What Is Good?

Good is what is considered to be the right thing, according to moral standards and religious beliefs. It also refers to the conduct that should be preferred when posed with a choice between possible actions.

The meaning of “good” has a substantial variety, as is apparent in its etymology and associated translations among ancient and contemporary languages. It can be interpreted in various ways depending on context, circumstances of place and history, and philosophy and religion.

Scholastic Analysis: It is often argued that there is no such thing as good or bad in itself; rather, human acts may be good or evil in themselves, depending on their importance to the ends of man. For example, some actions of a person defeat human ends and are therefore morally wrong; others are so necessary to the survival of mankind that they must be commanded and thus good in themselves.

It is this concept of goodness that is embodied in the ethical principle that “action is proportionate to being” (see Aristotle, Ethics). The action that is best for the ends of the agent, or the most desirable, is the act that adds the most to his nature or perfections; it is a kind of value.

Platonic Origins: The good, for Plato, is that action man should choose, as the object of his will, in order to achieve his happiness in this life; it is not only a norm or a standard but a subject of change and judgment relative to the individual in different conditions of sense. For the Epicureans, it is bodily pleasure; for the Stoics, it is virtue with a passionless nature lived rationally.

Augustinian Teaching: St. Augustine synthesizes Plotinus’s teaching with the Christian Revelation to emphasize the existence of a sovereign transcendent good and the fact that it is not the end but a being that has been created by God, as all things are. He teaches that all other goods, in being, are made by God, but not as an emanation of His goodness.

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