What Is the Good?


Good is a word used in everyday life to describe something that is both morally correct and perceptively pleasing. There is often a feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing something that is considered good.

The term “good” is usually applied to a wide range of human activities and objects of desire, such as truth, beauty, talent, meaning, health, rest, play, and morality. Some philosophers have questioned whether there are a number of distinct types of good, or different sets of qualities that constitute the good.

For example, some philosophers have argued that some things are good in the sense of being an object that is worthy of attention, while others are good in the sense of being an object of pleasure. These distinctions have led to debates concerning the nature of good, and how we should think about it in terms of our own values and desires.

Aristotle, for instance, defined good as an end that is desired for its own sake (not necessarily ultimate) and that requires action of the highest virtue to reach. This idea of an independent existing object, or what Aristotle calls a “good that has its own existence in its own right,” was posited by Plato but did not fully develop as a philosophical concept.

However, in the later period of Aristotle’s thought, it became clear that he was not alone in his conception of the good. The Epicureans saw the good as relative bodily pleasure; the Stoics identified it and virtue with passionless nature lived rationally.

Plotinus also stressed the good as an ontological principle underlying all knowledge and being, although he did not identify it with a particular kind of reality. As such, he believed that the good is a universal property of all known things and regarded it as the author of their essence.

Another approach to the good is a perfectionist one, which understands value as a means to a higher end. This is in stark contrast to the more utilitarian view of some modern philosophers, who hold that value consists in a person’s actual realization of such qualities, talents, and skills as might represent the best within him or her.