How do you know what is “good” ? It is one of the oldest questions we have on record, and there are several answers. It depends on what we are talking about actually right? If we mean a piece of cake, we might mean that it tastes sweet, moist, and fluffy. But that much carbs in bread and frosting can be bad for you. So when we ask a doctor what good cake is they might say something with fiber and no frosting, but that might not taste good. So do we go with what is pleasing or what is healthy?
I am not so sure we have an agreement on what good is even when we think we know. What about at work? Is the good employee the one who follows orders or is the one who takes initiative and proactively solves problems without waiting to be told. At the end of the day, it kind of depends. And what it depends on are different views of goodness. These are ethical frameworks that have an ideal for what good is that we are trying to match our behaviors too.
This month we are going to look at different types of criteria for defining good. Some will say that hedonism, pursuing spiritual and physical pleasure is the most intuitive and natural. Others will say that can be great for the short term, but we need to base our behaviors on longer term goals for our society. Still we may need to think about the effect our actions have on other people before we consider ourselves good or bad because a lot of harm can come from good intentions.
Realizing that there are many definitions for good, we will find that its not so easy to agree on the concept, and that makes it particularly difficult to have societies with many different definitions. If we can’t agree on what is good, how do we expect people to be good people? How do we know if we are good people?
At the same time we have to think about the opposite of goodness and the conflict between a bad action, and being a bad person. For example, how many lies do you have to tell before you can be labeled a liar? If you are indeed labeled a liar what should be done with you? it might also help us to look at whether a rigid consistency is best or some flexibility in the rules might be more appropriate for how we work together.
There are pros and cons to each strategy and in many cases there is only one way to find out the implications of our decision besides to try it out. We will learn a lot about what is good, but also about what is right and wrong, and the kind of expectations we carry when it comes to how we treat each other and how we’d like to be treated.
Etiquette is a word we do not often hear much these days but it speaks to how we should act in society, it is directly tied to morality, which is linked to ethics. If there is a right way to treat people, then there must also be a wrong way to treat people as well. We might want to look at how our society has shifted and see if the rules for our behavior have shifted to match.
Please come along,
Founder, Citizens Of Culture