I informally surveyed my friends and asked:
What does good mean? How do we determine if something is good? What is “goodness” in your own words? What is the standard?
I found several kinds of answers. Here’s my answer countdown:
6. Good is the opposite of bad/evil.
5. Good is relative: one person finds something good and another doesn’t.
4. Good is an absolute.
3. Good means “pleasing.”
2. Good means being loving and considerate toward other people.
1. Good is anything that helps with life.
I’ve ranked the answers from worst to best, in my own view. Let me explain my judgments. Today I’ll explain #6, #5, and #4.
Answer #6. Good is the opposite of bad/evil.
A valid point. Not very informative though. We cannot define “good” and “bad” merely in terms of each other.
Answer #5. Good is relative: one person finds something good and another doesn’t.
I see some plausibility here, but only in matters of preference. “Good” cannot always be reduced to preference. If I prefer to steal, then is stealing good for me? Clearly not.
Answer #4. Good is an absolute.
Stealing isn’t good, even if I prefer it. Some say this points to an “absolute” standard that says “Do not steal.” Where can such a rule come from? Supporters of the “absolute” view may argue that moral rules could only come from a supreme being. “The good” is thus built into reality, as designed by the creator. A deed is intrinsically good because it conforms to divine law. Here, “good” only means “conforming to God’s law.”
The trouble with the “divine law” view is that it ignores the purpose of God’s laws. The purpose behind the law is not “that we will follow the law.” The purpose is that we will live.
In Deut 32:46-47, Moses tells Israel: “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
God says stealing is wrong. This indicates that it is wrong. But what is the reason it is wrong? It is wrong because of its consequences on human life. Crime doesn’t pay, not if the standard is life.
Divine law does not cause an action to be wrong—it reveals that it already is wrong to those who did not know it.
The view that good is an “absolute” (based simply on divine law) ends up meaning only, “the good is what pleases God.” Therefore, tomorrow I will write more on the idea of “good as pleasing.”