Against Absolute Goodness

Against Absolute Goodness

Against Absolute Goodness

Against Absolute Goodness

Synopsis

Are there things we should value because they are, quite simply, good? If so, such things might be said to have "absolute goodness." They would be good simpliciter or full stop - not good for someone, not good of a kind, but nonetheless good (period). They might also be called "impersonalvalues." The reason why we ought to value such things, if there are any, would merely be the fact that they are, quite simply, good things. In the twentieth century, G. E. Moore was the great champion of absolute goodness, but he is not the only philosopher who posits the existence and importanceof this property. Against these friends of absolute goodness, Richard Kraut here builds on the argument he made in What is Good and Why, demonstrating that goodness is not a reason-giving property - in fact, there may be no such thing. It is, he holds, an insidious category of practical thought, because it can be andhas been used to justify what is harmful and condemn what is beneficial. Impersonal value draws us away from what is good for persons. His strategy for opposing absolute goodness is to search for domains of practical reasoning in which it might be thought to be needed, and this leads him to anexamination of a wide variety of moral phenomena: pleasure, knowledge, beauty, love, cruelty, suicide, future generations, bio-diversity, killing in self-defense, and the extinction of our species. Even persons, he proposes, should not be said to have absolute value. The special importance of humanlife rests instead on the great advantages that such lives normally offer.

Excerpt

Are there things we should value because they are, quite simply, good?

Like many perplexing philosophical questions, this one is deceptive in its simplicity. It is tempting, at first, to reply: yes, of course. Friendship, after all, is a good thing. So, too, are natural beauty, tasty and nourishing food, playful activity, participation in sports, intellectual adventure, good theater and poetry, and much else besides. It is obvious that we should value them, and when we ask why we should do so, it seems appropriate (though not particularly surprising or profound) to reply: “because they are valuable,” that is, “because they are good things.”

But the trickiness of our question becomes apparent when we notice that it is one thing to say that something is good for someone and another to say, quite simply, that it is good (period) or valuable (period). Consider friendship and beauty, to take the first two examples. We are confident that we should value them. But it is difficult to be equally confident that the reason we should value them is that they are, quite simply, good things. Perhaps, instead, the reason they should be enjoyed, appreciated, treasured (or valued in other ways) is that they are good for us. Or perhaps both of these are reasons for valuing friendship and beauty: both because they are, quite simply, good, and because they are good for us. Another possibility is that beauty is valuable because it is good (period), whereas friendship is valuable because it is good for those who are friends. After all, it is not evident that beauty or its appreciation is beneficial; by contrast . . .

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