skills. Similarly, I believe that if morality can be considered universal then the label only applies to the innate simple moral concepts we may be born with and which often conflict with each other. All other constructs are societal in nature. Humans may generally believe that killing the innocent is morally wrong (instinct) - but will nevertheless accept the possibility under certain conditions in unusual circumstances (society).

    Society has built upon, refined and multiplied rules on top of rules in order to codify those vague personal instincts in order to make them relevant to the complexity of modern civilization. It is similar, in my opinion, to how society added syntax and symbols to grunts and gestures in order to codify language. I do not however argue that it is society which determines morality. I am always of the opinion that it is the individual which determines morality and that society either collectively chooses to agree or disagree with certain individual viewpoints based upon their own individual moral priorities.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    I would agree with F&N. "Good" is a subjective term that requires a frame of reference to have any meaning at all. Good means a type of benefit for some party or parties. Something that is morally good is something that benefits society when widely practiced. Something is good for a faction if they benefit from it. For instance, conservatives tend to see an election where Republicans gain power to be good news, because their cause benefits. Good simply refers to benefit, so there must a frame of reference. Without one, "good" is meaningless.
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Neverending
    I would agree with F&N. "Good" is a subjective term that requires a frame of reference to have any meaning at all. Good means a type of benefit for some party or parties. Something that is morally good is something that benefits society when widely practiced. Something is good for a faction if they benefit from it. For instance, conservatives tend to see an election where Republicans gain power to be good news, because their cause benefits. Good simply refers to benefit, so there must a frame of reference. Without one, "good" is meaningless.
    I take it a step further. Because "good" is subjective, and the cause of this is the selective benefiet (assumed at the expense of another), then the only True (tm) Good is the kind that benefiets all at the expense of none, or if all are benefieted at least as much as they are expended. Such an ideal is absurdly improbable, but I think that's what it takes.
    Fortunately, the darkest of darkness is not as terrible as we fear.
    Unfortunately, the lightest of light, all things good, are not so wonderful as we hope for them to be.
    What, then, is left, but various shades of grey neutrality? Where are the heroes and villains? All I see are people.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    I take it a step further. Because "good" is subjective, and the cause of this is the selective benefiet (assumed at the expense of another), then the only True (tm) Good is the kind that benefiets all at the expense of none, or if all are benefieted at least as much as they are expended. Such an ideal is absurdly improbable, but I think that's what it takes.
    Improbable to the point of impossible. If you consider it, there is no objective good, since even your true good requires the frame of reference of all factions.
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fyshhed
    Actually what I was leaning toward was a sort of ideal communism kind of thing, only developed by the citizens and not impressed upon them, so no real tangible government structure would be necessary, and no real class structure would result. There need not be such a thing as "minority."
    Communism is the only rational form of government when everybody in a society is looking out for and caring for everybody else. While we are faced with the current human reality, it is a highly dubious and suspect system to say the best for it. In larger groups, leaders would still be necessary - the Chinese Red Army tried a 'no rank' system 'for about five minutes' and then reverted to the old hierarchical system - as anarchy looked likely result (good news for any prospective enemy)
    "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." - Anais Nin.
    Emitte lucem et veritatem - Send out light and truth.
    'Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt' - Julius Caesar (rough translation, 'Men will think what they want to think')
    Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream? - Homer Simpson.

  17. #16
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fyshhed
    Most agreed with. More like "Good is that which benefiets all."
    Since we are defining good, or describing the nature of good itself...you must believe that good does not exist. For in order for it to, it must benefit all (whatever it is). Can you think of anything that benefits all? And is "all" limited to only human beings? Or other beings as well?

    What about things that would benefit 1, or some, but have no effect (positive or negative) on another? Is that "good"? If I give someone $500 who is in dire need, and it helps them, but does nothing for anyone else, or perhaps, even puts me in a little bit of a financial crunch at the time (thus, not benefitting me), doesn't this pose a problem with your view?
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Apokalupsis
    Since we are defining good, or describing the nature of good itself...you must believe that good does not exist. For in order for it to, it must benefit all (whatever it is). Can you think of anything that benefits all? And is "all" limited to only human beings? Or other beings as well?
    The ideal of a "perfect good" is improbable to the point of impossibility. I believe that "all" encompasses the ideal of all entities. Humans, plants, animals. The end of unnatural destruction (natural being defined as would occur without human interference)


    What about things that would benefit 1, or some, but have no effect (positive or negative) on another? Is that "good"? If I give someone $500 who is in dire need, and it helps them, but does nothing for anyone else, or perhaps, even puts me in a little bit of a financial crunch at the time (thus, not benefitting me), doesn't this pose a problem with your view?
    No it does not. Reallocation of resources to anything that needs it is "some good." Will it save that person and all others in the same situation for the rest of his life and the lives of all the others for the rest of time? I doubt 500 bucks would cut it.
    Fortunately, the darkest of darkness is not as terrible as we fear.
    Unfortunately, the lightest of light, all things good, are not so wonderful as we hope for them to be.
    What, then, is left, but various shades of grey neutrality? Where are the heroes and villains? All I see are people.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    But again, this does not define the nature of "good". We aren't talking about anything such as "perfect good", but of the nature of "good", or "What is good?"

    You say that this extends too ALL things. Of what "good" is it, to an animal to be killed so that it's pelt can be used to create a fur coat? Of what "good" is it for a plant to be eaten, for that plant? Such things benefit those who take, but not from whom it is taken. So the idea of good is what is good for all, doesn't work here.

    The idea of "some good" vs "perfect good" is a non-issue here. First, you have to define what is "good". You are only saying here, that X scenerio is "more good than another", but you are not telling us what "good" is, in and of itself, which is what this discussion is about.

    Also, as far as the specific instance of giving $500 to another person, but putting yourself in a financial crunch...
    Quote Originally Posted by Fysh
    Will it save that person and all others in the same situation for the rest of his life and the lives of all the others for the rest of time? I doubt 500 bucks would cut it.
    What relevance is this? Are you saying that giving to others isn't a good thing unless it changes their lives? Are you saying that giving is always good, even to the giver despite the temporary difficulty? You aren't being clear here. If you believe it is good to give, and we have the giver placed in a position of difficulty as a result...are you saying that this is a "good" thing for the giver, simply because it will not cause a level of difficulty that is beyond a certain meaure? How do you determine what that measure is? Who does?

    This is why I believe such attempts of defining the nature of good fall short. Suggesting that "good is that which benefits ALL", is a logical impossibility IMO as there is not such act that can benefit ALL (as you have defined "ALL"). And since there is no such act, and you have defined "good" as such, then we can only conclude that according to you, that "good" does not exist.
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    Re: What is "good"?

    Good Is Indefinable

    G.E. Moore insisted that the good is an unanalyzable and indefinable concept. Every attempt to define good in terms of something else commits what he called the "
    naturalistic fallacy." This fallacy results from assuming that because, for example, pleasure can be attributed to good then it is of the nature of Good, that is, identical with it. All that we can say is that "the Good is good," nothing more. The Good is known then, only intuitionally.


    Objections: Moore does have point (to an extent), but there are also some problems here. The first problem being, that apparently not all people "intuit" the same content in the good or right. Further, many argue that intuitions are vague. They lack clarity, which is one of the things a philosopher pursues. Further, there is the problem of how to avoid the charge of tautology when all one can say is, "Good is good."

    There is some truth to Moore's assertion however, especially since he recognized that ultimacy of "good" makes it resistant to definition in terms of something else. Eventually, every discipline and point of view must acknowledge something as its ground or source, in terms of which everything else is understood
    \

    The fact that people may have different standards of what is right or wrong, does not necessarily disprove Moore's argument that good is intuitive and thus undefinable. I think anything that a person "intuits" will in someway be effected by that peson's background, thus arising in the differences of what is good and what is wrong. However, I believe these differences are rather minor overall. I think almost everyone views giving to charity as being good, the fact that they have different beliefs as to why people give or why they should give only shows the struggle that exists to define something that can not be defined. Something that is simply known.

    The fact that philosophers seek clarity in their answers, I think, only blinds them from seeing and accepting the truth of the matter. That their is no real way to describe what is good.
    I typically cite original research papers and reviews that are available only to a personal or institutional subscriptional. If you wish a PDF copy of the papers I cite, send me a request.

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    Re: What is "good"?

    I choose the one about what benefiets most. People want to be assisted, and many take pleasure in assisting others. While at times "might makes right" may be effective in controlling action, it does not ultimately necessarily benefiet all people.
    The problem with this argument is that it then can be used to support actions we know are wrong.

    Is it ok to murder if we know that in doing so more people will benefit?
    Is stealing ok when we know that in doing so more people will benefit then will be harmed?

    I could even justify racism with this argument. What is wrong with suppressing a minority when in so doing the majority benefit?
    I typically cite original research papers and reviews that are available only to a personal or institutional subscriptional. If you wish a PDF copy of the papers I cite, send me a request.

 

 
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