Here is Part 2 of my informal survey, asking “what does good mean?”
Answer #3. Good means “pleasing.”
The previous view (good as absolute) sets up God’s law as the criteria of good. It ends up meaning: “The good is what pleases God,” or “The good is what is like God.” Answer #3 is similar: the good is that which pleases someone. It could be oneself, or another. The view fails because pleasure (be it man’s or God’s) is a result of “the good,” not the standard.
Consider the following circular dialogue:
Q: Why is something good?
A: Because the Boss says so.
Q: And why does the Boss say so?
A: Because it is good.
To avoid this circularity, the evaluation must refer not to the evaluator, but to the object.
When we (or even God) call something “good,” we name a fact about it. Neither we nor God are free to call just anything good, because there is some factual standard which we are not free to change.
Remember that in Genesis 1 “God saw that it was good.” The verse reads not like a decree, but like a description, based on the nature of that which God saw.
As Christians, we are right to understand God’s pleasure as an indication that a thing is good. But we must not attempt to define the good in reference to what pleases God; for this would undo the very meaning of evaluation, seeming to make God’s evaluation the cause, rather than the effect.
Does “being pleasing” make a thing good? No. Goodness is an evaluation. The quality of the object leads to the evaluation. Then the evaluation leads to pleasure.
Good things do usually bring pleasure, but that is a feeling, not a judgment. Feelings are the form in which we experience our judgments, but they are based on thoughts.
So we must ask: if we think something is good, what are we thinking about it? Are we merely thinking that we think it is good? Or is “goodness” more than self-reference?