The word good is a common term for something that is of value. This concept is of particular interest in the study of religion and ethics. However, there are several different ways to understand the term and its meaning. Understanding the varying approaches can help to reveal the depth and complexity of the concept.
Throughout the history of philosophy, the notion of good has been interpreted in numerous ways. Some of these interpretations are subjective and others are objective. Subjective views of good construe the good as the act of a person’s own will.
Another interpretation of the good is the moral good. In this definition, the good is the most desirable action in a situation. Man may or may not have an objectively good object, but he will find it desirable if it adds to his being.
Good is also defined as “something that is desirable for its own sake” or an act that adds to the pleasure or satisfaction of an individual. This type of good is not necessarily the same as the ontological good.
Objective views of the good are based on a combination of knowledge and noncognitive attitudes. These views of good often emphasize the good as an optimum, or a means to another end. They are opposed to the utilitarian approach, which tends to define the good as what is best in itself. For example, the British economist Jeremy Bentham held that the value of money is the sole intrinsic good.
A teleological view of the good views the good as the act of fulfilling natural ends. Consequently, this conception of good is in accord with the premise that all things are created by God.
There are two major traditions of nondeontological ethical theory, one beginning with Aristotle and ending with the pragmatic naturalism of John Dewey. One tradition has been traced from the eighteenth century in Britain and the other in twentieth century America.
Moral philosophers often refer to the “common good” as a motivating force behind human activity. In this sense, man has an obligation to do his part to ensure that the “common good” is met.
The good is often viewed as the opposite of evil, which is considered a negative force. It is an essential part of man’s nature and is associated with the norm of moral goodness. Although there are differences in the concepts of good, they are all conceived as a positive aspect of being.
Immanuel Kant wrote about the good in Critique of Practical Reason. He argued that the golden mean of virtue is the right reason. He did not develop the idea of an objective good, but he did suggest that intrinsic and instrumental good have distinct properties.
Aristotle defined the difference between intrinsic and instrumental good. He stated that an intrinsic good is the act that best serves the individual, while an instrumental good is the act that serves another end.
Although the meaning of the term good is important, its definition cannot be fully understood. Ultimately, it is dependent on the context in which it is used.