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?

3 COMMENTS

  1. To be clear up front, I agree with your conclusion that “pleasure (be it man’s or God’s) is a result of ‘the good,’ not the standard.” But I do not necessarily agree with the manner in which you arrived at your conclusion. This is mostly due to the fact that you incorrectly (in my opinion) conflate the following two ideas as if they are two ways of saying the same thing: (1) “The good is what pleases God,” or (2) “The good is what is like God.” On the contrary, I think these are two separate ideas.

    I would argue that the first statement is incorrect because, as noted, “pleasure is a result of ‘the good,’ not the standard.” However, the second statement is correct because being “like God” IS the standard. In other words, something is like God (standard), hence it is good (description), therefore it brings pleasure (effect).

    Therefore, your example of the circular dialogue ends up being a straw-man argument. The dialogue is better written in the following way:

    Q: Why is something good?
    A: Because God says so. (Description)
    Q: Why does God say so?
    A: Because the thing is like Him. (Standard)

    You may still argue that this contains an element of circularity, but I do not see how “circularity” is an issue when speaking of God. Since He is the Unmoved Mover and the Uncaused Cause, “divine circularity” is built-in to all of creation; that is, creation is good & glorious only insofar as He is good and glorious. The terms cannot be defined apart of Him. Therefore, God’s (the Evaluator’s) evaluation does refer to the object (as you correctly observed), but it ultimately refers back to him.

    This means that your evaluation of the divine affirmations in Genesis 1 is incomplete. Of course, when God “saw” that His creation was “good,” He was making an observation about it. But what was the thing He was observing? He didn’t stumble across something that had inherent goodness and that caused Him to think, “Wow, that’s a good tree, mountain, etc.!” He was observing something that He formed and something that is good only because He directly caused it to be good. In other words, before God could “observe” His good creation, He had to first “decree” that His good creation should: (a) exist, and (b) exist in the form in which it does.

    So, when God “saw” that His creation was “good”, He was really just observing that His creation turned out just as He intended it to be. And what did He intend? Psalm 19 and other passages teach us that God intended for His creation to be a reflection of His goodness and glory; that is, He intended for it to be like Him!

    So, once again, God’s (the Evaluator’s) evaluation does refer to the object, but it ultimately refers to him. God’s evaluation says: “It is good because it is as I intended.”

    And, as you rightly observed, the effect of creation’s goodness is that it brings holy pleasure to the Creator.

    Therefore, I would further develop the dialogue in the following way:

    Q: Why is something pleasurable?
    A: Because that thing is good. (Effect)
    Q: Why is something good?
    A: Because God says so. (Description)
    Q: Why does God say so?
    A: Because it is as He intends it to be. (Purpose)
    Q: What does He intend it to be?
    A: He intends it to be like Him. (Standard)

    John Piper beautifully captures this idea in the following quote from his volume, Desiring God (p. 44):

    “…the eternal happiness of the triune God spilled over in the work of creation and redemption. And since this original happiness was God’s delight in His own glory, therefore the happiness that He has in all His works of creation and redemption is nothing other than a delight in His own glory. This is why God has done all things, from creation to consummation, for the preservation and display of His glory. All His works are simply the spillover of His infinite exuberance for His own excellence.”

  2. Hey Timothy,
    Thanks for the feedback. We’re coming from different philosophical systems, so we’ll probably take different views on many details.

    A couple of responses to your points:

    -I agree that “what pleases God” and “what is like God” are two separate ideas.

    -In my view, both ideas contain an element of circularity. You mentioned that you see this too. For me, that circularity is a problem.

    -I do think that “good” can and should be defined apart from God.

    -Nevertheless, I don’t think there is such thing as an “inherent goodness.” The good is contextual (yet factual) to individual persons.

    -When God saw that his creation was good, he was not only observing that it turned out as he intended; more specifically, he was observing that it was suitable for his goals.

    I appreciate your critiques. Right now I’m working to explain my system to those who are open to the possibility that it could be right. Are you open to that? If I can change your mind on key issues, then later you could help me with formulations.

  3. Cody, as far as I can accurately evaluate myself, I am certainly open to the idea that you may be right. I haven’t thought through some of these things as long and as deeply as you have, so my rebuttals are rudimentary, at best. Please don’t take my rebuttals as signs that I’m irrevocably against your views. More accurately, my rebuttals are an attempt to elicit further clarification on some of your conclusions that don’t yet make sense to me. Thanks for taking the time to respond!

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