Recently I pointed out that “doing good to others” cannot be the definition of good. Today I will ask:
1) What is the good for others?
2) Does an action need to be good for someone else in order to be good?
First, what is the good for others? The two best candidates are “whatever pleases them” and “whatever leads to their flourishing.”
We cannot take pleasure as the standard of goodness for two reasons. First, pleasure is a response to goodness. It is the form in which we experience goodness. Pleasure cannot be the standard, for this would mean, “The good is that which I find to be good.”
Second, pleasure, if treated as the standard, will sometimes short-circuit itself. It may be a pleasure to over-eat, but would we say it is good? And what about cases where people get pleasure from treating others badly? Can this be good?
There are many cases when the “good” and the “pleasing” do not align. Take Hebrews 12:11 as an example:
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Here, discipline is good but unpleasant. It leads to a later reward.
A Definition of Good
Moral issues do not always reduce to preference. Right now I would prefer to be undisciplined. But to be moral I must look to my future needs.
So, what is the good for others? In my definition:
The good for an individual is that which he correctly grasps to be factually useful to the needs of his own life.
So answer #1 was the best: Good is anything that helps with life.
While it is good to be kind toward others, that is not the standard. Life is the standard. Life works as a standard if we ask, “what is the good for ourselves?” or “what is the good for others?”
The “good” is specific. There is no “inherent” or “transcendent” goodness—only goodness for a person. Yet, “goodness” is a fact, because life is a fact.
What does it mean to make life, not pleasure, the standard of value? It means a pleasure cannot be a value if it leads to death. It means man’s ultimate goal is to live, and his sub-goals are to enjoy his life and to do all the things that life and enjoyment require. This includes working and building a family, normally.
Pleasure does play an important role in values. It is by pleasure that a man experiences his values. But life itself is the ultimate value. Pleasure is only a value to a man who is alive. If he is to have values, man must preserve and sustain his own life.
We started by asking “what is the good for others?” To find an answer we needed to ask the more basic question, “what is good for a person?” The answer is life.
If life is the standard of value, then we may answer the next question:
Does an action need to be good for someone else in order to be good?
No. A good action is one which supports a person’s life; even one’s own life. A man alone in the wilderness can do moral good or evil. To do good he must work to support his own life. If he shirks this work, he will be immoral and he will die.
Man’s concept of “good” comes from facts about the needs of his own life. While he may apply the concept to others, asking what is “good for others,” the concept of goodness depends not on social relationships, but on man’s relation to existence. Will a man attain life? That is the fundamental which gives rise to the need of the concept of good.
“Goodness” is a survival concept. The individual needs the concept because he must make choices that effect his own life. Notice who the beneficiary must be:
Values have three components: a standard, a purpose, and a beneficiary.
The Standard: Man’s Life
The Purpose: To Enjoy Life
The Beneficiary: The Individual