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The Metaphysics of the Good

Author(s): Ivor Leclerc


Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Sep., 1981), pp. 3-25
Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.
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ARTICLES

THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD*


IVORLECLERC

I
J.N the inquiry into this topic it is desirable at the outset to enter into
some linguistic examination, for this will facilitate, not only the avoid
ance

of possible
confusions
because
of the diversity
the word
"good" is used, but also the recognition

the philosophical
In

its predominant
their cognates

but the English


jective,
sometimes
also occurs

lie

exactly

the word
(as also aya#o?,
usage
"good"
in modern
is an ad
European
languages)
on
we
which
will
here
concentrate,
word,
in an adverbial

and

in a substantival

usage.

defines "good" as: "The most general

The Oxford English Dictionary


adj.

of where

in which

issues with respect to the "good."

and

bonus,

of senses

or at least
of a high,
the existence
implying
are
of
characteristic
which
in
admirable
qualities
degree
or useful
for some purpose."1
Of particular
significance

of commendation,

satisfactory,
themselves

in this are: (1) the generality


(3) that

mendation";

of the adjective; (2) that it is one of "com

the object

of the

is certain

commendation

"char

acteristic qualities"; (4) that the adjective does not connote the attri
bution

of

the

qualities

absolutely,

but

rather

relatively,

comparatively, in degree; and (5) that the qualities are distinguish


able in respect of their being admirable either (a) in themselves, or (b)
as useful

for some

In this
vance
ality

purpose.
characterization

is signified
lies becomes

mendation,"
the word
hand,

of

the

by its generality.
a question.
Does

or to the

"qualities"?

"good" always
"good" also carries

its philosophical
rele
adjective
But wherein
that
gener
exactly
it pertain
to the factor of "com

It might
be
"commendation."

implies
the connotation

to the

former,
But on the

of the qualities

since
other

in question

* The
Presidential Address, delivered at the thirty-second annual meeting of
of South Carolina, 13-14 March
the Metaphysical
Society of America, University
1981.
1
Oxford English
"Good," A, adj.
Dictionary,
Review of Metaphysics

35 (September 1981): 3-25.

Copyright ?

1981 by the Review of

Metaphysics

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IVORLECLERC

4
ones

being

of

"worth,"

i.e.,

they

are

of

"worthy

That is to say, it is the qualities which,

commendation."

by their "worth," elicit the

to pursue
this we
However,
in regard
to the meaning
complications

commendation.

have

some

of the word

to take

Some of this comes to the fore in an examination


"worth."

means

This

the prominence
The

"good."

"good."

of the word

a pecuni
value,"
originally
to be used
in a generalized
in respect
or of
of its qualities

of a thing

value

inwhich it is held."2 Highly relevant here is the word

a synonym

"value,"

of

a specified
"having
later coming
also

the word
ary value,
sense of "the relative

the estimation

account

of "worth"?more

of this word

noun

relevant

especially

in philosophical
from

"value"?deriving

because

discussions

the Old French

of

of the

valu,

past

participle of valoir (from Latin valere "to be strong") meaning "to be


its earliest usage in English meant the
strong, to be of worth"?in
of some

amount

medium
of exchange,
etc. which
renders
commodity,
Thus
the word
like
and
also
"value,"
"worth,"
"good,"
or
in its connotation
the relative
This
is signi
comparative.

it of worth.3
entails

fied too in the word which has in the last hundred years come into use
as

name

the

from a?co?

for

the

"weighing

"general
as much,

worth,
generally,
worthy."4
It is important
to note
between
the words
"good,"

out to be of philosophical
used

both

tive;

and

stantially.

as well
as similarities,
differences,
and
for
these will
turn
"worth,"
"value,"

First,

significance.

and as a verb; "worth"


an adjective,
"good" as primarily
a peculiarity
there
is
Secondly,

"good."
we have

The

that

they

seen,

the

be

of both

entail

their

are not

used

accepted
the words

relative,
being
in an absolute

in the

consideration

but

also

"value" is

and as an adjec
sometimes
sub

of the word

"good" dis
of which

consequence
as exact
synonyms
"worth"
and "value,"

comparative?which
sense.
The same

respect of the word "good" as an adjective,


above

the word

as a noun

two?as

other

cannot

connotations

viz.,
"axiology"?
as much
as, hence

some

as a noun

it from
tinguishing
"worth"
and
"value"

say

of value,"
theory
of like value, worth

of the O.E.D.

of
as
is to

holds

in

as has been brought out


definition

of "good."

But

this word has the peculiarity that when the adjective is used substan
it becomes absolute. One instance of this is when the adjec
tially,
tive "good" is used as plural, with the meaning of "good people"; here
"good"

(used

with

the

article)

is absolute,

2
Cf. O.E.D.,
"Worth," arts. 1-2.
3
cf.
O.E.D.,
italics;
"Value," art.
4My
Scott, Jones, A Greek-English
Liddell,

1.

e.g.,

in the

1.
Lexicon.

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statement,

THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD


"where

cease

the good

sense

is the

Another

of the absolute

instance

adjective,
"goods," meaning
initially
"property,
also to non-material
but extended
etc.,"
properties,
use is that in which
of the absolute
instance
and main,

plural

merchandise,
A third,
etc.

the singular adjective


(in various

is used with the meaning


"he became

e.g.,

senses),"
of mankind."

good

to tremble."

of "that which is good

a power

for good,"

"for

the

This absolute sense is of special significance philosophically. We


an
intimation of this by considering a statement of the form "X is
get
An instance
good."
is ambiguous.
The
the

predicatively,

of this would

is good."
This statement
used
could be an adjective
"good" here
a
is
"Jack
meaning
good person"?the

word
statement

carrying the implication of the person being relatively

adjective

comparatively
good.
as a predicative
meant
other
instance
of this

But

But

could be
"good" in the sentence
a
sense.
in which
it has
An
absolute

noun,

of statement

form

that

"good"

could

be

would

be "pleasure

is good."

is "a good thing (attribute, condition,

intended

here

one

is "a good,"

pleasure

or

the word

This could mean that pleasure


etc.)."
mean

be "Jack

as a noun.

among

others.

Now
Or

this

could

it could mean

that pleasure is "the good," unconditionally.


It is to be noted that in
the latter sense, of "good" with the definite article, the word "good"
has a distinctively philosophical meaning.
It is to be noted too that
sense

of the noun

by the nouns "value" and


"worth."
One could meaningfully
is "a value,"
but not
say, pleasure
or
that pleasure
is "the value,"
"the worth,"
for the words
"value" and
"worth" are relative
and comparative,
contrast
with
by
"good" in the
this

sense

under
These

"good"

consideration,
considerations

is not

which

captured

is absolute.

when we take
especially
pertinent
as "good" are
the
commended
(5) above,
qualities
as commendable?either
to be distinguished
or as use
in themselves
ful for some purpose?this
distinction
to
referred
being alternatively
as respectively
in philosophical
discourse
"intrinsic"
and "instrumen

account

of point

become
that

It is this consideration which more particularly brings us to the


philosophical issue in respect of "good."
tal."

II
The central philosophical
"good."

The word

qualities

of "worth"

issue is that concerning the nature of

"good," as the most


or "value,"
covers

general
adjective
expressing
a wide
range of specific quali

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IVORLECLERC

6
as

such

ties,

"excellence,"
such as
qualities

cluding

"commendable,"

the

in

connotation

"admirable,"
It also includes

"gratifying."

"enjoyable,"

"agreeable,"

of kind,"

"superiority

"appealing,"
such as "use

"suit
"beneficial,"
"effectual,"
"adequate,"
etc.
This
last group
able," "competent,"
clearly pertains
particularly
sense of "good,"
that of "good for" something.
to the "instrumental"
could be "intrin
The others,
"excellence,"
"superiority,"
especially
an
sense.
in
meant
"instrumental"
be
could
also
but
sic,"
they
ful,"

"advantageous,"

the issue iswhat it is in all this variety of qualities

Philosophically
they

whereby

"good"?

being
ness"?

connote

"goodness,"

What,

fundamentally,

can narrow

We

the

down

i.e.,

the quality
is meant
by

for an answer

search

or condition
"good,"
to that

of

"good

question

by noting that the instrumental sense of "good," that of "good for,"


points beyond itself to ends or purposes sought to be attained because
of

themselves
however,
These,
might
"goodness."
a
ad
since
but
in an instrumental
sense,
regressus

their

"good"
must
be rejected,
to direct

our

a certain

noted

to some

or other

"good

be

infinitum
in itself."
It

of "good" in the intrinsic sense that we

attention.

in our earlier

Now

come

to the meaning

is therefore
need

we must

also

polarity:

of "good" we
definition
of the O.E.D.
analysis
on the one side is the feature
of "commenda

tion," and on the other the objects of this commendation,

the "things"

re
are regarded
as "good."
then raised the question,
with
We
one
or
to
whether
it
other
of
to
the
pertained
"good,"
gard
generality
can now more
focus the issue by asking
We
of the two sides.
sharply

which

the

whether
the

case

that

are

things

"goodness"

because

commended
resides

on the

side

they are "good," or is it


of the "commendation"?

The latter is the position taken by thinkers, such as Ralph Bar


ton Perry in his A General Theory of Value, who hold that the com
is a function

mendation

of "interest,"

"desire,"

"feeling,"

etc.

of the

subject. That is, this theory is that a thing is "good" by virtue of its
in
being the object of interest, desire, etc. Now it is significant that
is
which
"value"
the
word
it
is
pre
the argumentation for this theory,
ob
is
that
the
The
than
rather
used
argument
"good."
dominantly
a
has
the
object
ject is "valued" by a subject, and that accordingly
"value"

by reason

of the act of "valuing";

the object by the subject.


cannot

be

"intrinsically

In this

argument

The

good."
it is "value"

that

is, a "value"

is placed

on

inference then is that the object


as a verb

that

is predominant?

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THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD


as a noun

"value"

derives

from

the

the act of
expresses
verb, which
means
which
that
the
"esti
"values,"
subject
"valuing."
subject
or appraises,"
a worth
or value"
to the object.
mates
i.e., "attaches
The

This entails the inference that the "value" of the object cannot be in
trinsic to it. This inference is entirely valid?with
respect to the
term "value." But this is not equivalent to saying that the object
cannot

be

in itself,

"good"

i.e.,

"good"

in an

intrinsic

sense.

In the

first place it should be noted that the subject attaches "a value" to the
object. One could validly hold that this entails that thereby it at
taches
solute
tive

to the object.
it means
"some

"value"
sense;
sense.

Secondly,

But

here

"value"

does

not have

an ab

or other

in a rela
"value"
value"?i.e.,
"value" here cannot be replaced
by

the word

"good," saying that the subject attaches

"a good" to the object, this

i.e., "some or other


"good,"
a
as
to the object.
For "good"
in the state
noun,
good,"
especially
a thing)
ment
is good" does not mean
"it (a person,
"some or other
Here
is absent
from
sense, which
good."
"good" has an absolute
are used strictly, which
"value" and "worth"?when
these words
is to
taken

being

say,

Therefore

that

the

ing quite

that

beyond

what

it attaches

for "good" in the absolute


sense.5
synonyms
of the argument
which we have been consid
cannot
in an intrinsic
be "good"
is in
sense,

object
be rejected.

and must

valid,

imply

as surreptitious
the conclusion

not

ering,

to

The

statement

can be expressed

by

"it is good" has a mean


the word
"value."

The kind of theory with which we are concerned here is that


which can be generalized as the "subjective" theory of good. That is,
it is the theory which grounds "good" in the subject.
In the form of
the theory which we have considered above, it grounds "good" in the
that the
by conceiving
subject
"good" as meaning
tain "interest,"
etc.
with respect
"desire,"
"feeling,"

has a cer
subject
to the object.
In

another form of this theory it grounds "good" in the subject by con


ceiving

"good"

as

dependent

upon

the

"thought,"

"judgment,"

or

"valuing" of some subject. In either form the theory entails that the
object cannot be "good" in independence of a subject, and thus that
the object cannot be "good in itself," i.e., "intrinsically good." This
5

There has been a failure, in much recent philosophical


to
literature,
this highly significant difference
in connotation
between
recognize
"good" on
the one side and "value" and "worth" on the other, and the absolute
sense,
strictly pertaining
only to "good," has been implicitly imported into "value"
and "worth," with the consequence
has passed un
that spurious reasoning
detected.

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IVORLECLERC

subjective theory must finally be rejected as untenable because, by


denying the possibility of an object being "good in itself," it is admit
ting "good" only in an instrumental sense, and is thereby involved in a
ad

regressus
This

could

infinitum.
be taken

as pointing

tive theory, that the meaning


we

ject. When
instrumental

assert

sense?the

to the acceptance

of the alterna

of "good" is to be grounded

"it is good"?in
"it" is an

the

intrinsic,
e.g.,

object,

in the ob

as opposed
a person
or

to the
thing.

This could be characterized as the "objective" theory of good. In this


theory good is referred to as being "objective" in the sense of its
being

an object?in

upon

dependent

contrast

to the

the

subjective

ory, inwhich good is dependent upon the subject.


The philosophical issue which arises with respect to this theory
is:what exactly is the status of "good" in this theory? If good be de
pendent upon an object, this entails that good is not itself an object in
the sense of being an independently existing thing. We have seen
earlier

"it is good" or "X is good,"


"good" is a
to X.
This ascription
noun,
i.e., "good" is being ascribed
to X entails
that "good" has the status of a "quality,"
i.e., it

that

predicative
of "good"
tells

in the

"what"

kind or sort.
not

does

entail

statement

is?a

"quality"

answers

to the

of what

interrogative,

This is in contrast to "good" being a "quantity" (which


"what"

but

or a "relation"?a

"how much")

relation

has to be excluded from the "what" since, if it be included, this would


entail that "good" would be in part dependent upon that to which X
stands in a relation, which would imply that X could not be "good in
itself."

The issue has now to be raised whether

good as a quality is to be

as on a par with
all the other qualities
ascribed
"what"
it is (i.e.,
its "essence"),
with
"good"

conceived
stituting

to X as con
thus

being

ascribed as a quality additional to the others? Or is "good" a distinct


is
quality, different from the others in some fundamental respect?as
maintained

for example

in the

doctrine

as a "transcendental

of good

quality"? And also, is good as a quality to be conceived as "inhering


in" the thing as do the other qualities?
This conception of qualities as simply inhering in a thing is one of
long heritage in the Neoplatonic tradition and which has come to be
widely
tiny,

accepted
in general,

as an implicit presupposition.
in respect
and in particular

the traditional doctrine,


that

in which

a quality

It needs
of "good"

it needs to be observed,
inheres

must

be a "substance,"

critical

scru

as a quality.

In

it is accepted that
i.e.,

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a self-sub

THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD


sistent existent.

With

considered,

whether

first,

regard to "good" as a quality,


good

necessarily

conceived

adequately

the first,
Respecting
to
e.g.,
stances,
substances,

it needs to be
in a substance.

inheres

good as a quality is

it needs to be examined whether

And secondly,
indeed

as "simply
inhering."
is certainly
ascribed,
"good"
to persons,

and

in some

things.

in

is it only

But

ascribed to substances?
Consider the celebrated doctrine of Kant
that "nothing in all the world?indeed
nothing even beyond the
world?can
possibly be called good without qualification except a
good will"6
sion of Sir

Will
David

things

are good":

virtue,

pleasure,

edge."7
Are

is clearly not a substance.


at from
Ross
arrived
"Four

things,
the allocation

none of these
Again
we to conclude
from

seem

then,
of pleasure
"things"
this that

Or
his

consider

the

conclu

of

examination

"what

to be

intrinsically
good?
to the virtuous,
and knowl
is a substance.

the conception

of good

as nec

essarily inhering in a substance is unacceptable? Will is not a sub


stance, but is it not the case that it is the will of a person, i.e., of a
not the same hold with
Does
to "virtue,"
regard
"plea
we
if
and
But
that
this is indeed the case,
agree
sure,"
"knowledge"?
does
this entail
that when,
that only a "good
e.g., Kant maintains
substance?

will" can be accepted as intrinsically good, he ismeaning strictly that


it is the person which is intrinsically good? And for Ross, that it is
the person

who

knowledge,
not what

is virtuous,

or

enjoying

that is intrinsically good?

Kant

and Ross

are maintaining.

or possessed

pleasure,

of

It is clear, I think, that this is


Of

course

the

"person"

is

involved, but not primarily so in respect of good; primarily for Kant it


iswill which is intrinsically good, and the person is good in a deriva
tive sense. Accordingly itmust be concluded that the doctrine, that
good

necessarily

inheres

in a substance,

is indeed

unacceptable.

Ill
But there is a further problem involved in this, the problem of
how precisely to understand the "inherence" of good in a thing. This
6

zur Metaphysik
I. Kant, Grundlegung
der Sitten, Erster Abschnitt,
BA 1; tr. Lewis White
Foundations
Beck,
of the Metaphysics
of Morals,
(New York: The Bobbs-Merrill
Inc.,
1959), p. 9.
Company,
7
W.D.
The Right
and the Good
(Oxford: At the Clarendon
Ross,
Press,
1930), p. 140.

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IVORLECLERC

10
is an aspect

still mbre

of the

general

of how

problem

to conceive

the

inherence of qualities in a thing.


There is a long tradition that this inherence is "simple," which
to say,

not

or analyzable

complex

into any

the inherence of a quality is ultimate,


of a color

inherence

Descartes

thing.
trine

is an

instance

exemplified

that

elements;

beyond further analysis.

of this:

the

color

of physical

substance:

is,

The
"in" a

is simply

this traditional conception

as the essence

of extension

further

is

in his doc
was

extension

conceived by him as "simply inherent" in matter.


And it was this
presupposition that Leibniz called into question in his criticism of the
Cartesian doctrine, Leibniz maintaining that the concept of extension
that it is on the contrary
"simple and primitive,"
"analyzable"?
to
him
into
and
coexistence."8
according
"plurality,
continuity,
is not

But this metaphysical


upon,

involves, and indeed rests

presupposition

that

another,
namely
as itself "simple."
existent,
i.e., not further
analyzable.

of a "substance"

or final

self-subsistent

It is "one," and its "unity"


is "simple,"
shared
this presupposition
with

Leibniz

Descartes.
It is this metaphysical presupposition which, it seems to
me, has to be brought into question and critically examined. This is
as with
of a "thing" or "substance"
its inherent
conception
quali
these
"what"
the
its
"essence."
The
"sub
ties,
constituting
thing is,
stance"
is the "subject"
of the qualities,
not
and does
exist apart from
the

its qualities.

Even

in the Neoplatonic
the

"activity"
res
Descartes'

when

the

substance

is held

to be "active"?as

tradition, this "activity" being that of "thinking"?


as a quality
is an exemplification

is conceived
cogitans

in the substance.
inhering
of this basic metaphysi

cal conception; "thinking" is for him a quality constituting


sence"
ing"

of the
per

se

it is

"what"

substance,
is an abstraction;

it is.
there

But

the

is no

conception

"thinking"

the "es
of "think

apart

from

"thoughts," the "ideas." So it is the "thinking-ideas" that is the qual


ity of this substance. A main point in respect of this philosophical
position is that the substance with its qualities is self-contained, both
in regard

to

its "conception"?it

conceived as a subject with

is completely

understandable

and

its simply inhering qualities?and

in re

to De Voider,
Cf. Letters
24 March
1699, 23 June 1699, April
1702,
Leibniz: Philo
resp. pp. 516, 519, 527 in L.E. Loemker,
Gottfried Wilhelm
and Letters
D. Reidel
(Dordrecht-Holland:
sosphical
Papers
Publishing
ed. C.I.
1969), and in G.W. Leibniz:
Company,
Philosophische
Schriften,
7 vols. (Berlin and Halle,
2: 169, 183, 241.
Gerhardt,
1849-55),

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THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD


to its "being"?as
in order
thing

gard
other

Descartes

11
it "so exists

said,

that

to exist."9

Iwould argue that crucial in this metaphysical


the

conception
has
conception

no

it needs

position is that of

of a substance,
examined.

as a quality
of "acting"
to be critically
especially

and

that

this

The justification for my singling out "acting" is that since Plato,


and

since Aristotle,

certainly

and Plotinus,

seen

it has been

that

"act

ing" (?v?pyeta) has to be admitted as a fundamental factor inwhat


ov, a complete
from Basso
and

or real being.

as to iravr?k?s

accepted
venteenth

century,

Descartes,

It was

the

is
se

Newton,

through

which diverged from that insight in conceiving physical being as mat


ter, which
cal science

is inert, i.e., "inactive,"


in its essential
nature.
of the last hundred
had
years
has, however,

that doctrine,
active.

The physi
to abandon

coming instead to conceive the physical as essentially

It is the concept

of "act,"
attention.

"acting,"

which

has

today

to receive

metaphysical
primary
This
is not the occasion

at an extensive
for an attempt
investiga
tion of the concept;
I can now only adumbrate
the analysis
of "acting"
as fundamentally
as Leibniz
in the modern
the
relational,
period was

first to see and seek to develop, with his conception of the act of being
of a monad

as perceptio,

as
it to another
is, as essentially
relating
remained
in the Neoplatonic
however,
entangled
as a "thinking,"
act of being
and consequently
the
that

Leibniz,
of the
conception
for
him, as for Descartes,
object
other
it was
being?i.e.,
object.

was
the

primarily
"idea
of"

"idea,"
another

rather
being.

than an
This

subjectivism has to be rejected; the object of acting must be another


being per se. If the object of acting is another being per se, this en
tails

a being to another.
that acting
is relational,
i.e., an act of relating
In this conception,
it must
be appreciated,
"a being" as subject
of

acting is not complete in itself, with the "relation" additional to it. In


a final analysis of a being we find only "actings"?the
subject is not an
entity

distinct

from

the

"acting"?and

"actings"

are

essentially

rela

tional. Now this means that what are to be considered as "qualities,"


i.e.,

"what"

acting?for

the being

is, inhere

not

in a subject

there is no such subject?but

9
Descartes,
Principles
and G.R.T.
2 Vols.
Ross,
Adam and Tannery,
8: 24.

per

se, apart

the qualities

from

its

inhere in the

Pt. 1, Princ. 51; E. Haldane


of Philosophy,
(Cambridge:
Press,
1911), I: 239;
University

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IVORLECLERC

12
And

"subject-acting."

since

this means

is relational,

the acting

sense

logical

of the medieval

Latin

"to make

cualificare,

that

in the etymo

the qualities "qualify" that relational acting?"qualify"

of a certain

quality, to give a certain quality to." That is to say, it is the "acting"


which is qualified as of such and such a kind, but since the "acting" per
se is not

from

apart

the

in a certain

"relation,"

most

sense

significant

the quality inheres in the "relation"?but not "relation" thought of as


distinct or apart from its terms, the acting subject and its object.
as a "simple
inher
is not to be conceived
this inherence
Further,
a
is not "simple."
In the first place,
for "relational
ence,"
acting"
as
as
as
to
is
not
conceived
be
"simple,"
having
only a
being
subject
not further
is "ultimate,"
i.e., one which
simple acting,
analyz
single

able.

the acting of a being is highly complex, analyzable into

Rather,

an indefinite

multiplicity
which
ings are relational,

In the

of sub-acts.
means

that

second

relate

they

place,
to objects.

the actings being relational, they have amultiplicity


to be distinguished
to each other,
related

have

into two kinds.


which

means

The

that

they

and

thus

relations,

are

internal

to the acting

is,

are necessarily
each other as ob

jects, but with only one subject entailed in these relations.


jects,

That

of objects, which

sub-acts
have

act

these

being.

These ob
The

other

kind of object is that constituted by other beings. This multiplicity of


relations, of both kinds, is in each case defined by a "quality," itself
not simple, but of degrees of complexity and thus analyzability.

IV
On the basis
the nature

and

of this analysis we
status
of "good."

can now

turn

to a consideration

of

We must conclude as the outcome of the foregoing analysis that,


first, "good" as a quality is not different from other qualities, in that it
also must be conceived as involved in, and pertaining to a being "in
relation," that it inheres in the being in respect of its relations. Sec
any simple,
i.e., not further
analyzable,
a
to
and
inherent
is
Rather,
pertaining
complex
quality
good
some "whole."
constituting
plex of relations
ondly,

good

is not

quality.
in a com

One kind of "whole" is that which is the being itself, that which is
In this, the complex of actings integrate into a
the acting subject.
a
whole.
Thus we have a kind of whole which is consti
into
unity,
tuted by the internal interrelatedness of the actings of the being, in

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THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD

13

respect of their being an integral acting.


as constituting
acter.
That

a unity
is, there

or whole,
has,
is a particular

Now this interrelatedness,

as such,

a definiteness

or char
or quality

character

complex

which is that of the whole, and that character or definiteness


the

the

interrelatedness,

included in this complex character or definiteness

Now
whole

is that

This

quality
which we

feature,
to the whole

ing

qualifies

interactings.

as

or feature

which

we

know

as

by the word
"good,"
by an interrelatedness

designate
constituted

of the

its "goodness."
is one pertain
of actings.

That is, "good" inheres in the interrelatedness


constituting the
whole. Further to be noted is that it is such a whole of interrelation
which is "good in itself"?without
regard to anything external. This
is the primary instance of "good in itself," namely that pertaining to a
being in respect of its own whole of interrelated actings.
However,
in which
spect
it an
beings

a single being
is not to be
the internal
interrelatedness

in the re
only
of its actings
constitutes
involve
other
necessarily

considered

for its actings


also
whole,
integral
as objects.
This means
that there are also

other

wholes,

con

stituted by the being in question and one or more other beings with
which it is in interaction.
Let

us

consider

the

case

of two

beings

in such

have here a whole constituted by the interrelatedness


this has

a certain

complex

character

or definiteness.

interaction.

We

of the two, and


This

character

or definiteness is partly determined by the particular characters of


the two beings themselves; but the character of the interrelatedness
itself also in part determines the individual characters of the two
This kind of whole
of interrelatedness
beings.
a marriage,
is instanced
minateness
in, e.g.,
whole
of interrelatedness
is that constituting

and its complex


deter
or a friendship.
This
a "society."10
What
is

to us here
is that the complex
character
pertinent
whole
of interrelatedness
also that feature
includes
nate

by "good."

Now

when

we

consider

that whole

of such
which
per

a societal
we

desig
se in respect

of its goodness, it is "good in itself." But since the actings of each of


the two beings also have other beings as objects, the societal whole
can be considered also in respect of its interrelatedness with one or
10 I

have dealt with this interrelatedness


a "society" in my
constituting
of Social Relations"
and "Community,
the State,
papers "The Metaphysics
and the National
to meetings
contributed
of the International
So
Society,"
in the Pro
(1980 and 1981), publication
ciety for Metaphysics
forthcoming
of the Society.
ceedings

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IVORLECLERC

14
more

In respect
of this
beings.
as "useful"
could be considered

other

whole

their

etc.

purposes,
whole
would

furthering
the societal
It will

not

That

the

is to say,

societal
as

other

e.g.,

beings,
consideration

this

of

it as

be of

"good
instrumentally."
into an investigation
of more

to go

be necessary

interrelatedness
to the

com

plex wholes of interrelatedness; in principle the situation respecting


the analysis of "good" will not be different: any whole of interrelated
ness

in one

will

consideration

be

"good

in itself,"

in another

and

be

"instrumentally
good."
can now, on the basis of the foregoing
We
return
to the
analysis,
in section
2 above,
issue examined
that between
the "subjectivist"
a significant
of good, and achieve
and the "objectivist"
theories
clarifi
of the

cation

issue.

terrelatedness

With

constituting

the analysis
a whole,

of good
we
can

as pertaining

to the
in respect

conclude,

in
of

that whole being "good in itself," that good is clearly to be accorded


an objective
status.
A problem
arises,
since

the

whom,
"good."
the whole

"instrumental

is whether

that

to "instrumental

regard
seem

good" would
in respect
and
of some purpose,
This would
entail a relationship

in question,
or "values"
that whole
issue

with

however,

good,"
someone
for
imply
the whole
in question
is
between
that someone
and
to

a relationship
in which
that
as being
"good for" some
someone
determines
uniquely

spect of its being "good for," so that without


there

valuing,
whole.

The

end.

"judges"
crucial

The

in re

that whole

that someone judging or

be no "good for" at all in respect


of that
simply would
answer
to this question
affirmative
is what
constitutes

the "subjectivist"
But,

someone

I would

theory of good.
argue,

this analysis

of "instrumental

is not

good"

to

be accepted as valid. For the whole in question is not dependent


upon a judgment or valuation by another beyond it for it to be "instru
mentally good," since the beings constituting that whole of inter
action

are,

as we

have

seen,

necessarily

also

in interactive

relations

It is by virtue of, and in respect to, these relation


with other beings.
ships beyond itself that that whole with which we are concerned is
These
"instrumentally
good."
are
a
those relationships,
"fact,"

relationships,
and moreover,

and
they

the whole
are a fact

as

in

ante

cedent to the judging or valuing.


It is not the judging or valuing
which bring that fact into being; rather it is the case that the judging,
etc.,

presupposes

that

fact,

and

therefore

is a judgment

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respecting

THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD

15

that fact. This means that the instrumental goodness of the whole
question

in

is "objective."

We have now to deal with another, and more difficult problem,


with

to the

respect

of "good."

status

Kant

as we

had maintained,

noted earlier, that nothing is to be regarded as good without qualifi


cation except a "good will." This entails that "good in itself" pertains
only

to the moral.

This

in the

that good

conception,

sense

of "intrin

sic good" is to be restricted to the "moral good," is a widely held doc


trine.

Another

position,

appreciably

wider

than

in regard

this,

to

what is to be conceived as "intrinsically good," is that maintained by


Sir David Ross: "good is a characteristic belonging primarily only to
states

of mind,

and belonging

to them

in virtue

only

of three

charac

teristics?the
moral virtue included in them, the intelligence in
cluded in them, and the pleasure included in them."11 The issue is
whether this kind of restriction in respect of what is "intrinsically
good"

is acceptable.

The issue here is ultimately a metaphysical one. What needs to


be considered is the metaphysical foundation for that restriction in re
spect of what is validly to be regarded as "intrinsically good." The
theories of this kind are, it seems to me, tenable on the basis only of
of two metaphysical
ism so widely
accepted
"intrinsic
exclude
good"
either

to man.

only
the dualistic

The

other

from

the

position,
that what

natural
tonic

being
doctrine

is the metaphysical
which
century,

entire

realm

which

has

is ultimately
tal" or "spiritual."
The credibility
of these
the acceptance
of the seventeenth-century
one,

holds

One
positions.
since the seventeenth

as

dual
would

of nature,
confining
as a reaction
derived
"real"

two

is only

positions

conception
its corollary,

"inert," with
essentially
that "act" pertains
solely to mind.

it
to

the "men
rests

upon
or
of physical
the Neopla

However,

the situa

tion has been fundamentally altered by the abandonment by twen


tieth-century physical science of the conception of the physical as
inert, and by its de facto acceptance of the ultimate physical entities
as essentially
11
W.D.

"active."

Ross,

The Right

and

the Good,

p. 122.

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IVORLECLERC

16
of "act" and
My
analysis
concerned
with human activity,

above
has been particularly
"acting"
but the concept
of "act" can be gener
are acceptable
as r? rravreXa?
to all which

to all beings,
i.e.,
or
real
ovTOL, complete
beings.
of
"act"
remains
going
analysis
alized

Further,
valid.

in respect
I can here

of these, my
do no more

fore
than

adumbrate this position.12

In it a being, by its acting, affects another

or others,

some

thereby

effecting

change

This was

in them.

the view

of "acting" which Kant, in his Monadologia Physica and other pre


critical writings, had advanced in place of Leibniz's subjectivisticper
this

ceptio,

entailing

that

only

relations

phenomenal

were

Kant correctly insisting on physical relations necessarily


"real."13
necessarily

In the position
being maintained
has to be relational.

here,

possible,

having to be

the acting

of a being

This general metaphysical position now allows us to hold that any


whole of relational activity can be conceived as "good in itself." That
is to say, there can be no metaphysical necessity to restrict "good in
itself" or "intrinsic good" to human beings; it is to be extended to all
beings. This means that any whole of relational activity constituting
an

as "good in itself."
as
be regarded
integral
being must
Further,
have
relational
wholes
constituted
seen,
by two or more
beings
can also be "good
in themselves."
The
intrinsic
here
is
goodness

we

in the relational
grounded
to them as
tains primarily

of the

acting
in that

constituent

beings

and

per

interrelation.

in terms
not only can
of this metaphysical
Further,
position,
for restricting
there be no reason
but there can
"good" to the human,
to
for limiting
the
The
also be no reason
moral.
moral
good
"good"
as a species
sense.
in a generic
must
of good
be regarded

VI

This brings us to the central and crucial issue involved in our


topic. So far we have taken it for granted that there is a factor or
quality which we term "good," and we have investigated its status,
e.g.,

whether

philosophical

it is "subjective"

concern must

12
For a fuller treatment
in International
Philosophical
13
See my The Nature
Unwin; New York: Humanities

or

"objective."

But

be to seek to understand

central

to the

the nature of

see my "Matter, Action,


and Physical Being"
(March 1981).
Quarterly
Existence
and
(London: Allen
of Physical
Press,
1972), pp. 276-83.

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17

THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD

does

achieved.

What

standing,

I would

and

categories
One

it consist

For

concepts.
to this
etc.,

the attainment
to go

being

of this under

to first

principles;

only in terms of metaphysical

is to be achieved

approach
things,

in?

it is necessary

maintain,

this understanding

people,

is to be

This raises the issue of how that understanding

"good."

is to

understanding
The
"good."

classic

seek

cause

the

instance

of

of this

ap

proach, and one which has historically been of great influence, is the
Platonic doctrine that the "cause" of things being good is to be found
or

in the Form
totle,

who

quite

untenable.

Idea

found

of Good.

Another

approach
of a self-subsistent

the

conception

His

approach

was

to

seek

the

was

that

of Aris

Form

of Good
of

understanding

"good" in terms of "end" (rekos). He held that "good," in the most


sense,

general
Aristotle

telos,

is "that

at which

"end,"

is a cause,

for the sake of which"


cause

as the

"formal

in the medieval
"being,"

and

(to ov eveKct), by contrast with

cause."

doctrine
also

all things
It is true
aim."14
but it is a cause in the sense

combined

approaches
as the ultimate
cause?the

of God

of "end,"

the

telos

of "that

the Platonic

were

two

These

for

that

cause

of

of all creation.

But there are serious philosophical difficulties in these three po


In holding that "good" is
sitions. Let us start with the Aristotelian.
"that at which all things aim," isAristotle defining "good" in terms of
"aim" or "end"?
stitutes

Is he maintaining
Is it not, rather,

"good"?

cause it is "good"? Secondly,


Aristotle

does

not

best,

plete, perfect (Tekeiov) good.


identified

with

(evdaipovia),
"activity"

it is "aim" or "end" which

that

something

is "aimed

con
at" be

consistently with his criticism of Plato,

set out to find

is the highest,

tain what

that

"the good";
supreme

rather

Qxpio-Tov)

Thus he asks whether

he seeks
good,

to ascer

or the

com

this good is to be

or with

or well-being"
"happiness
or with
or
"function"
(epyov),
We
still
are, however,
(7rpa?i?).

"pleasure"
(edovrj),
or with
"virtue"
(aperq),

(?v?pyeta),

or "action"

left with the issue: what is "good"? Aristotle rejects that "the good
itself" (avTo to ?ya?ov) could be the Platonic Idea or Form of Good;15
cannot be a self-subsistent
is, the "good" we are seeking
being.
a
a
he
could
it
be
universal
for
"universal
(to kolv?v),16
Nor,
argues,
could not be the "supreme
In contrast with
these
goodness"
good."17
that

14
Aristotle Nicomachean
1094a3: r?ya?ov
Ethics,
15
Aristotle
Eudemian
1217b8-1218a38.
Ethics,
16
1218a39-b2.
17 Ibid.,
Ibid., 1218a39-b7.

ov tt?vt

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'copierai.

IVORLECLERC

18

positions he puts forward that the "good" we are seeking


in "that

found

for

the

sake

as

of which

an

end"

is to be

ov

(to

eveKct

<o?

it is still obscure how this gives us the meaning

reXo?).18 But

of

"good."

The

issue we

have

as to the meaning

that

here,

is an

of "good,"

extremely difficult one. It is difficult to see precisely what kind of


answer is requisite, and the formulation of the problem is difficult.
The

issue

has,

however,

been

recognized,

and thinkers

down

the ages

have sought to deal with it in a variety of ways and in terms of various


theories.

of these

One

has had a wide

which

views,

even

currency,

in

recent times, has been to hold that in respect of "good" we have an


ultimate

and

ineffable

can only be "intuited."

which

quality,

Most

re

cent thinkers holding this view have not gone further and entered
status of this quality. Some,
into the question of the metaphysical
have

however,
tively

done

existing

in terms of objec
the answer
given
"in
Hartmann.19
These
by Nicolai

so, and have

"essences"?e.g.,

tuitionist" theories,

it should be noted,

or not

nism?whether

this

be recognized

by

their

proponents.

to turn to an examination

At this point it is appropriate


Platonic

involve some form of Plato

one of the three

mentioned
approaches
The
of
doctrine
Platonic
is that
understanding
"good."
are
in respect
of "good,"
of the "things" which
regarded
position,

above

of the
to the

the meaning
as "good,"

is

to be found in the Form or Idea of Good. Now in this doctrine the


Form of Good is itself "a being." Further, inmany interpretations of
the doctrine, this Form is taken to be the perfect exemplar of "good"
?which
is entirely consistent with the Form as "a good being." The
can,

question

however,

as to the meaning

be raised

"good being," the Form of Good.


culty,

or fallacy,

which

of "good"

in this

Doing so brings to light the diffi

in the Academy

came

to be referred

to as that

of the "third man." The difficulty is that in terms of this theory the
meaning of "good" of a "good person" is grounded in the Form of
Good. But since this Form is "a good being," the question must be
raised

as

to the ground

of that

"good."

Answer:

another

Form

of

so on ad infinitum.
Good?and
Aristotle urged this difficulty as
fatal to the Platonic conception of Forms as "beings," and in particu
lar to the Form of Good as a being.
Plato himself was well aware of this difficulty respecting the
18
Ibid., 1218b8-27.
19
Nicolai Hartmann,
Ethics,
& Unwin; New York: Humanities

tr. Stanton Coit,


1932).

3 vols.

(London: Allen

Press,

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THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD


in his

inherent

of "good"

meaning

19

celebrated

ment

of the

simile

To have

by analogy.

sun.

an argu
presented
of being
seen,
capable

In this Plato
of an object

vision

one

and made

it. He did so in the Republic

highly significant attempt to deal with


in his

of Forms,

theory

there is required not only an eye capable of sight, but a third factor
also

sun with

the

is necessary:

its

so analogously,

light;

to have

knowledge and truth about things capable of being known, there is


required not only a knowing mind (nous) with a capacity of knowing,
but a third factor also is necessary: the Form of Good. But then
Plato

extends

most

the analogy

their

generation,

of knowledge
being
sence

known,

also

but

of it? How are we


their
only

ousia,
but

that,

from the presence

being or existence
by the Good.21

their

are provided
(ovaia)
How
is this argument

the objects

of the Good their


and

(to eivai)

to be understood,

the

especially

to conceive the Good as providing

i.e., that whereby


as providing
also

they are
their very

gives

only

but also provides for

so analogously,

and nurture";20

growth,

not only receive

sun not

"the

significantly:

the objects of sight their capacity of visibility,

"what"

they

latter

part

things with

are?

(to einai),

"being"

es

their

And

not

their

ex

isting? We get an answer to this question by considering this last


passage together with that with which Plato had earlier introduced
the topic of the Good: "For you have often heard that the greatest
thing to learn is the Form of the Good, that it is by this that just
things

and other

such become

getting at ismissed

and beneficial."22

useful

What

is

Plato

if this passage be interpreted, as it so frequently

He is saying that, without


the merely
utilitarian.23
is, as dealing with
and
and brave
the Form
of Good,
etc.,
actions,
just actions,
pious
or relevance,
would
without
be simply pointless,
meaning
lacking en
in any worthwhileness.
That
etc., were
is, unless
tirely
just actions,
"good,"

they

would

be

completely

meaningless

that culminating passage of his argument


extends

his

and
being
be utterly

insight
essence.
pointless

respecting
Unless
and

justice,

knowledge
irrelevant?it

etc.,
be

and

In

irrelevant.

(509 B) given above, Plato


also

to knowledge,

and

to

would
"good," knowledge
not be worth
would
simply

while at all. And, ousia, "what" a thing is, equally would be entirely
20
Plato Republic,
509B (my tr.).
21
509B.
Ibid.,
22
tr.).
Ibid., 505A(my
23
Cf. e.g., W.C.K.
Guthrie, A History
1975) 5: 503-504.
Press,
bridge: University

of Greek

Philosophy

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(Cam

20

IVORLECLERC
of sense

devoid

it were

unless

and meaning

and

Further,

"good."

most importantly, being or existing itself, unless it were "good"


would simply be meaningless, without any point or purpose, devoid of
anything whereby itwould be worthwhile, and thus would be sheerly
impossible.

In accord with the ontology which Plato maintained in his middle


period, "the Good" is here stated to be the Form or Idea of Good.
in that

But

statement,

culminating
that
namely

to a most

Plato
passage
proceeds
"the good
is not ousia

transcends ousia in dignity and power."24

important
but

essence),

(being,

It is not surprising that he

seen

the Form
of Good?
has been
as, in this passage,
going beyond
as one among
the other Forms?and
that many,
such as Plotinus,
him as referring
have
here to the Divine.
This receives
interpreted

further

credence

is spoken
in the

demiourgos
My

from the scheme

concern

in which

of the Timaeus,

the

of as "good."25
foregoing

analysis

of Plato's

in the

argument

simile of the sun has been to bring out the following points. First,
that Plato himself had seen a most significant difficulty in his doctrine
of Forms
problem

with

respect

of the meaning

to

the meaning
is not
of "good"

of "good,"
that
namely
to be resolved
in terms

the
of a

theory of Forms, for, contrary to the ontological position he then had


been accepting, the Forms are not the final ontological ultimates he
in respect
of "good,"
i.e.,
since,
they are dependent,
supposed,
on something
as the principle,
the source,
of "good"?in
dependent
are dependent
as that
this principle
other words,
the Forms
upon
be pointless
would
and meaningless,
without
which
they themselves
had

and thus could not "be" in that final sense which


ascribed

to them.

I have

Secondly,

been

concerned

implication that this difficulty consequently


modern

theories

of

with

"essences"

he had earlier
to bring

out

equally pertains
to

respect

the

the

to the

meaning

of

"good." And thirdly, Iwish to press the point that Plato's argument
is entirely valid, and that we have consequently to recognize the
metaphysical

It was

necessity

of a principle

that the conception of a transcendent

in Neoplatonism

or source
principle
the very meaning

of "good"?was

24
Plato

Republic,

Lva rr??

ovena?

25
Plato

of things,
and of
of the "goodness"
but was
not only fully embraced,

of "good"?i.e.,

This is the third of the approaches to

also identified with the Divine.

7T K

Timaeus,

509B:
irpecr?eia

of "good."

ovk
Kai

overtax
Svv?pei

(Wo?

tov

ctya?ov,

vTrep?xovTo?.

29E.

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otkk '?ti

THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD


the meaning
of "good" mentioned
the other two, involves
significant

21
like
(p. 18). This approach,
In discussing
difficulties.
these a

above

distinction has to be made in this Neoplatonic doctrine between the


position of Plotinus and that accepted by most of Christian Neopla
Both ground the meaning of "good" in
tonism following Augustine.
in
is the sole principle, source, or origin
and
both
God
God,
positions
means
that for both God is the cause of the "being"
of all things. This
The crucial difference
between
these
of things,
and of their "good."
cause
two positions
conceived
the
of "being,"
is that Augustine
God,
as "a being,"
in contrast
to Plotinus
mindful
of
Plato's
who,
argument

(which we treated above), held that God is "beyond

in the Republic
(eir?Keiva

being"

ttj?

ovo-?a?),

in other

words

that

God

transcends

"being."

Let us first examine the Christian Neoplatonist position respect


ing the grounding of the "good" of created things in God. What ex
actly does this position entail? The issue turns on the conception of
to "good."
The position
could be taken to be ex
could be interpreted,
"God is good," which
pressed
by the statement,
as
a
as
that
has the attrib
and usually
has been,
God,
being,
meaning
or "goodness"?of
course
ute of "good,"
in the superlative
degree.
the

relation

of God

them with
the
God, then, is the cause of good in creatures
by creating
leaves unresolved
the problem
of
attribute
This,
however,
"good."
runs into a vicious
for this position
the meaning
of "good,"
regress.

The meaning of "good" in creatures has to be sought in God, but this


raises the problem of the meaning of "good" in God. Evidently the
in the

is involved

argument

"third man"

difficulty.

This difficulty is avoided by Plotinus, who clearly saw the valid


as demonstrating
in the Republic
the meta
argument
a
For
of
of
Plotinus
the
One or
necessity
physical
principle
"good."
as
or
the primary
ultimate
of all and everything,
God
includ
principle
therefore
itself
be
the
of
all
"cannot
(ciare r?
ing
"good"
things,
good"
"it is beyond
evi ov??v ?ya?ov
(ctkk "?cttiv
?o-Tiv).26
Rather,
good"
ity of Plato's

vTrepaya?ov),

which

entails,

as Plotinus

says,

"it is the good,

that

not

for itself, but for other things, insofar as they are able to participate
in it" (/ca? olvto
peTakap?aveiv).27

good?it

ov\

?avrc?, tol?
This means

S 'aXXot? ?ya^?^,
that the principle

is not itself a "good being."

26Plotinus
27
Ibid.

Enneads

et tl olvtov
of good

Accordingly,

?vvaTat

transcends

the meaning

6. 9. 6.

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of

IVORLECLERC

22

"good" in good things has to be sought in that principle of good,


since that principle is not itself good, this position does not run
the "third man" difficulty.
Thomas Aquinas was the medieval Christian thinker who
most fully aware of this difficulty with respect to the conception
one

transcendent

or source

principle,

and

origin

of all things,

but
into
was
of a

a diffi

culty which he sought to overcome with his doctrine of analogy and of


transcendental
of God

respect
in which

they

analogically.
their "being,"

He maintained
categories.
are not to be understood

predicate

a "transcendental good."

The problem with this doctrine

of "transcendental

notion

very

in the sense of "having being," but

we
as in respect
of creatures
And,
we
can
so in respect
of God
predicate

esse.
per se," ipsum
the attribute
"good,"

"being

and "good" in
i.e., in the sense
to be understood

"being"

univocally,
to
creatures;
rather,
they are
pertain
we speak of
to creatures
This means
that, as in regard
so with
to God we can
regard
i.e., their "having being";

speak of God "being," not however


as

that

predicates
that
is, the

is that the

or principles"
has
"transcendentals"

itself

to

are not
analogically;
sense
a
or
in
which
in univocal
sense,
i.e., in the
categories
predicates
are
to"
creatures
have
rather,
"analogous
they
predi
predicates;
is ex
to treat them as thus analogous
cates.
However,
consistently
be

understood

ceedingly difficult, and all too readily the transcendentals are implic
itly thought of as predicates which pertain to God, which means that
God is thought of as having the attribute "good" (albeit in a superla
Thus God is implicitly
tive sense not pertaining to creatures).
thought of as "a good being," with the consequence that the "third
man"

difficulty

is not

evaded.

What is requisite, Iwould submit, is explicitly to recognize, what


Plato and Aristotle had effectually begun to appreciate,28 and what
Plotinus

very

clearly

saw,

that

the

primary

or ultimate

principle

cannot validly be thought of in terms of categories at all, because cat


egories cannot pertain to it, since such a principle is the principle or
source

also

of the categories.

That

is, we

need

to recognize

had explicitly stated with respect to hyle


principle, can validly be generalized to all ultimate
thus that an ultimate principle "in itself is neither a
nor a quantity nor designated by any of the categories

Aristotle

that what

as an ultimate
principles, and
particular thing
by which being

28
This

in his account of "the Gods and


in the Timaeus,
is why Plato,
saw thai
to myth.
Aristotle
of the all," (29C) had recourse
the
generation
matter
the
and
of things in becoming,
the principles,
the ?pxai,
Forms,
viz.,
in terms of the categories.
cannot be understood

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23

THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD


In other

is determined."29

an ultimate

words,

transcends

principle

Plotinus had concluded from this that accordingly the

all categories.

in
is necessarily
knowledge
that
had however
terms
of categories.
correctly
argued
of primary
hold in respect
does not necessarily
this conclusion
princi
a pri
can
we
of
have
that
and
(eTTMrrqpr))
validly
knowledge
ples,

One

must

transcend

one way

mary
principle,
also recognized.

since

knowledge,
Aristotle

being

as Thomas

of analogy,30

that

Aquinas

VII
With this clarification of the concept of ultimate principles we can
now turn specifically to the problem of the principle of "good," and
an approach
different
attempt
and seen to have some or other

from

an approach,
of "act."

from

I would

In a metaphysical
in need
stands
being

propose,

those

serious

defect.
the

we

which

reviewed

can achieve

We

such

of a metaphysics

standpoint
as

of all beings
a telos,
since

conception
of an "end,"

have

every
"acting,"
an
entails

"acting"

"end" toward which the acting is aimed or directed.

Now the end of

an agent
is, logically,
be an "agent acting"
i.e., it must
"given,"

this end

tion

presupposes
be a datum

as a datum

be derived
(a) since

cause,

not generable

there

can

from
be

no

in question,
since to
by the agent
an "end."31
Thus
the end must
be
for that agent.
other agents?
reason

why

Can
This
any

cannot

in ques
be be

agent

among

one

others should be uniquely privileged as a donor; and (b)with a plural


ity of prospective donors, the agent in question is faced with the ne
of a choice,
cessity
to choose
of which

an "end" as a criterion
in terms
presupposes
as
alternative
This leaves
the only
them.
between

which

that the requisite end for the agent in question must be "given" by, or
from, a transcendent
there
is a metaphysical

derivable
say,

principle.

or source

principle
necessity

of ends.

for a transcendent

That

is to

teleological

This was clear to Aristotle.

connec
that there is a necessary
clear to Aristotle
equally
so
to ov
This is
"end" entails
because
"end" and "good."
tion between
It was

ev Ka, "that for the sake of which."

That is, the "end" entails "that

29
1029a 20-22.
Aristotle Metaphysics,
30
191a
9-11.
Aristotle
Physics,
31The
that it is, is the basic
supposition
ory of good.

fallacy

of the subjectivist

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the

IVORLECLERC

24
on account

or "wherefore,"
of which,"
and this "reason" must

is done,

acting

or "the

reason

be that

the end be

for which,"
in some

the
re

cannot be a purely
"instrumen
This "good," however,
spect "good."
come
we necessarily
an infinite regress
must
tal" one, and to escape
we
Thus
have Aristotle's
to a "good in itself" or "intrinsic
good."32

general position that "the good is that at which all things aim,"33 since
is "that
"the good"
Now Aristotle,

for the

of which

sake

of "the good
it must
be the supreme,

have

the

concep
or as a universal,
held that
or perfect
he
"good,"36 and which,

rejected,
having
itself" as self-subsistent

tion

as an end."34

as we

complete,

seen,35

argued, is to be identified with the divine unmoved mover as the tele


cause,

ological

i.e.,

as

the

teleogical

principle.

is a doctrine

This

which has had a powerful influence on subsequent


theological
a thinker
is
the
that
maintained
God
Aristotle
position
thought.
on
whose "thinking is a thinking
thinking,"37 and argued that "the ac
that God's "self-dependent actuality
is
thus
of
life,"38
tuality
thought
is life most good and eternal,"38 and therefore that "God is a living
being,

most

eternal,

good."39

The point in this argument which is of special relevance to us


here is that it is because God is the highest or supreme good that God
In other words,
is the teleological principle, the principle of ends.
God provides the end for all things by being that at which all things
aim, and that he is this by his being the highest good. This Aristote
lian position has been accepted by much subsequent theological
thought.
It is most

important,

however,

to appreciate

that

there

is a cru

cial difficulty in this argument. The argument is that God is the tran
scendent principle, source, of ends by virtue of being the highest or
principal good. The difficulty involved in this is that of the "third
man."

For we

can validly

raise

the question,

why

or whereby

is God

"good"? To answer that God is good by virtue of "thinking," the fur


ther question can be raised as to why "thinking" is the highest good,
32
1094a 19-23.
Nicomachean
Cf. Aristotle,
Ethics,
33
Nicomachean
1094a 3.
Ethics,
Aristotle,
34
Eudemian
1218b 10.
Ethics,
Aristotle,
35
See p. 17.
36
1094a 22.
Cf. Nicomachean
Ethics,
37
1074b 35: earr?v 7) voyais
Aristotle Metaphysics,
vorfae?x; v&qo-Ls.
(Tr. Ross.)
38
eice?vov ??ot) otpcrrr)
1072b 28-29:
Met.,
?v?pyeca de t) kol?'olvt^v
kol?

ca?io?.

39
Met.,

1072b 29-30:

tov ?eov

eivat

?aov

qcl?lov apio-Tov.

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THE METAPHYSICSOF THE GOOD

25

or indeed, "good" at all? The only way out of this difficulty, as Plato
and Plotinus had seen, is to maintain, not that God is the principal
good, but that God transcends good by being the principle of good.
now is how the "principle
of good"
is to be compre
problem
most
I
this prob
would
hended.
We
can,
suggest,
readily
approach
The "end" for a being means
of "end."
lem from a consideration
that
The

at which

its acting
is not merely

plied
is "fitting,"
the

and

aims,
some

this

or other,

"order."

"appropriate"
is aimed
at,
its actualization.
But

any order, but an order which


for that being.
that
Further,
as a
is some form of definiteness
con
of definiteness,
or
abstraction
from actuality
form

every

as such, i.e., in complete


a completely
is
actualization,
general
possibility.
as a general
Now a form of definiteness
possibility

it is without

"general,"
"worse"
say,

with

the

realm

respect
of pure

ity, is necessarily
This means

is im

What

i.e.,

"suitable,"
order, which

end,
for
possibility
sidered
simply

some

entails

it would

anything whereby

to any given

entails

as

that,

be "better" or

or acting being.
That
is to
of its complete
general

actual

by virtue

possibility,

neutral with regard to its qualification of actuality.


or "worse"

This

in, or
factor

I would

con

than the transcendent


of ends.
tend, cannot be other
principle
the "end," as we have
entails
seen,
"fittingness,"
"suitability,"

For

that

the realm

derivable
must

from,
be derived

of "better"

the factor

from

of forms

some

of definiteness
source.

other

is not
per

That

inherent
se.

source,

i.e.,

that it be "best." That is to say, the "principle of end" entails that it


be also

the

But

"principle

the

"principle

of good."
of good"

cannot

be,

as Aristotle

and much

of

the

the "highest good."


theological tradition have maintained,
Rather, the "principle of good" must be that whereby, and from
is a distinction

there
which,
or "worse,"
whereby,
tion is not
such.

But

at all between

or "unfitting,"
"fitting"
these words
have
indeed,

"good" and "bad," "better"


or "unsuitable,"
"suitable"
etc.,
at
all.
This
distinc
any meaning

as such,
in actuality
it is a fundamental
presupposition
inherent

fundamental presupposition
Thus

actuality.
the "teleological

a transcendent
principle,"

for possibility

nor

as
in pure possibility
for any actuality,
and a

to have any relevance


of "good,"

"principle"
is an ultimate
metaphysical

which

Emory

to

is also

necessity.40
University.

40
I think, had a grasp of this in his doctrine of God as the
Whitehead,
valuation
of pure potentials
"principle of concretion"
having a "primordial
each
eternal
to each con
relevance
[whereby]
object has a definite effective
crescent process"
(Process and Reality,
part 2, chapter 1, section 1).

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