Part 3: What Does “Goodness” Mean?

maxresdefault (3)Ok, it sounds like a stupid question but we eventually need to prove that God is good. In order to do that we need to understand what we mean when we say good. I’d argue that we use the word good in two very distinct ways.

Two Definitions of “Good”

  1. The Moral Sense

Good is used to make an ethical or moral distinction. Right vs. Wrong or Good vs. Bad/Evil. This use of that word is usually attributed to an action. “It was wrong for you to punch that guy.” Or “Walking away from the fight was the right thing to do.” Sometimes we attribute this way of speaking to thoughts also. We say we have Good thoughts or evil thoughts. This is also a moral way of speaking but a thought is only morally good or bad in as much as it leads you to an actions. If I think about murdering someone but I don’t, the thought was evil but only because it could have led to murder. Thoughts only have moral values in relation to the actions they create (potentially or actually).

  1. Perfection

The other way we use the word “good” is morally neutral. We would say “that was a good catch!” or “that’s a good sandwich!” We aren’t making a moral judgement about the sandwich, it was not right in a moral sense. I don’t think I’ve ever called a bad sandwich evil! If I did it would have to be pretty nasty… So what do we mean when we say these things? I would argue that when we use good in this way we are talking about perfectionIf we call a sandwich good, we are saying that it is close to what we imagine would be the perfect sandwich. Obviously this perfect sandwich doesn’t exist but we have a sense of what the perfect sandwich would be.
Plato’s Forms and “The Good”

Plato called these perfect images of things, like the perfect sandwich, the “Forms”. So anything has a Form, sandwiches, baseball catches, and tables, even abstract concepts like perfect beauty or perfect love. It’s like everything we have is imperfect but it was based on a perfect mood that we never get quite right. Goodness is talking about how close it gets to its “Form”. Plato then said all these “Forms” come from something he called “The Good”. As a Christians I would interpret this as God.

Here is a video if you are interested in going deeper.

Moral Perfection

So we have two different meanings of goodness, but they are intricately related. So I said even abstract concepts have a perfection so morals have a perfect form of morals. So when we say someone is morally good, we mean it is leading towards a “moral perfection”. “Moral perfection” is a Form, but we use the word good for both meanings so I can say, “being good is good”. It’s kind of like what we mean by saying a thumb is a member of the finger family, but not all fingers are thumbs. Moral goodness is a member of the perfection family, but not all perfections have a moral value to them. Moral goodness is one of many goods (perfections).

Who Cares?

If you are still reading this, first of all, God bless you! But you are probably wondering why any of this matters at all. Well often we use the word good and we don’t understand which one we are using. In Part 2: Rational Proofs for the Existence of God, we talked about God being creative and I said this will prove God is good. Creation refers to the perfection type of goodness. So the argument is,

  • God created me/you
  • Creation is a perfection
  • Perfection is a good
  • Therefore God has to be good

Are we assuming that because God has one good quality (creativity) he has all good qualities, i.e. He is perfect (including being morally perfect)? Yes we are so let me think about this for a week and get back to you with a response.