The Importance of Good in Ethical Judgments

A central concept in ethics, good has a wide range of interpretations. It can refer to the desired outcome or intention of an action, or it can be a property that something has or lacks: “That knife is good.” It may also refer to a moral virtue or vice: “The boy is doing well in school” or “He does not have a good character.” Regardless of its specific meaning, the word good has been used throughout history as a foundation for ethical judgments.

It is often argued that the distinction between attributive and predicative use of good is a central feature of the concept. Some philosophers, such as Peter Geach, have taken this view and argued that only attributive uses of good are genuinely ethical, but others, including Moore, have claimed that this distinction is not so clear.

Whether or not one believes that the distinction is important, most philosophers agree that goodness plays a crucial role in ethical judgments. It is common to think of a good person as someone who is kind, honest, and generous. Similarly, a good thing is something that is useful or pleasant.

Because of the importance of the concept, there is considerable debate about how to define good. Some philosophers have tended toward hedonism, while others have emphasized the role of reason in defining what is good for human beings.

Foot argues that, although some philosophers have attempted to analyze goodness in terms of the properties that it has or lacks, this analysis is often flawed. The problem, he argues, is that these analyses often fail to distinguish between the concepts of goodness and the properties that they are supposed to analyze. It is easy to misread an argument if one does not understand this distinction.

In a paper that follows, Kraut develops an account of the good in which it is argued that the concept is not reducible to a set of natural properties. This analysis is an attempt to avoid the problems that have plagued previous efforts to explain what the good is.

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