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Good, The Supreme


The positive reality of anything is considered as good when it is viewed as the fulfillment of some inclination or tendency. If the inclination in question is that of each thing to its own full reality, the comparison of goods is identical with the comparison of beings, and the highest good is the first being, god. If the inclination in question is the human will, the comparison of goods is preference or desirability, and the highest good is the ultimate perfection to which man can aspire. The expression, "the supreme good," is used in both of these senses.

Supreme Good in reality. The question of the supreme good in reality arises only if the whole of being is viewed as a single, orderly system. positivism and pragmatism generally involve a rejection of such a synoptic view. pantheism and dialectical philosophies like that of hegel, on the other hand, insist so strongly on the unity of being that only reality as a whole or the absolute is considered to be good.

Creator and Creatures. plato and aristotle both attempted in different ways to understand reality as a hierarchy of really diverse beings unified in an orderly system. Christian thinkers, working in the light of divine revelation, perfected these philosophical conceptions by developing a balanced notion of the transcendence and immanence of God, and by clarifying the relationship of the Creator and provident Lord to His creatures.

God has in Himself the fullness of being that includes all perfections. He creates freely out of pure generosity, merely as a self-expression of His own perfection, and He directs all things to their own full reality, which is an imitation of His infinite perfection. Thus God is good in Himself, and in comparison with creatures He is the supreme good, for all created goods preexist in Him in a perfect way, and the fulfillment of every creature is a likeness of His fullness. (see perfection, ontological.)

Hierarchy of Goods. Two implications of this understanding of the supreme good should be noted. First, because God is the supreme good in virtue of His fullness of being, the dualism of manichaeism, which posits a supreme evil opposed to and struggling with the supreme good, is excluded. Second, because God exists in His own uniquely perfect way and gives His creatures a way of being of their own, created beings have a real goodness that belongs to them in themselves. Hence a real hierarchy of goods exists, for each creature has a genuine goodness of a certain degree, while God has the fullness of perfection without measure.

Among created things, the highest good belongs to the order of creation as a whole, for this includes every created perfection. Insofar as it relates creatures to God in a special way, each supernatural gift of God is a higher good than every natural perfection. Comparing the kinds of created beings with one another, we consider that angels and men, who have intelligence and freedom, surpass other creatures in worth and dignity, for only intellectual beings can extend their own perfection in order to encompass in some way the full range of reality.

Supreme good for man. In the history of moral thought, the first question in most theories has concerned the supreme good for man. Since kant, positions on this question have divided between eudaemonistic and deontological theoriesi.e., those that put the highest human perfection in satisfaction and those that put it in the fulfillment of moral obligation (see eudaemonism; deontologism). For Kant, the highest good combines virtue and happiness, but morally good action is determined solely by moral law, not by a desire for the good.

Many ancient philosophical theoriese.g., epicureanism and stoicismare characterized chiefly by their theories of the supreme good for man. The best classical theories, those of Plato and Aristotle, transcend the modern distinction between satisfaction and morality by uniting both in a view of the end of man. Christian thought, with its conception of heaven, transcends this antimony even more perfectly.

According to Catholic faith, the highest good for man is that of being admitted by divine grace to a share in God's own inner life. The fullness of this supernatural life is variously called beatitude, eternal life, the kingdom of God, and heavenly glory.

See Also: man, natural end of; beatific vision; god; creation; participation; good.

Bibliography: g. p. klubertanz and m. r. holloway, Being and God (New York 1963) 171183, 202208, 334336. j. mouroux, The Meaning of Man (New York 1948). j. buckley, Man's Last End (St. Louis 1949). thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a, 56; 1a2ae, 15; C. gent 1.3741; 2.45; 3.163.

[g. g. grisez]

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