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September 20, 2019 / Congau

What is Good?

What does it mean to be good? That shouldn’t be such a difficult question since we use that simple word all the time. Good food, good behavior, good result, good day; it’s usually clear what we mean. We like it, we approve, there’s something positive about it – at least compared to our expectations.

“Good” is relative, we know that; nothing is good without qualification. The same thing can be good in one context but not in another. That, however, is not quite the same as saying that “good” is relative to the individual; once the context has been decided upon, there should be a high level of agreement among rational people as to what is good.

“He is a good plumber” probably means that in my opinion this person is good at fixing the pipes and whatever defects he has, his unflattering looks or his criminal record, does not influence my assessment of him as long as he makes the water flow properly; that is his purpose and if he can do that well, he is good.

But what if I say: “He is a good human being.”? One might think that this statement is too personal to have a universal meaning. If a plumber is good for me, he’s probably good for you too, but we are more likely to differ about whether a man of unspecified profession is good. “Good for what?” one might object. For what? A workman has a purpose, but a human being as such has none. Or does he?

If you are a plumber, you go ahead and fix the pipes, but if you are simply a human being, what do you do? Anything?

Human life has no purpose, some say, but even they would not approve of just anything. They would liberally allow you to choose your own profession, but they would probably not let you kill someone.

A man should not murder; that would make him a bad man. What should a man do? If we could agree on that, that would indicate a minimum human purpose. That would be good.

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