What Is Good?


Good is the word we use for something that’s pleasant or beneficial. It’s a word that’s often associated with positive feelings, but it can also be a word that describes things that are bad. It’s one of those words that’s often used in an abstract sense, so it’s not always easy to understand what it means.

The term is often used to describe an item of merchandise, but it can also be applied to a person or an idea. It can refer to a person’s moral character or the quality of their work.

In the ancient world, philosophers distinguished different types of good. Perfective good was that which made a man more of a man; delectable good was that which gave pleasure; and useful good was that which had an objective purpose, such as helping others or serving the community.

Epicureans saw good as relative bodily pleasure; Stoics identified it and virtue with passionless nature lived rationally; utilitarians judged an act as good by its utility to serve the greatest number of people or animals, or by its benevolence toward other creatures.

On the other hand, for Plato and Aristotle the good was what a man judged to be in accord with his reason. He had to know his relation to himself, to lower beings, to his fellow men, and to God. Then, he could decide what he should do to move forward to the final end of his life.

For him, this end was an ideal happiness. It was a state of complete satisfaction in which the exercise of all his characteristically human faculties brought him delight.

St. Augustine synthesizes this Plotinian view of the good with Christian Revelation. The objective good, which he calls the Supreme Good (see good, the supreme), is not to be seen as an apex of perfection that would encompass all other objects; but rather as a divine gift to men, a gift to be fulfilled only through their knowledge of God.

This idea of the good is criticized by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, for he saw it as a synthesis of appearances. The existentialism of Sartre, for example, is in line with this trend.

Despite the differences between these two views, there is still a great deal of common ground. A good-to-great CEO, for example, starts by confronting the brutal facts of their company’s performance and asking why they haven’t changed. This is the first step in a disciplined process of transformation.

In a good-to-great organization, the good is often viewed as an immutable law that governs all the decisions made by those who lead the business. That’s why so many executives have a Hedgehog Concept: a set of guiding principles that they believe will take the business to the next level.