Good and Evil

Quick revise
Good and Evil, Right and Wrong and Value Judgements
There are two main uses of the word in Ethical debate: Moral and Teleological Goodness.
Moral Goodness
Some have tried to make goodness a non-moral principle.
  • The Hedonists, who equated goodness with pleasure or happiness. A good action is that which produces happiness either for the agent or for someone else.
  • Julian Huxley thought that a good action satisfies the need of the evolutionary process. Actions can be judged to be good when they are seen in the context of evolution, and when they satisfy the criteria which a morally neutral study of nature can provide.
  • These are attempts to make moral judgements non-moral. G. E. Moore (Principia Ethica) called this the Naturalistic Fallacy.
  • Some have applied a non-moral approach from within a theistic system - e.g. Occam who thought that a thing was good because God willed it. This would establish a principle of goodness based on God’s will, not on any objective sense of goodness. It also depends on whether God’s will can always be judged to be good.
Others see Goodness as being objective - it inheres in the object of which it is predicated (i.e. goodness inheres in the person or thing that is described as good). However, Ayer and Nowell-Smith both claim that goodness is subjective, and when a person is described as being “good”, we are simply expressing approval of their actions.
Christian Theism states that God is good - His essence and His existence are identical. Creatures are only good in so far as their actions mirror the nature and purpose of God.
Teleological Goodness
An action or thing is good insofar as it fulfills its end, goal or purpose. This form of goodness is proposed by the Classical Philosophers such as Plato.
The Christian Interpretation of Moral and Teleological Goodness
1. Moral Goodness - The ideal of goodness is summed up in the Character of God. Divine perfection is the model that Christians are required to follow. The New Testament identifies “Good” with “Love”.
  • Plato and the Stoics identify God as the model for Human Excellence.
  • The content of moral goodness is defined by “Faith, Hope and Charity”. Human goodness is the imitation of God’s love through Faith and Hope in Jesus Christ.
  • Christian Goodness is unmerited - it is the gift of grace. c.f. D. M. Baillie: If we make Happiness (i.e. pleasure) an end or goal that we deliberately pursue, it will evade us. Growth in humility is a sign of, and a part of, moral progress.
2. Teleological Goodness - Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both follow Plato and Aristotle - Man’s Good is his purpose or end. This progress is :-
  • achieved through revelation, received partially now, and more fully later.
  • the progress towards holiness leads to a clearer vision of God.
  • a part of Teleological Goodness is the Eschatological Hope
Philosophical Concern
1. What does the term “good” signify?
2. What things are good? How can we know them to be so?
3. What is the “highest good”?
4. What sorts of goodness are there, and how is moral goodness related to other varieties of goodness?
N.B. The various attempts to explain the place of evil in a World created by an Omnipotent and Good God (the Theodicies) are not within the scope of the Ethics paper. Here we simply require a definition of “what evil is”, rather than an explanation of it.
a) Human Evil - the suffering caused by morally wrong human choices. Here the evil is where Humans choose to do what is morally wrong.
  • Hutcheson - people do not choose evil, they pursue their own interests, or a cause with which they identify, at the expense of other people’s interests. Evil is a by-product of these activities. The twentieth century, however, suggests that individuals have chosen to do evil!
b) Human Suffering - see notes in Philosophy section on evil.
Right and Wrong
In Ethics, we contrast Right and Wrong with the use of terms that refer to “Correct” and “incorrect” e.g. There is a right way to set the central heating clock, and a wrong way.  Statements such as these appear to have no ethical dimension at all!
Many philosophers regard rightness and wrongness as independent of their consequences. (i.e. the means can be judged to be right or wrong without reference to the end). This refers to deontic concepts like obligation. (N.B. Deontological refers to a thing being right in itself)
1. Good can be comparative, right cannot.
2. An act can be neither good nor bad, but it cannot be neither right nor wrong.
3. Where an action is the “right action in the circumstances” we mean the best action”.
4. An act can be said to be right solely in virtue of its own qualities and the circumstances in which it is done. An act can be called good in virtue of its being the sort of act that a good person would do. “Good” carries some allusion to the character of the agent.
5. The judgement of whether an act is right or wrong tends to hinge upon its being judged to be wrong.
Right and Wrong tend to be more clear cut that Good and Bad. The latter tends to be based more on aspiration to an ideal (c.f. Plato).
Value Judgements
Value =
  • For some, a subjective term, implying that a thing has value only when a person is
  • prepared to ascribe value to it :

“That which is an object of interest is co ipsi invested with value. Any object, whatever it be, acquires value when any interest, whatever it be, is taken in it...” - Ralph Barton Perry, “General Theory of Value”, 1926

  • Value is an intrinsic part or aspect of whatever has value. Since value is taken to be independent of the observer, it is his task to develop the necessary sensitivity to perceive the values being presented to him. (c.f. N. Hartmann, “Ethics” tr S. Coit).

Judgement of value involves an implicit standard against which an action is judged. Conscience is a process of comparing our conduct with a standard expressing what is good.

This is complicated by the injunction:

“Judge not, that you be not judged” - Matthew 7:1 (RSV) 
There is a moral dimension to the judging - as well as to the action or object being judged. It gives a distinction between:-
  • Judgements passed by a person on his own conduct.
  • Judgements passed by someone else on that conduct.
The moral quality of a person can be revealed not only through their own actions (and the value judgments involved in that) but also through his understanding and forbearance in judging others!