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- The Nature of Goodness - 3/23 -

utmost virtue, quietude.

In short, whenever we inspect the usage of the word good, we always find behind it an implication of some end to be reached. Good is a relative term, signifying promotive of, conducive to. The good is the useful, and it must be useful for something. Silent or spoken, it is the mental reference to something else which puts all meaning into it. So Hamlet says, "There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." If I have in mind A as an end sought, then X is good. But if B is the end, X is bad. X has no goodness or badness of its own. No new quality is added to an object or act when it becomes good.


But this result is disappointing, not to say paradoxical. To call a thing good only with reference to what lies outside itself would be almost equivalent to saying that nothing is good. For if the moment anything becomes good it refers all its goodness to something beyond its own walls, should we ever be able to discover an object endowed with goodness at all? The knife is good in reference to the stick of wood; the wood, in reference to the table; the table, in reference to the writing; the writing, in reference to a reader's eyes; his eyes, in reference to supporting his family--where shall we ever stop? We can never catch up with goodness. It is always promising to disclose itself a little way beyond, and then evading us, slipping from under our fingers just when we are about to touch it. This meaning of goodness is self-contradictory.

And it is also too large. It includes more to goodness than properly belongs there. If we call everything good which is good _for_, everything which shows adaptation to an end, then we shall be obliged to count a multitude of matters good which we are accustomed to think of as evil. Filth will be good, for it promotes fevers as nothing else does. Earthquakes are good, for shaking down houses. It is inapposite to urge that we do not want fevers or shaken houses. Wishes are provided no place in our meaning of good. Goodness merely assists, promotes, is conducive to any result whatever. It marks the functional character, without regard to the desirability of that which the function effects. But this is unsatisfactory and may well set us on a search for supplementary meanings.


When we ask if the Venus of Milo is a good statue, we have to confess that it is good beyond almost any object on which our eyes have ever rested. And yet it is not good _for_ anything; it is no means for an outside end. Rather, it is good in itself. This possibility that things may be good in themselves was once brought forcibly to my attention by a trivial incident. Wandering over my fields with my farmer in autumn, we were surveying the wrecks of summer. There on the ploughed ground lay a great golden object. He pointed to it, saying, "That is a good big pumpkin." I said, "Yes, but I don't care about pumpkins." "No," he said, "nor do I." I said, "You care for them, though, as they grow large. You called this a good big one." "No! On the contrary, a pumpkin that is large is worth less. Growing makes it coarser. But that is a good big pumpkin." I saw there was some meaning in his mind, but I could not make out what it was. Soon after I heard a schoolboy telling about having had a "good big thrashing." I knew that he did not like such things. His phrase could not indicate approval, and what did it signify? He coupled the two words _good_ and _big_; and I asked myself if there was between them any natural connection? On reflection I thought there was. If you wish to find the full pumpkin nature, here you have it. All that a pumpkin can be is set forth here as nowhere else. And for that matter, anybody who might foolishly wish to explore a thrashing would find all he sought in this one. In short, what seemed to be intended was that all the functions constituting the things talked about were present in these instances and hard at work, mutually assisting one another, and joining to make up such a rounded whole that from it nothing was omitted which possibly might render its organic wholeness complete. Here then is a notion of goodness widely unlike the one previously developed. Goodness now appears shut up within verifiable bounds where it is not continually referred to something which lies beyond. An object is here reckoned not as good _for_, but as good in itself. The Venus of Milo is a good statue not through what it does, but through what it is. And perhaps it may conduce to clearness if we now give technical names to our two contrasted conceptions and call the former extrinsic goodness and the latter intrinsic. Extrinsic goodness will then signify the adjustment of an object to something which lies outside itself; intrinsic will say that the many powers of an object are so adjusted to one another that they cooperate to render the object a firm totality. Both will indicate relationship; but in the one case the relations considered are _extra se_, in the other _inter se_. Goodness, however, will everywhere point to organic adjustment.

If this double aspect of goodness is as clear and important as I believe it to be, it must have left its record in language. And in fact we find that popular speech distinguishes worth and value in much the same way as I have distinguished intrinsic and extrinsic goodness. To say that an object has value is to declare it of consequence in reference to something other than itself. To speak of its worth is to call attention to what its own nature involves. In a somewhat similar fashion Mr. Bradley distinguishes the extension and harmony of goodness, and Mr. Alexander the right and the perfect.


When, however, we have got the two sorts of goodness distinctly parted, our next business is to get them together again. Are they in fact altogether separate? Is the extrinsic goodness of an object entirely detachable from its intrinsic? I think not. They are invariably found together. Indeed, extrinsic goodness would be impossible in an object which did not possess a fair degree of intrinsic. How could a table, for example, be useful for holding a glass of water if the table were not well made, if powers appropriate to tables were not present and mutually cooperating? Unless equipped with intrinsic goodness, the table can exhibit no extrinsic goodness whatever. And, on the other hand, intrinsic goodness, coherence of inner constitution, is always found attended by some degree of extrinsic goodness, or influence over other things. Nothing exists entirely by itself. Each object has its relationships, and through these is knitted into the frame of the universe.

Still, though the two forms of goodness are thus regularly united, we may fix our attention on the one or the other. According as we do so, we speak of an object as intrinsically or extrinsically good. For that matter, one of the two may sometimes seem to be present in a preponderating degree, and to determine by its presence the character of the object. In judging ordinary physical things, I believe we usually test them by their serviceability to us--by their extrinsic goodness, that is--rather than bother our heads with asking what is their inner structure, and how full of organization they may be. Whereas, when we come to estimate human beings, we ordinarily regard it as a kind of indignity to assess primarily their extrinsic goodness, _i. e_., to ask chiefly how serviceable they may be and to ignore their inner worth. To sum up a man in terms of his labor value is the moral error of the slaveholder.

If, however, we seek the highest point to which either kind of excellence may be carried, it will be found where each most fully assists the other. But this is not easy to imagine. When I set a glass of water on the table, the table is undoubtedly slightly shaken by the strain. If I put a large book upon it, the strain of the table becomes apparent. Putting a hundred pound weight upon it is an experiment that is perilous. For the extrinsic goodness of the table is at war with the intrinsic; that is, the employment of the table wears it out. In doing its work and fitting into the large relationships for which tables exist, its inner organization becomes disjointed. In time it will go to pieces. We can, however, imagine a magic table, which might be consolidated by all it does. At first it was a little weak, but by upholding the glass of water it grew stronger. As I laid the book on it, its joints acquired a tenacity which they lacked before; and only after receiving the hundred pound weight did it acquire the full strength of which it was capable. That would indeed be a marvelous table, where use and inner construction continually helped each other. Something like it we may hereafter find possible in certain regions of personal goodness, but no such perpetual motion is possible to things. For them employment is costly.


I have already strained my readers' attention sufficiently by these abstract statements of matters technical and minute. Let us stop thinking for a while and observe. I will draw a picture of goodness and teach the eye what sort of thing it is. We have only to follow in our drawing the conditions already laid down. We agreed that when an object was good it was good _for_ something; so that if A is good, it must be good for B. This instrumental relation, of means to end, may well be indicated by an arrow pointing out the direction in which the influence moves. But if B is also to be good, it too must be connected by an arrow with another object, C, and this in the same way with D. The process might evidently be continued forever, but will be sufficiently shown in the three stages of Figure 1. Here the arrow always expresses the extrinsic goodness of the letter which lies behind it, in reference to the letter which lies before.

[Fig. 1]

But drawing our diagram in this fashion and finding a little gap between D and A, the completing mind of man longs to fill up that gap. We have no warrant for doing anything of the sort; but let us try the experiment and see what effect will follow. Under the new arrangement we find that not only is D good for A, but that A, being good for B and for C, is also good for D. To express these facts in full it would be necessary to put a point on each end of the arrow connecting A and D.

[Fig. 2]

But the same would be true of the relation between A and B; that is, B, being good for C and for D, is also good for A. Or, as similar reasoning would hold throughout the figure, all the arrows appearing there should be supplied with heads at both ends. And there is one further correction. A is good for B and for C; that is, A is good for C. The same relation should also be indicated between B and D. So that to render our diagram complete it would be necessary to supply it with two diagonal arrows having double heads. It would then assume the following form.

[Fig. 3]

Here is a picture of intrinsic goodness. In this figure we have a

The Nature of Goodness - 3/23

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