What Is Good?


Good is a general term of positive evaluation, used in many different contexts:

‘Good’ can be contrasted with bad and with other terms of negative evaluation. The word is also associated with the concept of morality, and in particular teleological ethics.

The concept of good is central to philosophy, and has been the focus of extensive discussion since antiquity. In general, it has been conceived as that which lifts humans above the animal kingdom, and is therefore more than pleasure or pain, wealth or poverty, health or illness, virtue or vice. Aristotle, for example, developed an idea of the good life that focused on the development of reason in order to excel at what makes humans distinctly human.

Modern ethical theories often use the term good to refer to a general principle that guides an individual’s choices and actions. Such ideas include utilitarianism, deontological ethics, and ethical naturalism. Aristotle’s idea of the good life was influenced by both utilitarianism and hedonism. His emphasis on the development of the rational faculty was a precursor to utilitarian thinking.

For most of history, the notion of good has been linked to a sense of merit. The term is also used in a more neutral manner to express positive evaluation: ‘That’s all to the good,’ meaning that something is advantageous or desirable. Using the term in this way is common even in contemporary usage: ‘She did well on the test,’ or ‘He sees good with his new glasses.’

A variant of this notion of good is sometimes associated with virtue, particularly virtuous habits: ‘She has very good eating and sleeping habits.’ The term is also frequently used as an adjective after the verb feel: ‘He feels good after his operation.’ An old notion that it is improper to say “I feel good” in reference to one’s health still occasionally appears in print, perhaps reflecting a combination of an idea that good should be reserved to describe virtue and uncertainty about whether an adverb or an adjective should follow feel: Today, nearly everyone agrees that both good and well can predicate adjectives.

Other uses of the word good are related to concepts such as value and valuation. The idea of goods is also an important consideration in economics, especially for the purpose of establishing prices and regulating market behavior. In the context of a company, ‘good’ can also mean the quality of a product or service: ‘The service was good.’ In addition, ‘goods’ can be a synonym for raw materials, finished products, or services. For example, a person who works in the field of agriculture may be described as a goods trader. Similarly, an automobile manufacturer may produce vehicles as a goods business. Agricultural goods may be produced as commodities and sold in markets to other businesses, or they can be customized for specific purposes. For instance, a farmer may add crumb softeners to his or her wheat to make the crop more valuable to the buyer.