views updated May 23 2018


In general the term "good" refers to something of value, or anything that fills a need or desire and thus affords satisfaction. Philosophers refine this notion and use it in several different senses. In speculating about God as Absolute Perfection, the ultimate end of man and the universe, they refer to the Supreme Good (see good, the supreme). In the context of social and political thought they sometimes speak of the motivating force behind all human activity as the common good. In metaphysical analysis they identify the good with being considered precisely as an object of desire or appetition, and thus enumerate it among the transcendentals. In ethics, finally, they speak of any action in conformity with a norm of morality as itself good, and thus conducive to man's fulfillment and happiness. In what follows major consideration will be given to the last two meanings, under the headings of ontological good and moral good, respectively.

Ontological Good

The good, viewed metaphysically, expresses something so fundamental that it is impossible to define it in terms of anything more basic. The unsuspected depth and diversity of meaning that follow man's initial understanding of what constitutes the good can best be exposed by tracing the development of this concept throughout the long history of philosophy.

Platonic Origins. Discussing the good primarily in an ethical context, plato sees it as the action man ought to perform. If a man acts for the sake of something, this something is what he wills and seeks precisely as conducive to his good. The good is what will make him happy. This may be the useful or the pleasurable; but even the unpleasant, e.g., punishment, can be good if it is the remedy that cures diseases of the soul, such as injustice or intemperance. The good then is primarily a virtue of the soul, a kind of knowledge: the knowledge of good counsel, or of the just and unjust, the temperate or intemperate, etc. This knowledge is a certain synthesis of all the virtues, but one according to a pattern elaborated through reason. A knowledge so elaborated implies for Plato knowledge of an absolute norm or form of good action. This norm defines the good.

Yet Plato is aware that this does not fully solve the problem. Though it seems reasonable that a man should be just and act justly, yet when such action presents many and immediate disadvantages there must be some reason why virtuous action is good in spite of these. This requires a deeper notion of the good that makes the goodness of virtuous action a good in itself. In the Symposium Plato indicates that the ultimate principle is some nature that is absolute unity, harmony, and perfection. Again, in the Republic, he specifies that the unity of knowledge is founded in the good, for the good is the author of all known things and is their very essence. Yet the good itself is not essence, but transcends it in dignity and power. He does not further elaborate the character of this ultimate good, nor does he explain how it is related to the multiple virtues of the soul.

Aristotelian Development. For Aristotle, since every act, inquiry, or pursuit seems to tend to some good, the good is said to be that at which all things aim. The good is the end of human action, and as such might be either a product of that activity or the activity itself. Among good ends, Aristotle notes a hierarchy in which the lower is desired as a means to the ultimate. The existence of lower ends permits him to identify some good things with the useful. But there must be a highest good or ultimate end, for otherwise man would never wish to act. This ultimate end is a good not identified with the useful but one desired for its own sake.

The Highest Good. Aristotle sees the supreme good as the end of man's highest action or the end of that action that is the reason of all other actions. For Aristotle, as for Plato, man's highest activity is knowing. But the former makes a clear distinction between speculative knowledge and practical knowledge. Speculative knowledge bases its principles in things, and its end is the truth of these things. Practical science, or the knowledge of doing or making, takes its principles from the one knowing and the goal envisaged, and its end is the truth of something yet to be done or made. Again, for Aristotle, man is not an isolated individual but a social animal who cannot achieve his end independent of society. So the good of man's highest practical activity is not an individual good but the good of man. Thus he identifies the good of man with the good of the state. Man, see what should be his aim or end as a member of a city-state, thereby determines his highest good.

Aristotle realizes that the term good has as many meanings as being. Yet, even though it can be predicated of all the categories, it somehow transcends them. Moreover, if some one good exists that is itself totally good, it cannot be reached by man; nor can knowledge of it, transcending as it does the field of action, clarify knowledge needed by man to achieve a particular end or good.

Human Happiness. Such considerations, however, lead Aristotle to the question: Is there one final end for man, or are there many? In his understanding, "final" is something not desired for the sake of something else, although not necessarily ultimate in the sense of transcendent. He answers that happiness is such a good, since it is always chosen for its own sake, and he equates this with virtuous action that is the strictly human good. However, this action cannot consist in just one act, but entails action of the highest virtue during a "complete life." Nor can this happiness of virtuous action be complete without some other gifts of fortune such as health, a certain prosperity, friends, and a long life. The whole complex state entitled "happiness" varies somewhat with different abilities and types of men, and thus is not identical for all.

For Aristotle, then, the good is what man rationally judges should be done to achieve his happiness as a social being in this life. He does not develop the notion of an independent existing object, such as that implied by Plato, which would be ultimate in the order of good.

Epicureans and Stoics. The Epicureans saw the good as relative bodily pleasure; the Stoics identified it and virtue with passionless nature lived rationally (see epicureanism; hedonism; stoicism).

Plotinus and the Good. It is plotinus who stresses the good in terms of the ultimate ontological principle suggested by Plato. His whole philosophy is a search not merely for the good as moral but also for the supreme principle of both speculative and practical knowledge. This principle he terms the nature of the good. It is the ultimate source of all things.

Plotinus speaks of being as a Platonic form, i.e., as an object that is logically prior to intelligence even though correlative to it. Yet intelligence and the objects it understands constitute a multitude; they are unintelligible unless reduced to some unity. This unity, because it is above being and intelligence, cannot he grasped by intellect, since this would immediately delimit it and make it a "this" and not "that." The resulting One he identifies with the Good. It is the source of the being of all other things, for these are beings by emanation, obtaining their perfection from the Good.

Plotinus thus teaches that: first, the good is identified primarily with reality in the fullness of its perfection; second, all other things, as emanations, are in that degree good; and third, a comprehension (not of the existence, but) of the nature of the Supreme Good is beyond the capacity of intelligence; which is itself a limited emanation. The meaning of the nature of the Supreme Good is therefore reached by man only in a negative way, by a sort of intuitive experience.

Augustinian Teaching. St. augustine synthesizes Plotinian philosophy with Christian Revelation, for the latter clearly reveals the notion of a sovereign transcendent good and identifies this with God. All other things, having been created, are by God but not of Him. They are good but not as an emanation of God's goodness. Rather, God creates a being, making it this nature or that; since it is a nature, it is good. For St. Augustine the good is not primarily end or something desired, but rather being and a degree of perfection. He holds that being has measure, form, and order.

First, all natures are ordered, that is, are intelligible and related in an intelligible fashion to all other beings. If a nature dynamically maintains its order it should attain its end. The mode of a being implies order: it also expresses the measure of being, while form, or species, expresses the particular character of that measure. Each nature, as a kind of ordered measure, is in itself a degree of reality and so "good."

St. Augustine does not identify this objective order of the good with the de facto end of man and his knowledge of that end. Revelation tells him that man's end or good is unattainable by natural powers. Only by the assurance of Revelation is the objective Supreme Good, hinted at by Plato and considered as out of man's reach by Aristotle, reintegrated into the objective moral order. The supernatural order requires man to love God for Himself as The Good, and all else as means.

Neither does St. Augustine identify the morality or goodness of human action with man's practical knowledge of the good. Such knowledge and virtue are not the same thing. He recognizes the difference between knowledge of what is, knowledge of what ought to be done, and the willing of the directive to action. Unlike earlier thinkers he sees voluntary choice rooted in knowledge as basic to virtue. This distinction between knowledge and will gives rise to the thorny problem of the difference between the objective moral good and that which, in the light of a good intention, may be mistakenly judged to be a means and so a good. From this distinction one can understand how conscience can make its demands to be itself respected as a good.

Thomistic Doctrine. St. thomas aquinas's meaning of the good, often identified with the Aristotelian phrase as "that which all things desire," is rather one that embodies not merely Aristotle's thought but also the further contributions of pseudo-dionysius and St. Augustine. His essential contribution lies partly in his treatment of the good in general, making it an integral part of his metaphysics, and partly in his subtle explanation of the connection between the first principles of ethics and those of metaphysics, and so of the relation between ontological good and the good of moral action.

Being and the Good. St. Thomas seems to make two approaches to the understanding of being. The first is a deepening of experience through which he sees that "to be" is to be this something, which, through change, can become other; and again, that "to be" is to be many kinds, measures, or modes.

The second view develops when, from the fact of change and multiplicity, he establishes that there must be a First Cause, a First Necessary Being, a First Truth, etc. (see god, proofs for the existence of). Considering the character of this "First," he then establishes its utter simplicity by way of negation. Simplicity in being is to be the Act Itself of Existing, the principle of all other modes. This leads him to reflect on finite things and see them as beings precisely because, by creative act, they are given existence.

Emphasizing existence as the perfection of all perfections, St. Thomas attains a deeper understanding of being and its transcendental properties. First, he holds that "to be" is to be an existing something; but this exists as itself and not other: thus it is one. The mind also apprehends being as intrinsically intelligible and, in its highest mode, as an intellect in act: thus being is true. As true, it is correlative to mind and the good of mind. But the true as good is not good merely for the intellect, but also as existent in its own right; it is that to which the intellectual appetite or will tends, and in which it rests. Being is thus seen as both perfective and perfection. It is good because it perfects and fills the intellectual appetite; it is good and loved because its actuality is perfection. In its highest mode the good of the will is seen as identical with its love.

Aquinas thus shows that the Highest Being, God, Existence Itself, is at the same time a pure act of intellectual understanding and a pure act of delight and love. Existence Itself, as perfectly lucid Love, is the Good. But its mode of existence transcends our positive comprehension.

Ontological and Moral Good. For man, to be is not only to exist, but also to develop, and this by the absorption of being. Yet, though all things can be seen intellectually as good in themselves, not all ontological goods are good for man's development here and now. Thus the ontologically good is morally good only insofar as, in a given situation, it becomes a proper means to man's ultimate end. Man by his choice so relates other beings to his being that he develops his own being in the process. In so doing he gives expression to the primary principle of being, viz, that being must be and is good. Seeking through action this affirmation of being, man has it in his power to tend toward his ultimate end and good.

But man cannot use being for his development by a mere mechanical relating of the ontological good to himself; rather, through understanding and choice, he must employ a limited creative act. Man's free action is based on a spiritual synthesis made by himself as a distinct person. Thus the moral good must be seen as bearing the stamp of his personality. Respect for the person and his action, which depends in turn on complicated judgments inspired by love of the good and yet is perfectible in various degrees by moral and intellectual virtues, causes St. Thomas to hold that the conscientious judgment is itself goodeven though from the theoretical and objective point of view it might be judged erroneous and imperfect. Following St. Augustine, St. Thomas regards the personal act of conscience as a good to be respected. The moral good, then, is not necessarily identical with the ontological. In a certain sense, the ordering of the ontological good to the ultimate end is potential to man's creative act of choice.

Spinoza and the British Moralists. Among modern philosophers spinoza makes almost complete identification between moral and ontological good. His philosophy is based on the principle "that the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connections of things" (Ethics 2, prop. 7). We seek, through reflection on our understanding of things, a knowledge of the intelligible principle involved in their intelligibility. For example, various figures or modes of thought involve intelligible extension or thought respectively. Both extension and thought can be conceived as intelligible expressions of substance; yet substance itself, a principle implied in the understanding of everything else, implies no further principle. The order of thought and reality being the same, the ultimate principle, substance, is also the Supreme Reality. And man finds his good, contentment, and peace in the gradual comprehension of what is, which reaches its culmination in an intuition of the unitive whole of substance, or God. This intuition, being a conscious affirmation of mind, is identical with love, which is the very spontaneity of the mind. The wise man being "conscious of himself and of God and of things by a certain eternal necessity, never ceases to be, but always possesses true acquiescence of spirit" (Ethics 5, prop. 42n). This is man's Good: to be absorbed in what is.

The british moralists of the 18th century attempted to found their idea of the good on moral phenomena experienced in the life of the ordinary man rather than on a metaphysical basis. All agreed that happiness was the good sought. The intellectualist school saw happiness as resulting from man's respect for reasonable relations that express things as they are; the sentimentalists stressed those relations they felt were apt to produce the wellbeing of oneself or the majority. The good was really the state from which happiness results.

Kant's Notion of Good. Immanuel Kant regarded this phenomenal idea of the good as relativistic and purely subjective. Instead, he sought a moral relation that would be universally valid and based on something absolute in the person. This he found in the good will or good intention. Kant's will is a subjective extreme opposed to Spinoza's objective position. Hegel synthesizes both views.

In his Critique of Pure Reason Kant criticized all metaphysical knowledge of being; in his view, we know only the effects or appearances of things. Both nature and the self become syntheses of appearances. Therefore it is meaningless to say that one understands or loves a thing because of its inherent perfection. The moral good cannot be based on the ontological good. The only good is a will that wills with all its power, even if it fails of its purpose. There is "an absolute value in the mere will" [Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, sec. 1; tr. T. K. Abbott (London 1927) 10].

Such a will is not an act of love but an imperative expressing itself in a dictate of the rational will determined solely by itself; it is an autonomous dictate, an "ought" that is absolutely pure when it is expressible in a categorical imperative (see categorical imperative). Such a spontaneous dictate of the will, being independent of objects or consequences and thus purely formal, is the only absolute good. It is a demand that the "will" be "will," for only thus can man be man. The good as end is not a norm but a subjective good, such as the useful or pleasurable; this is relative to the individual in the changing conditions of sense and so is not good in itself.

In a priori fashion Kant holds that a good will should produce happiness. But happiness is not the result of one act alone. It is possible only on the supposition "of an endless duration of the existence and personality of the same rational being," i.e., on the supposition of immortality [Critique of Practical Reason, 2.2.4; tr. T. K. Abbott (London 1927) 218]. Moreover, although the virtuous man is worthy of happiness, experience shows that happiness is not necessarily connected with virtue. Happiness can in fact follow virtue only if one also assumes the existence of an intelligent cause of both nature and rational being. On such a supposition the Summum Bonum, the sum of virtue and happiness, is possible. These suppositions are thus the a priori condition of the possibility of the Highest Good, although they are not the a priori conditions of a good will as such.

Hegelian Teaching. With hegel there is no dichotomy between knowledge and the real. Knowledge is knowledge of the real and the real is what is known. Like Spinoza, Hegel has no criterion of the truth beyond reflective consciousness of truth itself. The life of the mind is nothing other than reason, or reality, expressing itself in a dialectical process of understanding, reflecting, distinguishing through reflection, and synthesizing to form a higher object that leads to Idea or Reason as the Absolute. In other words, consciousness through self-reflection transcends itself and its object. As limited, such action is autonomous and free insofar as it becomes an expression of Spirit and Reason, or a manifestation of the Absolute.

The recognition of this unity of self-consciousness and being is also a recognition of "ethical substance." Self-consciousness at different levels yields moments of this substance and so "the healthy natural reason knows immediately what is right and good." A healthy reason knows the law immediately as: "this is right." But the right is never something related to an individual as individual; it must be an expression of the universality or community of Reason. Yet Reason at the stage of ethical action, since this stage is a moment in process, is an autonomous, universal willing of several things. It intends, first, the consciousness of the family as a community; this consciousness secondly involves seeing the family in relation to the greater community, the nation; and this in turn is related or absorbed in the unity of Absolute Spirit.

The Hegelian position is thus much like that of Spinoza: a metaphysical explanation is also an ethical view of reality. The Ultimate Good is Reason, or Absolute Spirit, or the spiritual as embodying all reality. Every expression of that Reality can be said to be good since each is implicitly Reason. Moral life is the progressive effort consciously to realize Spirit, just as for Spinoza it is progress toward the understanding of the Ultimate Principle, Substance. Virtue becomes identified with this dynamic understanding. But, for Hegel as for Kant, progress is an act of the self and is one entailing a hierarchy of levels. On each level the understanding makes the self explicit in its universal communal relations, and this too progresses in time, rather than unfolding in the Spinozistic mode in a linear series of implications.

Bergson and Sartre. Contemporary philosophy sees all of reality from an evolutionary, dynamic viewpoint. For the most part, the existentialist, creative character of action is stressed in reaction to the over-rationalized character of the Hegelian concept. In the philosophy of bergson the ontological good consists in action begetting the new through the élan vital. In line with this the moral good is embodied in the life of the model person or saint. Just as being or action expresses the unique, original character of existence, so it expresses the good.

The most radical expression of the existentialist trend is found in the work of Sartre (see existentialism). For him being is neither consciousness nor object, but what is presupposed to both thought and phenomena. It simply is, without meaning, and is identical with the absurd. Though being is neither good nor evil, Sartre speaks of it in terms of disgust. Man's act of consciousness or decision generates something intelligible, or an essence. In the order of moral action spontaneous decision is the free creation of the good bound by no rule. This is inherently contradictory and the negation of the good in its own terms.

See Also: perfection, ontological; optimism; evil; pessimism.

Bibliography: e. g. salmon, The Good in Existential Metaphysics (Milwaukee 1953). e. smith, The Goodness of Being in Thomistic Philosophy and Its Contemporary Significance (Catholic University of America Philosophical Studies 98; Washington 1947). c. hollencamp, Causa causarum: On the Nature of Good and Final Cause (Quebec 1949). l. de raeymaeker, The Philosophy of Being, tr. e. h. ziegelmeyer (St. Louis 1954). r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 3 v. (4th ed. Berlin 192730) 1:61118. m. j. adler, ed., The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, 2 v. (Chicago 1952) 1:60538.

[e. g. salmon]

Moral Good

Man's ontological good is his corporeal-spiritual being with its existent perfections and activities. An individual's good, in this sense, can be compared to an anthropological exemplar to see whether he falls short of the average, as would a blind, maimed, or insane person. But we do not say that a man is good or bad on the basis of such perfection or defect. For, although one's ontological good is desirable for its own sake, it is impermanent and does not represent the ultimate state of human wellbeing. Moral good refers to a man's ultimate good and whatever is directly connected therewith.

Notion of Moral Good. Moral goodness is the goodness of man as man, and basically consists in a relationship to his ultimate end. This relationship can exist: (1) in man's total being, (2) in his acts, and (3) in his habitual dispositions. Now the whole man is correctly and habitually related to his last end only when he possesses sanctifying grace. However, a radical orientation to this end is not enough in the case of the adult. For ends are actually attained by acts proper to the agent; and the characteristic act of man is the human act, the act of which man is master. An act of man is human when done with knowledge of the purpose of the act and freely placed (see human act). As a free being, man has the power to affirm his being and choose what leads to the end; or he can deny his being and choose what defeats his end. The former acts are good and right; the latter bad and wrong.

Without freedom there is no man; so, without freedom there is neither moral good nor moral evil. We ordinarily speak of moral good as existing in man's rational choices. These, however, will lead to the vision of God only if they are vivified by actual grace. In another common meaning moral good refers to the person of the human agent; thus he is called morally good (virtuous) if habitually disposed to perform good acts; he is called morally bad (vicious) if habitually disposed to perform bad acts (see virtue).

Moral theology studies human acts and habits in relation to the last end. It teaches how one may maintain himself in the state of grace, acquire virtues, and identify the chief good and evil acts. Since early Greek times, philosophers have concerned themselves with problems about the virtues and the acts. The following discussion is for the most part about acts.

Theories about Moral Goodness. The perennial problem is one of determining the ultimate difference between right and wrong conduct. In theory, that is right which leads to the end, that is wrong which defeats the end, so that attainment of the end is incontestable proof of the rightness of a given course of action. We cannot, however, use attainment of the end to judge the rightness of conduct, because we have no experiential knowledge of people attaining their last end. Although the concepts of goodness and rightness differ (for goodness is suitability to nature, rightness rectitude toward an end), nevertheless, in the concrete the good act is the right act and the bad act is the wrong act. Hence the problem is soluble only if one finds why good acts are good and bad acts are bad.

Non-Normative Systems. The answers that they give to this question have been used to characterize some moral systems (see ethics, history of). Thus the intuitionists are those who say that we simply see one act to be good and another to be bad. Some forms of this theory postulate a special moral sense that enables us to discern moral goodness in much the same way as sight tells yellow from blue. This doctrine is moral sensism. Phenomenologists, following husserl, say that we immediately perceive the negative or positive value of a human act, not by operation of an intellect, but by an emotional act of value-appreciation. Some existentialists say that in a given situation we create the morally good act by our choice of whatever in a given situation promotes our value as existent persons. This is a form of situational ethics. These views dispense with a norm of morals.

Normative Systems. Many systems, however, hold a norm. Thus william of ockham said that the positive will of God denominates certain acts as good and certain others as bad, and these labelings He could change at pleasure. Some modern Protestants reecho this doctrine and say that the sovereign Will of God, which may differ with each occasion and which can neither be contained within universal principles nor known by reason, is the sole norm of goodness. This function hobbes attributes to the law of the state. According to Kant an act is good if it conforms to a dictate of the autonomous reason from the sole motive of devotion to duty. The supreme dictate upon which he based all others is: So act that thy motive may be made a universal law for all men. The hedonist, ancient and modern, judges the goodness of an act by its capacity to afford him pleasure (see hedonism). The 19th-century utilitarian pronounced an act good on the basis of its utility to serve the greatest good of the greatest number of men and animals. One of the most commonly accepted norms is the current practice of a given community based upon public approvals and disapprovals.

Naturalism and Positivism. The naturalists hold that morals is a natural science akin to biology or psychology, that moral goodness is a physical property inhering in some object, and of the same kind as color, shape, or feeling, to which many give the name of "V-property." This is identified by some as a bodily process such as a pleasant titillation of the nerves, as that which the agent likes or prefers or which arouses his interest, as that which assists evolution, or the life-process, or the continuing social process by relief of tensions. Nearly all such systems are at one in shying away from the question of man's ultimate end. (see instrumentalism.)

Logical positivists think that the problem of moral goodness is a pseudo problem on the ground that moral concepts and statements are not addressed to the intellect and make no sense; they merely evince emotion. Hence a statement asserting an action to be good or bad is either an exclamation of approval or disapproval, a hidden command, a gerundive, or a prescription. (see logical positivism.)

Scholastic Analysis. Scholastics commonly teach that the basic difference between good and bad is natural and not arbitrary. First, some actions of themselves defeat human ends and are bad and must be forbidden; others are so necessary to human existence that they are good in themselves and must be commanded. Not even God could sanction the former and prohibit the latter; for in that event human life would be impossible. Second, the reason why some acts are good in themselves and others bad in themselves is because human nature is what it is. Consequently the norm of human goodness is the complete nature of man. Here is obvious application of the ontological principle that action is proportionate to being. As the activities that allow a plant or an animal to come to maturity and perfection are only those that accord with the nature of the plant or animal, so man, if he is to arrive at the perfection of his nature, must choose to do only that which accords with his nature.

The Norm of Nature. To say that the norm of moral goodness is man's nature is a fuller explication of: (1) Aristotle's thought that the golden mean of virtue is right reason; for whoever acts in accordance with his nature is following right reason; and (2) St. Thomas's doctrine that the ultimate rule of conduct is the eternal law. For the provident Creator guides His creatures to their destiny by means befitting the nature of each. It is fitting that the rational creature be directed by moral law addressed to his intelligence and guiding his free will; and the content of this law is the prohibition of those actions that run counter to man's nature, and the command to do those things essential to the realization of that nature.

Moral Evil. The norm that discerns the good discerns the evil; for evil is the contrary of good. Ontologically evil is a nothing, the absence of a perfection that ought to be present. Man's ontological evil is lack of being, such as pain, mutilation, death, loss of power, that militates against his wholeness as a natural unitary being. Moral evil exists only in human choices; it consists in a lack of rectitude whose basis is that the act is not befitting the nature of the agent. Appetite must seek good, but in choosing moral evil it seeks what is only apparently good. While this may be an ontological perfection of the faculty whence it proceeds, it is unbecoming the total man and cannot be ordered to the last end. Formal moral evil is choice of what the agent thinks to be wrong; material moral evil is the choice of a wrong object that the agent thinks to be right.

Moral Objectivity. The essential goodness or badness of the wi1l-act does not depend upon the subjective perfection by which it issues from the agent, as might an act of singing or running, but upon the object directly chosen, for the object specifies the will-act. This statement contradicts those existentialists who say that what a man chooses is of little or no consequence if only he chooses freely, sincerely, authentically. But the intensity or remissness of the will adds only accidental perfection or defect to the human act. The act is good if a morally good object is chosen; it is bad if a morally bad object is chosen. We carefully note that the total object of the will includes both what a man chooses to do and why he does so. The why is the motive that prompts the action; the what is the action, with its modifying circumstances, by which a motive is to be realized. Now in order to be good the act must accord with the norm, both as to what a man does and why he does it. This common teaching is also contested by existentialists who say that the nature of our action is not to be reckoned, if only one acts from the motive of the love of God. The most fundamental rule of morals is that the will may never seek, or rest in, moral evil. Therefore, an action wrong in itself does not become good when it is chosen as a means to a noble end; and an action good in itself is vitiated whenever it is made a means to an ignoble end. (see morality; circumstances, moral.)

Morality of Consequences. While certain moderns, contrary to Kant, consider consequences to be of the essence of morality, scholastics do not teach a morality of consequences except so far as consequences known and willed are part of the nature of the moral act. Since, therefore, the true human act is the inner act of the will, whenever one intends to do a wrong external act he is at once guilty of a moral wrong, even though he may later fail to carry out his wrong intention. Fulfillment of a wrong or right intention adds nothing essential, only a quantitative goodness or badness, to the right or wrong intention elicited. Consequences, however, have this peripheral importance: bad consequences, which though unintended are foreseen as following from what is directly intended, may be reason for forbidding an act innocent in itself. The principle of double effect, based on equal immediacy of resultant good and on proportion of evil allowed, illumines difficult cases in this area (see double effect, principle of).

Good as the Goal of Human Action. Even though no law enjoined it, right reason must ever direct man to choose his real good in preference to his apparent good. Man is in a situation where he must constantly choose, for he is a complex being with many needs and many corresponding goods. Conflicting desire is the universal experience. How is such conflict resolved? While an immediate rule of thumb is that necessary good (i.e., what is required to prevent moral evil here and now) is to be preferred to good that is not so required, yet the general principle of solution is that goods are to be esteemed not for their power to attract but for the place they hold in the hierarchy of being. Since every good chosen adds a peculiar human luster to the agent, the act that affords more being is, other things being equal, more to be preferred than the act that affords less being. The nobler the object chosen, the nobler will be the act.

Varieties of Good. The Greeks distinguished perfective, delectable, and useful good. Perfective good is that object of desire that when had makes a man more a man. Man's perfections are his substance with its faculties, acquired skills, and all acts that improve his substance, faculties, and skills. These are intrinsic values desirable for their own sakes. Each man's problem is to recognize what things are worthy of choice, and the order and measure in which they are to be sought.

Delectable good is the pleasure or satisfaction one experiences upon the fulfillment of a want or the exercise of a faculty. Since nature attaches pleasure to our activities in order to induce us to seek our proper perfective goods, pleasure is a natural object of desire. One ought not to be without some measure of pleasure, but pleasure sought merely for pleasure's sake is unreasonable.

Useful good is a pure means to a perfective good or pleasure. Useful good and delectable good become moral good when they are sought in subordination to perfective good and directed by reason to the last end. A man ought not to regard useful good as having intrinsic value nor make pleasure the sole end of action.

Subordination of Goods. In dealing with self, the rule is that what satisfies vegetative needs is less important than what satisfies sensitive needs; both of these in turn are subordinate to rational and spiritual needs. Moreover, each man requires a skill whose highest exercise is wisdom in discerning the true ends of life and the appropriate means of attaining them. Another needed skill is restraining within the bounds of reason appetite striving after sensitive pleasure. Still another skill is spurring on or restraining appetite that is faced with difficulty.

In dealing with things less than himself, a man should comport himself as a faithful steward of the divine bounty. Dealing with other men he must maintain the natural equality of all men and do justice by respecting their goods. Justice regulates not only the private good of each but especially the common good of all. The common good implies two things: (1) the one goal toward which the Creator draws all men; a common nature requires that men love one another by helping, never hindering, each other in their quest of this goal; (2) that sum of helps and advantages to be produced by mutual cooperation that is necessary for the individual to realize himself and his potentialities. Foremost among these helps is society in general and all particular natural and supernatural societies. Each one is to contribute his due share to the common good as determined by law of God or man; each one is entitled to a proportionate share in the social advantage.

One is to prefer the common good to his individual good except when he would be called upon to lose or endanger his supreme good. In dealing with God, one must observe the relation of complete dependence upon the source of all being. Since God is Infinite Goodness, things that directly unite man to God, such as acts of faith, hope, and charity, are better for man than those whose purpose is human perfection, such as acts of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Charity is the supreme skill uniting one most closely to God and directing all activities to the final end.

Highest Good. By observing these relations to self, to lower beings, to his fellow man, and to God, a man moves toward his final end, which is his supreme good (see good, the supreme). This is, first, a state of perfect happiness consisting in the unflawed exercise of his characteristically human faculties of knowledge and love, and the delight resulting therefrom. Second, since man cannot make himself happy, his happiness is in the possession of some all-satisfying object, which can be only God. For man has unlimited yearnings that only God can satisfy.

This final end is above man's nature and exceeds his natural capacities. It is wholly supernatural, for it is a sharing in the proper life of God, a knowing of God as the Triune God knows, and a loving of God as the Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity love one another. We call it the vision of God because God is known, not as He is reflected in creation, but as He is in Himself (see beatific vision). Now in order that man may do what is proper to God he must be lifted to the divine level. This happens when sanctifying grace, a share in the divine nature, is infused into a man. The infusion of this grace in this life is the real beginning of the vision hereafter. The practical aspiration of the Christian and the sole criterion of a successful life is to die when in the possession of sanctifying grace.

No naturally good acts have a direct bearing on attainment of the beatific vision. What is required is good acts elevated to the supernatural by either actual or sanctifying grace, i.e., supernatural acts. Yet the vision is granted as a reward for a good life. Hence arises the concept of the meritorious act. Not every supernatural act bears the character of merit, because the agent performing it may have the support of actual but not of sanctifying grace; he may not be a friend of God. To be meritorious, then, the act must be done by one who has sanctifying grace, it must be morally good, and in some way directed to the beatific vision. Hence the highest type of moral act is the meritorious act. Meritorious acts differ among themselves accordingly as one act is more free, more intense, aimed at a nobler object, more permeated with charity, and produced by a more worthy moral agent.

Relation of Good to Value. The modern tendency is to substitute the term "value" for "good," and evolve a philosophy of value (see axiology). Although no fresh insights into the problems of the good have come from introducing the word "value," yet "value" is a more manageable term. Thus one could not convey what is meant by a value judgment (which is opposed to a judgment of fact) by calling it a "good" judgment. "Goods" has become obsolete except where it designates articles of commerce; whereas "values" now covers the whole field of human desires.

When this philosophy first arose, value usually meant a pleasant reaction to experience, a subjective state like delectable good. Later theorists, however, attribute an objective character to values, and divide them into instrumental and intrinsic values corresponding to the scholastic useful and perfective goods. They identify the chief intrinsic values as truth, beauty, talent, meaning, health, rest, play, morality, and religion. A value then represents a wide area of interest and desire, and not merely single acts or single objects of desire. But it refers to fewer things than good; for value belongs only to persons capable of appreciating and distinguishing sub-human, human, and moral values.

See Also: end; man, natural end of; final causality.

Bibliography: t. j. higgins, Man as Man (Milwaukee 1963). t. e. hill, Contemporary Ethical Theories (New York 1950). a. c. ewing, The Definition of the Good (New York 1947). d. von hildebrand, Christian Ethics (New York 1953) 23166. m. v. murray, Problems in Ethics (New York 1960) 72178. j. a. oesterle, Ethics (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1957) 10115. h. renard, The Philosophy of Morality (Milwaukee 1953). m. cronin, The Science of Ethics, 2 v. (Dublin 1939) v. 1. j. wild, Introduction to Realistic Philosophy (New York 1948) 39175.

[t. j. higgins]


views updated Jun 08 2018


Philosophical accounts of "the good" are, broadly speaking, accounts of what it is to be an object of value especially of moral value. A systematic study of these accounts is aided by such distinctions as the following.

Moral versus Nonmoral Good

There is an important difference between "moral" and other types of value (e.g., aesthetic, economic, or informational). One might say, broadly, that the nonmoral good is what we find "attractive," what is apt to serve as enjoyment; whereas the moral good is that which pertains more narrowly to moral virtue or moral rules. Hence at the very beginning of his Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (17241804) distinguishes "the good will" (the will that acts on the basis of the moral law) as what possesses the highest moral value. In comparison, all other thingseven such good qualities as courage and intelligencehave, in Kant's doctrine, at best a kind of relative moral goodness: they are morally good only insofar as they are guided by a good will.

Intrinsic and Merely Instrumental Good

Another important difference, first clearly enunciated by Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), is that between what is "intrinsically good" (good in itself) and what is "instrumentally good" (good as a means to some other end). So, for instance, from the perspective of philosophical utilitarianism (the views, most prominently, of the nineteenth-century British thinkers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill), pleasure is the sole (intrinsic) good; other things, including money, health, and even such "virtues" as philosophers have traditionally recognized (honesty, generosity, integrity) are good merely as means to that end. By contrast, for Aristotle himself, the virtues would be both means to what he regards as the supreme end (eudaimonia i.e., "happiness" or "well-being") but also part of that supreme good and thus, to that extent, ends in themselves.

Some have questioned, however (see Korsgaard), whether there might not be two differences here: good as a means versus good as an end; "intrinsic" versus "extrinsic" good. The difference between each pair is perhaps clearest in such cases as this. Someone might hold that the good of a beautiful sunset is "extrinsic," that it is grounded in something outside itselfsay, human modes of perception and aesthetic responsebut still resist holding that this sunset is good merely as a means to something elsefor example, the enjoyment of those happening to see it.

Teleological versus Consequentialist Views of the Good

There are actually two major, competing, nondeontological traditions of the good. One, running from Aristotle to the pragmatic naturalism of American philosophers such as John Dewey (18591952) and Ralph Barton Perry (18761957) in the first half of the twentieth century, is "teleological"that is, it construes the good in terms of the fulfillment of such ends as are natural or proper to a creature. Thus the good is conceived as internal or immanent. By contrast, the consequentialist holds that the good is some quantity to be maximized (produced in or by our acts). Against the teleological conception, the consequentialist may object that teleology stands in need of some standard of value (like that provided by utilitarianism) to distinguish between good and bad tendencies in us. Against consequentialism, the teleologist may object that a merely external standard (such as utilitarianism offers) need not provide a compelling reason or motive of action.

Subjective versus Objective Accounts

Another pervasive difference would involve "subjective" versus "objective" conceptions of the good. At its crudest, a subjective view would simply identify the good for a given person as what that person "prefers" or "desires." This appears to be the working conception of "the good" employed in economic theory. A number of views, especially in the empiricist tradition, tend toward this conception. For the "positivist" school, because value judgments are not scientifically verifiable, they can amount to no more than expressions of what one likes or desires. For an important strain in eighteenth-century British thought (the Scots Adam Smith and David Hume being perhaps its most important representatives), the good is understood in terms of one's preferences under ideal (e.g., personally disinterested, emotionally calm) circumstances.

At the other extreme, views in the tradition of Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) construe "the good" as a kind of object of abstract contemplation. This object, then, is not constituted by our preferences or desires; it exists as an objective feature of the universeaccording to Plato's analogy in the Republic, like the sun shedding light on all other things.

There is a related point of difference between subjective and objective views. In the former, the good is fundamentally an object of noncognitive attitudes such as desire or will. If, however, the good is conceived as an object existing independently of the human mind, it is natural to construe it as primarily an object of knowledge. Critics of the objective viewmost prominently Humeclaim that it cannot account for the "action-guiding" nature of values and moral discourse generally. Mere contemplation of an object does not necessarily affect one's desires and will; but recognition that something is good surely does have this effect. For their part, defenders of an objective view have often replied that a subjective conception cannot account for genuine moral disagreement. They point out that a subjective account of a moral disagreement (in which person A says "x is good" while B says that "x is not good") will imply that it is merely a case of A saying "I desire x " and B saying "I don't desire x "which is no real disagreement.

Aristotle, Platonism, and Christianity

We may notice how Aristotle's conception of the good partakes of both elements of this dichotomy between objective and subject conceptions. For Aristotle, the good is identified in the first instance as what one "aims at" in any given activityin a word, "the end" (telos ) of that activity. Thus the end of running might be health or winning races. Ultimately, though, we arrive at the aforementioned "happiness" (eudaimonia ) as the final good (end) for human beings. This end, however, is not a mere subjective preference. It depends, in Aristotle's account, ultimately on our natural purpose or function as rational creatures. At the same time, however, it is not a Platonic object, existing separate and apart from humanity or human tendencies.

Stoic and Epicurean Visions of "The Good Life"

Ancient Greek philosophyespecially in the "Hellenistic" period following Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.)aimed to provide not merely accounts of such abstractions from life as "the good" or the "virtuous" but more concrete guidance as to how the good life was to be achieved. In this regard, two schools stand out. The Stoics taught a rigorous adherence to virtue, duty, and honor. These, they reasoned, were subject to our control and attainable through correct discipline of the will; thus attained, they would be a source of happiness regardless of one's external circumstances. The followers of Epicurus (341270 b.c.e.), like the Stoics, warned against such emotional attachments as could easily threaten one's peace of mind but, unlike the Stoics, identified the goal of life (and the purpose for avoiding such attachments) as pleasurenot the extremes of sensual pleasure, but pleasures moderate in intensity and apt to endure (to be attained through self-sufficiency, simplicity of life, and friendship).

This difference between Aristotle's "teleological" and Plato's more "metaphysical" conception of the good is important in understanding the good as it figures in Western religious thought. One important strain in Christian thought draws on a Platonic conception of the good as residing in a distinct object accessible to human knowledge yet quite remote from ordinary, this-worldly experiences. A more "Aristotelian" strain of Christianity, most clearly represented in the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas (12251274), accepts Aristotle's conception of the good as happiness but construes this "final end" as including our spiritual as well as our physical, social, and intellectual ends as humans. So in this conception more than in the Platonic, secular and otherworldly goods are seen as complementary; the spiritual is seen as completing or "perfecting" naturerather than as standing in stark Platonic opposition to it.

The Good of the Whole: Leibniz, Whitehead, and Spinoza

If the good is somehow objective, one will want to inquire as to the elements or proper analysis of this object. Even G. E. Moore (18731958), who argued that goodness was a simple, indefinable property (see below), held that we could say something about the nature of the good as a kind of "organic unity." In this vein, one finds something of a consensus among those philosophers who have addressed this particular concern (including even the diverse pair of metaphysicians Gottfried Leibniz [16461716], the seventeenth-century German rationalist, and Alfred North Whitehead [18611941], the twentieth-century British mathematician): that the good must involve a kind of maximum of both complexity and organic unity. Such a conception has an important bearing both on questions of environmental or ecological value and on the traditional theological problem of evil.

Environmentalists (especially of the more radical variety) are concerned to uphold the intrinsic (or noninstrumental) value of nature, but this raises important questions of whether or how everything in nature (for example, a solitary gnat) has such value. Here the Leibniz-Whitehead vision of unity in complexity can be helpful in understanding the value, for instance, of living organismsindeed, of nature as a whole. Theologically, such a conception may be employed to justify apparent evil as part of a desirable ordered complex unity. In Whitehead's theodicy, all evil is the result of a lack of unity (yielding disharmony and ultimately pain) or a lack of complexity (ultimately yielding boredom).

Quite a different metaphysical vision is offered by Baruch Spinoza (16321677), the seventeenth-century Dutch thinker. For Spinoza, such an ordered complexity is strictly neither good nor bad; thus, since he identifies this whole with God, God is beyond such attributes. Still, according to Spinoza, in the contemplation and especially in the understanding of this whole there lies a kind of supreme good for humankind.

The Good in Metaethics

Especially during the first half of the twentieth century, for philosophers in the Anglo-American "tradition," metaethics (an analysis of the distinctive language of moral discourse) tended to replace direct ethical and metaphysical argument. Thus in his Principia Ethica (1903), G. E. Moore argued for the indefinability of the term good and against attempts to construe "good" naturalistically. Moore pointed out in his famous "open question test" that one might significantly ask whether, say, pleasure is good, but not whether "good is good" (thus arguing that goodness could not be defined as or identified with such natural qualities as pleasure). The next-generation Oxford moral philosopher R. M. Hare (19192002) explained Moore's results by claiming that that ascribing "goodness" to an object is not describing it at all but performing a different type of linguistic act, one of "commending." Still, a third highly influential British metaethicist, Philippa Foot, advanced a form of naturalism with affinities to Aristotle. Foot was especially critical of an apparent consequence of Hare's "non-descriptive" account: that one could call literally anything good as long as one was performing an act of commending it.

The Right and the Good

Modern ethical theory is defined largely by its distinction between "the good" as a morally positive goal to be achieved through our acts, and "the right" as a set of rules or moral norms constraining our pursuit of the good. In contemporary parlance, the "consequentialist" takes the good as primary, treating "right acts" as those productive of the most good. The contrasting view, that of deontology, takes the right as primary, as defined independently of the good, and as forbidding even acts productive of the most good when these violate such fundamental moral rules as the prohibitions against killing, theft, and lying.

A consequentialist may be a utilitarian (identifying pleasure as the sole good; pain as the sole evil), may advocate some other form of naturalism (e.g., equating the good with evolutionary fitness, as did such nineteenth-century Social Darwinists as Herbert Spencer), or (like G. E. Moore) may reject a naturalistic account of the good altogether. Deontologists, in turn, may be distinguished according to whether they take the aforementioned constraints to be absolute (as does Kant, who treats lying, for instance, as wrong even to save a life) or merely having some independent forcethat is, sometimes able to override considerations of doing good (as does W. D. Ross [18771971], an early twentieth-century British moral theorist).

In philosophy since the midtwentieth century, perhaps the most significant employment and development of these ideas is in John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). In Rawls's view, the principles of justice state norms capable of overriding merely utilitarian considerations. These norms, as in the contract tradition of such early modern political philosophers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, are conceived as being chosen by appropriately situated individuals out of their own self-interest. But clearly such individuals must have some notion of "what is good" (beyond the bare abstraction of "my good"). Accordingly, Rawls distinguishes a "thin conception" of the good required in the "original position" (the situation of choice) from a fuller conception, one resulting from the choices they make.

Virtues, Perfectionism, and the Good Life

The moral virtues might be characterized, roughly, as those qualities apt to be productive of moral good. Yet there is an important difference between consequentialist and virtue ethics. This pertains not only to the split between teleology and consequentialism just described but also to two factors distinctive of virtue ethics and going back to Aristotle. First, virtue ethics rejects the supposed distinction between the strictly "moral" in a Kantian sense and what is more broadly of personal value. The four cardinal virtues of Greek thought (courage, wisdom, temperance, justice) illustrate this, as only the last of these is "moral" in a Kantian sense. The second difference is that virtue ethics tends to focus on qualities of an agent as opposed to those of an act. Thus the right act is seen in terms of what the best sort of person (the virtuous agent) would do.

These features of virtue ethics, carried far enough, may lead to quite a different moral conception in which the good is understood in terms of the achievements of those relatively few truly good (or "great") individuals. In modern philosophy, this tendency is perhaps most clearly realized in Friedrich Nietzsche's (18441900) figure in Thus Spake Zarathustra (18831891) of the Übermensch ("overman," or superman), whose self-mastery, creativity, and other virtues transcend the mediocrity of the common run of humankind. It is also presaged in Aristotle's conception of the "great-souled man"who "thinks he deserves and actually does deserve great things" (Nicomachean Ethics, book 4). More broadly, a perfectionist conception of the good understands value in terms of an individual's realization of such qualities, talents, and skills as might represent "the best in him or her." Hence, like the novelist Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead, 1943), the perfectionist upholds the value of individuality and stands in extreme opposition to what is termed communitarianism in contemporary political philosophy.

See also Evil ; Moral Sense ; Virtue Ethics .


Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated with an introduction by David Ross, revised by J. L. Ackrill and J. O. Urmson. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Cahn, Steven, and Peter Markie, eds. Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Gibbard, Allan. Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Kant, Immanuel. Foundations of the Metaphysic of Morals. Translated by Lewis White Beck, critical essays edited by Robert Paul Wolff. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969.

Korsgaard, Christine. "Two Distinctions in Goodness." Philosophical Review 92 (1983): 169195.

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. Enlarged ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. A Short History of Ethics. New York: Macmillan, 1966.

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. Edited by Roger Crisp. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Naess, Arne. "Self-Realization in Mixed Communities of Humans, Bears, Sheep, and Wolves." Inquiry 22 (1979): 231242.

Pepper, Stephen C. The Sources of Value. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958.

Ralston, Holmes, III. Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.

Scanlon, T. M. What We Owe to Each Other. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Scheffler, Samuel. The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Singer, Peter, ed. A Companion to Ethics. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Reference, 1991.

James A. Montmarquet


views updated Jun 11 2018

good / goŏd/ • adj. (bet·ter / ˈbetər/ , best / best/ ) 1. to be desired or approved of: we live at peace with each other, which is good a good quality of life. ∎  pleasing and welcome: she was pleased to hear good news about him. ∎  expressing approval: the play had good reviews.2. having the qualities required for a particular role: the schools here are good. ∎  functioning or performed well: good health either she was feeling chastened or she was doing a good act. ∎  appropriate to a particular purpose: this is a good month for planting seeds. ∎  (of language) with correct grammar and pronunciation: she speaks good English. ∎  strictly adhering to or fulfilling all the principles of a particular cause, religion, or party: a good Catholic girl. ∎  (of a ticket) valid: the ticket is good for travel from May to September.3. possessing or displaying moral virtue: I've met many good people who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings| [as pl. n.] (the good) the rich and the good shared the same fate as the poor and the bad. ∎  showing kindness: you are good—thank you. ∎  obedient to rules or conventions: accustom the child to being rewarded for good behavior. ∎  used to address or refer to people, esp. in a patronizing or humorous way: the good people of the city were disconcerted. ∎  commanding respect: he was concerned with establishing and maintaining his good name. ∎  belonging or relating to a high social class: he comes from a good family.4. giving pleasure; enjoyable or satisfying: the streets fill up with people looking for a good time. ∎  pleasant to look at; attractive: you're looking pretty good. ∎  (of food and drink) having a pleasant taste: the scampi was very good. ∎  (of clothes) smart and suitable for formal wear: he went upstairs to change out of his good suit.5. thorough: the attic needed a good cleaning have a good look around. ∎  used to emphasize that a number is at least as great as one claims: they're a good twenty years younger. ∎  used to emphasize a following adjective: we had a good long hug. ∎  fairly large: a good crowd | fig. there's a good chance that we may be able to help you. 6. used in conjunction with the name of God or a related expression as an exclamation of extreme surprise or anger: good heavens!• n. 1. that which is morally right; righteousness: a mysterious balance of good and evil.2. benefit or advantage to someone or something: he is too clever for his own good.3. (goods) merchandise or possessions: imports of luxury goods. ∎ Brit. things to be transported, as distinct from passengers: a means of transporting passengers as well as goods | [as adj.] a goods train. ∎  (the goods) inf. the genuine article.• adv. inf. well: my mother could never cook this good.PHRASES: all to the good to be welcomed without qualification:as good as —— very nearly ——: she's as good as here. ∎  used of a result which will inevitably follow: if we pass on the information, he's as good as any (or no or much) good have some (or none or much) merit: tell me whether that picture is any good. ∎  be of some (or none or much) help in dealing with a situation: it was no good trying to ward things so good as (or be good enough) to do something used to make a polite request: would you be so good as to —— to the good have a specified net profit or advantage: I came out $7 to the good.come up with (or deliver) the goods inf. do what is expected or required of good1. act virtuously, esp. by helping others.2. make a helpful contribution to a situation: could the discussion do any good?do someone good be beneficial to someone, esp. to their health: the walk will do you good.for good (and all) forever; definitively: the experience almost frightened me away for good.get (or have) the goods on inf. obtain (or possess) information about (someone) that may be used to their detriment.good and —— inf. used as an intensifier before an adjective or adverb: it'll be good and dark by then. (as) good as gold (esp. of a child) extremely well behaved. (as) good as new in a very good condition or state, close to the original state again after damage, injury, or illness: the skirt looked as good as new.the Good Book the Bible.good for1. having a beneficial effect on: smoking is not good for the lungs.2. reliably providing: they found him good for a laugh. ∎  sufficient to pay for: his money was good for a bottle of whiskey.good for (or him, her, etc.) ! used as an exclamation of approval toward a person, esp. for something that they have achieved: “I'm taking my driving test next month.” “Good for you!”the Good Shepherd a name for Jesus.good wine needs no bushsee wine.a good word words in recommendation or defense of a person: I hoped you might put in a good word for me with your friends.have a good mind to do somethingsee someone's good bookssee good time1. with no risk of being late: I arrived in good time.2. (also all in good time) in due course but without haste: you shall have a puppy all in good time.make good be successful: a college friend who made good in Hollywood.make something good1. compensate for loss, damage, or expense: if I scratched the table, I'd make good the damage. ∎  repair or restore after damage: make good the wall where you have buried the cable.2. fulfill a promise or claim: I challenged him to make good his good turn deserves anothersee turn.put a good face on somethingsee face.take something in good part not be offended by something: he took her abruptness in good part.up to no good doing something wrong.


views updated May 11 2018

good can any good thing come out of Nazareth? alluding to the question asked by Nathaniel ( John 1: 46) on being told of the ministry of Jesus, ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’
a good beginning makes a good ending getting things right at the outset is likely to ensure success; saying recorded from the early 14th century.
the good die young proverbial saying, late 17th century, often used ironically. (Compare whom the gods love die young.)
good fences make good neighbours this reduces the possibility of disputes over adjoining land. The saying is recorded from the mid 17th century, and was famously used by the American poet Robert Frost in his poem ‘Mending Wall’ (1914).
Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday, on which the Crucifixion of Christ is commemorated in the Christian Church. It is traditionally a day of fasting and penance.

The Good Friday agreement is an agreement between the British and Irish governments and the main political parties of Northern Ireland, reached at Stormont Castle, Belfast, on Good Friday (10 April) 1998, and passed by public referenda in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic on 22 May 1998, setting out proposals for the securing of peace in Northern Ireland.
a good horse cannot be of a bad colour colour is not an indicator of a horse's quality; saying recorded from the early 17th century.
the good is the enemy of the best the best is not achieved if one is ready to settle for what is good, but still of the second rank. (Compare the reverse saying, the best is the enemy of the good.) The saying is recorded from the early 20th century.
a good Jack makes a good Jill used of the effect of a husband on his wife; saying recorded from the early 17th century.
good men are scarce often used as a humorous commendation; saying recorded from the early 17th century.
good ol' boy in the US, a (typically white) male from the Southern States of America, regarded as one of a group conforming to a social and cultural masculine stereotype.
Good Shepherd a name for Jesus Christ, with allusion to John 10:16 (see also shepherd).
good wine needs no bush there is no need to advertise or boast about something of good quality as people will always discover its merits; the expression refers to the fact that a bunch of ivy was formerly the sign of a vintner's shop. The saying is recorded from the early 15th century.
he is a good dog who goes to church good character is shown by moral custom and practice; the saying is recorded from the early 19th century.
if you can't be good, be careful proverbial saying, early 20th century, often used as a humorous warning. The same idea is found in 11th-century Latin, si non caste tamen caute, and Robert Brunne's Handlyng Synne (1303) has, ‘The apostle seyth thys autoryte [dictum], ‘.Gyf thou be nat chaste, be thou pryue [secret].’. ’
no good deed goes unpunished modern humorous saying, sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde but not traced in his writings.
the only good Indian is a dead Indian originally with reference to North American Indians, and later used deprecatorily of members of various nationalities or other groups. The saying is recorded from the mid 19th century
there's many a good cock come out of a tattered bag something good may emerge from unpromising surroundings (the reference is to cockfighting). The saying is recorded from the late 19th century; a comparable Scottish proverb of the early 18th century is, an ill cow may have a good calf.

See also bad money drives out good, the good old cause, you've never had it so good, good Samaritan, one good turn deserves another, the great and the good, there's many a good tune played on an old fiddle.


views updated May 29 2018

good OE. gōd = OS. gōd (Du. goed), OHG. guot (G. gut), ON. góðr, Goth. gōþs :- Gmc. *ʒōðaz, f. var. of the base *ʒað- bring together, unite, as in gaderian GATHER, the primary sense being ‘fitting, suitable’ (cf. OSl. goditi be pleasing). Compared BETTER, BEST; adv. WELL. See also GOODS.
Hence goodly comely, fair OE.; notable in size XIII; excellent, proper XIV; kindly XIV. goodman (i) male head of a house XIV (house-holder, husband XVI); (ii) †prefixed to designations, names of yeomen, etc., (hence) yeoman, Scottish laird XVI. Similarly (dial.) goodwife XIV; cf. GOODY1. goodwill †virtuous disposition; favourable regard, benevolence OE.; cheerful acquiescence XIII; privilege granted by the seller of a business to the purchaser of trading as his successor XVI.