Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Highest Good

We pursue many perceived goods. (Whether what will call "goods" are really so I will not consider.) But we do not think that all the goods we pursue are of equal worth. A full belly is, in times of want, more important than a glass of wine. The happiness of my children is more important to me than my own. Aristotle thought the contemplation of eternal verities more important than any other intellectual act.

But though we rank goods, must we place one above all others? There are two ways that we might attempt to avoid this. (i) We might rank a number of goods the same, and place their set above all others. Each will be surpassed by none, but will be equaled by some. (ii) We might make each of our goods so time- and place-relative that they will forever change places in the rank-order. One might be highest for a time, but if it is, it will not remain so.

I contend that neither is acceptable. The first renders moral action either impossible or a matter of arbitrary decision. For it is quite possible that two or more of the goods we place above all others - the "super set" we might all it - will come into conflict with one another, and if they do, then since there exists no good outside the super set to guide us, we will be without guide. Without guide, we will either not act, or we will arbitrarily choose to act in one way instead of another.

The second - the claim that no good can forever remain at the top of the rank-order - seems to imply that moral judgment has no place in the determination of the rank-order of goods. For if moral judgment did have such a place, it would derive its judgments from commitment to some vision of the good; and that vision of the good would then itself constitute a fixed highest good.

So it seems, then, that at least insofar as our moral house is in good order, we must posit a highest good. The highest good will be that which, if it does not guide us at a particular moment, at least holds veto power over anything we do. If, on reflection, you can find in yourself no commitment to a highest good, I contend that, at least at times, you act arbitrarily and without guide.

What for me is the highest good? The community of all sentient beings bound together by a perfect love of one another and a perfect love of God. Though I often fall short of the ideal implied is this good, I still project it as a guide (or at least a veto) to all that I do. My continual prayer is that I should be made fit for life in such a community.

1 comment:

jdavidb said...

You might enjoy any or all of the following three books on "praxeology," a coined term for the science of human action (which encompasses but is not limited to economics):

Human Action, by Ludvig von Mises
Man, Economy and State, by Murray Rothbard
Economics for Real People, by Gene Callahan

I think particularly the introductory chapters of these would be interesting to you.