The term good is often used to denote something that is desirable or pleasing to the senses. Good can also mean a thing that is healthy or pleasurable. Throughout the centuries, people have developed different definitions of the term. This diversity can be seen in the various traditions surrounding the notion of good.
Subjective and objective views of good are two major approaches to defining the meaning of the term. The subjective view is based on the individual’s noncognitive attitudes about things. On the other hand, the objective view is based on the use of knowledge.
The difference between the subjective and objective viewpoints is that the objective view seeks to account for the action-guiding nature of values. Hume claimed that a subjectivist approach cannot account for this. A perfectionist approach to good focuses on the value of the individual and recognizes that an individual’s best talents and abilities should be developed.
Despite the differences between the two perspectives, there is a general consensus that the good is the quality of being. It is the quality of being that is able to develop in the process of relating to other beings. There is a hierarchy of being, and the good is an important feature of the hierarchy. For example, a productive employee can be a good good.
Another approach to good is that of the teleological tradition. This approach construes the good as an immanent or internal feature of the universe. In other words, it is a virtue that is necessary in order for the human agent to achieve its desired end.
Utilitarianism, which originated in the nineteenth century, is a theory that posits that an act is good or bad according to its utility. The utilitarians, such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, pronounced acts as good or bad based on their utility. They believed that the best action was one that would provide the greatest amount of being. Similarly, the teleological approach holds that an act is good or bad according to the natural ends that the act achieves.
An alternative approach to good is a nondeontological tradition. The “positivist” school rejects the notion of value judgments as being scientifically verifiable. Instead, the focus is on the qualities of the person who makes the value judgment.
Some of the major philosophical traditions concerning the concept of good are:
Aristotle’s treatment of the good is considered to be a fundamental contribution to the study of ethics. He recognized that there is no single, objective good. Therefore, he outlined two distinct kinds of good: intrinsic and instrumental. Essentially, he concluded that intrinsic good is good in itself, while instrumental good is good as a means to another end.
Other scholars, including St. Thomas Aquinas, have contributed to the concept of the good in the area of metaphysics. Aquinas’s essential contribution, however, is his explanation of the connection between metaphysics and ethics. His contributions are largely based on the contributions of the pseudo-dionysius, a figure who believed that moral action was related to the good.