The Good – What Is It?


The good is a general term that can be used to describe anything that is morally correct or desirable. The good is often used as a standard by which people judge whether something is right or wrong, and the word is closely associated with ethics and morality.

Philosophers have studied the good in various ways since antiquity. Some have tried to analyze what makes a thing good, while others have focused on which things are in fact good. Interest in the first question became especially prominent after the publication of G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica in 1903, and with it moral philosophy took a turn toward conceptual analysis.

Moore claimed that a definition of good would be “indefinable.” It seems that for any proposed analysis of what makes something good, one can always ask, “But is it good?” In this way, philosophical analyses of goodness tend to fall short.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that some philosophers have successfully analyzed what makes certain things good. For example, Franz Brentano developed an explanation of good that seemed to bridge the gap between Moore’s indefinableness and the naturalistic fallacy. This theory, which is now somewhat out of favor, maintains that something is good if it satisfies some kind of natural need.

In everyday use, good is used to mean satisfactory or desirable in quality, amount, or degree: The car was a good buy for the money. The test results were good. The steak was a good cut and flavorful.

The adjective good also means healthy, fit, or well: She is in very good health. It is sometimes used adverbially to suggest that someone feels cheerful or optimistic: He felt good about the outcome of the meeting. It is also used to indicate that a person has reason to feel happy or proud: She was feeling good about her work.

People can use the adverb well to suggest that something is suitable for a particular purpose or condition: He did well on his exam. She was seeing well with her new glasses. In the Bible, the word is used to indicate blessing and prosperity: “The Lord blessed the works of his hands” (Psalms 133:4).

The adverb good is not as common as the adverb well, but it still appears occasionally in formal speech and edited writing: It looked good on paper. In the past, some writers advised that good should be reserved to describe virtue and that well should be used instead when describing health or feelings: He was in a bad mood but felt good about his work. However, these recommendations are no longer considered authoritative. Today, nearly everyone agrees that both good and well can be used as adjectives after forms of do: He did well on the exam; She was feeling good. For more information, see the entry for do. The good is a concept that is important in many areas, including philosophy, psychology, and religion. Understanding the nature of the good is essential in determining how we should live our lives and what it takes to be a good person.