JMC : The Metaphysics of the School / by Thomas Harper, S.J.

Chapter IV. Goodness.


Transcendental Goodness.

By way of introduction to the subject of this Chapter, it will not be out of place to examine at greater length a question, to which some reference has been already made in the preceding Chapters. The question is this. Has the order in which these Transcendentals have been considered, following the universally received method, any real foundation in the Transcendentals themselves or is it the result of mere arbitrary selection. In other words; Is one objectively prior to another according to the order of their treatment? The question has been already answered in the affirmative; but an explanation of the answer is given by St. Thomas in the following passage, which will help towards a clear concept of that attribute of Being, Goodness, to which our attention is now called. These are his words: 'Both Truth and Goodness are of the nature of perfectives or, in other words, have perfection. Now, we may consider the order existing between certain perfectives under a twofold aspect; first of all, on the part of the perfections themselves, or, secondly, on the part of those things which are perfectible. If, then, we consider Truth and Goodness in themselves, Truth is conceptually prior to Goodness; seeing that the former is perfective of a thing after the manner of a species' (intellectual form), 'while Goodness is perfective, not only after the manner of a species, but also by virtue of its real Being. And so, the nature of Goodness includes within itself more elements, and assumes, as it were, the shape of an addition to those' (of Truth). 'For Being has the virtue of exciting in the intellect an intelligible species of itself; and, because this intelligible species is a perfecting of the intellect, therefore, it naturally desires it as a good. And, in this manner, the Good presupposes the True. But Truth presupposes Unity. For the nature of Truth receives its perfection from the apprehension of the intellect. Now, a thing is intelligible, inasmuch as it is one; for he who does not intue the One, intues nothing, as the Philosopher remarks in the fourth Book of his Metaphysics. Wherefore, the following is the order of these Transcendentals, if they are considered in themselves; to wit, next after Being, Unity; then Truth; lastly, after Truth, Goodness. But, if we regard the order between the True and the Good as determined by those things which are perfectible by them, in this sense the Good is naturally prior to the True; and this for two reasons. In the first place, because the perfection of Goodness extends to a larger number than does the perfection of Truth. For only such entities are perfectible by the True, as can within themselves perceive some Being, i.e. as possess it within themselves after the manner of their own nature, and not according to that nature which the things' (perceived) 'themselves have. Now, Beings of this kind are such only as receive an entity immaterially, and are capable of cognition. For the species or form of a stone is in the mind; not, however, according to the entity which it has in the stone. But those things are perfectible by the Good, which receive an entity according to its material being. For the nature of Goodness consists, as we have said, in this; that an entity is perfective, not only after the manner of a species, but by virtue of its Being. Wherefore, all things desire the Good; but not all know the True. . . . Secondly, because those things which are perfectible by the Good and the True, are perfected by the Good before they are perfected by the True. For, from the simple fact of their participating in Being, they are perfected by the Good, as we have seen; whereas, from the fact of their cognizing some entity, they are perfected by the True. But Thought comes after Being.'{1} Now, since in Metaphysics Goodness and Truth are primarily regarded as attributes of Being, connoting an external respect or relation, so that the perfectness is in recto, the perfectibility (which is extrinsic) in obliquo; it follows, that the metaphysical order of the attributes would be measured by their own perfectiveness, rather than by the perfectibility which they connote.

According to such measure, then, Truth would hold the prior place to Goodness, for the following reasons. First of all, it would be prior in excellence; for it connotes and is perfective of the intellect, 'whereas Goodness connotes and is perfective of desire. But, assuming desire in its highest form of will, it is manifest that, even so, it is, as a faculty, inferior to the intellect; for the will is blind, the intellect sees. Then, it would be naturally prior, because a thing must be understood and recognized as good, before it can be desired; in other words, to the intelligent creature a thing is first true, then good. Thirdly, as St. Thomas says, the Good is, as it were, constituted hy addition to the True; because it is not only appreciated by the intellect, and is in this way perfective of another under the form of an intelligible species which it causes in the mind; but it is in its own nature the object of desire, and is thus perfective of another by its own substantial, or real, entity also. But that which is an addition, is posterior to the subject of addition, In the words of the Angelic Doctor, the Good presupposes the True. Again, Truth comes nearer to Being than Goodness; therefore, it is prior. For, in that a thing simply is, it is ontologically true; because it is naturally capable of causing a corresponding representation of itself in whatsoever intellect. But, in the idea of Goodness, more is essentially included than mere Being; for the thing must be clothed in some sort of perfection, in order to its being conceived as Good, and, consequently, as fit object of desire. The second and third of these reasons are given by St. Thomas in another passage. 'Truth,' he says, 'absolutely speaking, is prior to Goodness; as is plain for two reasons. First, because the True is nearer to Being than the Good; and that means, to be prior to the Good. For Truth regards Being simply and immediately. But the idea of Goodness is the accompaniment of Being, according as this latter is in some way perfect; for in such wise it is desirable. Secondly, because cognition naturally precedes desire.'{2} It is for these reasons, then, that in all metaphysical treatises Truth precedes Goodness. Similarly, Unity precedes both. For Unity is an absolute attribute, Truth and Goodness are respective; and the absolute is naturally prior to the relative. Further: as has been already remarked, a thing must be one, in order to be conceived. For everything that is, is one; and, in consequence, he who does not conceive the One, conceives nothing.

If, however, the two attributes of Truth and Goodness are to be measured by those entities which they are naturally capable of perfecting; then, the order of priority is reversed, and Goodness precedes Truth. But, as such is not their principal or primary measure, it might have been left to the declaration of St. Thomas already cited; were it not that the reasons he gives for his assertion may, without some explanation, cause a difficulty to the reader. The first reason, then, why Goodness precedes Truth, if precedence should be determined by the perfectible, is this; that the Good is capable of perfecting any Being whatsoever, save of course the Infinitely and Essentially Perfect in Himself; whereas the True is only capable of perfecting an intelligent nature. Hence, all things desire the Good; but not all things are capable of knowing the True. The other reason is, because Goodness naturally precedes Truth in the perfectionated entity. For the first thing that can possibly occur to any Being, is its being; and its being is a Good by which it is perfected. But, in order to know, and so to be perfected by, the True, it is first necessary to be; for there is no thinking without being. As, then, Being precedes Thinking; so, Goodness precedes Truth.

And now it is time to enter upon the consideration of Transcendental Goodness, which will require less effort of thought, for the most part, and less of detailed exposition, because of the all but unbroken parallel that subsists between it and Transcendental Truth. Its nature, -- relation to, and distinction from, kindred concepts, -- finally, its extension, will be determined in the following Propositions.


Goodness is neither a real nor a conceptual relation, nor an absolute Perfection really distinct from Being.

I. THE FIRST MEMBER of this Thesis asserts, that Goodness is not a real predicamental relation. At first sight it might seem as though it were. For it is quite certain that Goodness is a reality. The common sense of mankind recognizes, in the idea of good, something beyond a mere fiction of the mind. But, though real, it cannot be an absolute perfection; therefore it must be relative. If relative, it must be a predicamental relation; for a Transcendental relation presupposes the absolute entity of which it is the consequent, and with whose nature it is really identified. Finally, if Goodness be real and is a predicamental relation, it follows that it must be a real predicamental relation. Indeed, what else can it be? Nevertheless, it is impossible that it should be a real predicamental relation, for the same reasons which have been already given in the discussion concerning the nature of Transcendental Truth. For God is in an infinite sense Good; yet, in Him, a real predicamental relation is inconceivable. So, again, -- to put the second argument in the form of an example, -- when a man is a just man, he is informed with the habit of justice. That habit is good alike to him and to others; but it is good as an absolute form, that is, absolute in its own nature, antecedently to any resulting relation. The absolute terms of the relation are, at least in order of nature, prior to the relation which arises between them; and justice, in the present instance, is one of the terms. Therefore, justice is in its own absolute entity a good, antecedently to any relation of which it forms a term. Lastly; either the said relation is itself a real and perfect entity, or it is not. If it be not, how can it give Goodness to its term? For nothing gives what it has not itself. But if it be a real and perfect entity, it is itself good; and must, consequently, according to the hypothesis now under consideration, have been constituted by a previous relation, and so on for ever. This is contrary to right reason.

II. IN THE SECOND MEMBER it is further declared, that Goodness is not a conceptual predicamental relation; i.e. that it is not a relation which the mind has invented, after the form of a predicamental relation, in order to represent or express a certain real phase of Being, which is objectively identical with Being. Here, again, there are arguments which at first sight seem to conclude the other way. For Goodness cannot be a privation; since privation is not perfection, but want of perfection; whereas Goodness is perfection. It cannot be a negation; for negation is absolute, and the only negation which is conceivable of Being, as a real attribute, is Indivision or Unity. It must, therefore, be something positive. But it has been already proved, and will be further confirmed as regards Goodness in particular, that it cannot be an absolute perfection; and, consequently, it must be relative. If, however, it is a relative perfection, it must be a conceptual relation; because it has been proved in the preceding Member, that it cannot be a real relation. If it is not a conceptual relation, what can it be? There is nothing left. Besides, according to the teaching of St. Thomas in various writings, the Good is the object of desire, because there is that in it which is consonant with, or agreeable to, the entity that desires it and is perfectible by it. But the very words, Desirable, Consonant, Agreeable, Perfective, seem to convey the idea of at least a conceptual relation. Nevertheless, it must be said, that Goodness is not even a conceptual predicamental relation, properly so called; and that, for much the same reasons which have led to the conclusion that Transcendental Truth is not a conceptual relation. For, according to such opinion, Being would not enter into the essential concept of Goodness. But if it does not, then Goodness is nothing; for outside of Being, there is nothingness. But, if Goodness be nothing real, how can it be the object of desire? Moreover, that which is good, so far as it is good, is perfect; but how can nothingness be perfect? Again, Goodness is distinguished from Truth, in that it is in entities themselves, as will be seen. Consequently, it is impossible that it should formally be a mere conceptual relation. Once more; the Angelic Doctor confirms the doctrine of St. Augustine, that Goodness consists in Measure, Species, and Order. But, evidently, these three are not relations. Finally; true is distinguished from apparent Goodness, in that the former is real, the latter only conceptual. But how can this be, if all Goodness, of whatever kind, were a merely conceptual relation?

III. IN THE THIRD MEMBER it is declared, that Goodness is not an absolute perfection, really distinct from Being. It has already been proved in the first Chapter of this Book, that no Transcendental attribute or passion of Being can be a perfection of such a kind; and the same arguments, therefore, serve to show, that Goodness, as being one of the attributes, cannot be so constituted. This is further confirmed by a reasoning derived from the special nature of Goodness. Every good thing may be considered as good for itself, and as good for another. Now, it seems obvious enough, that the Goodness which is good for another is no absolute perfection, modal or otherwise, really distinct from the entity which is, in such wise, denominated good. For the said entity itself, apart from any supposed modal or other addition, is consonant with, and agreeable to, the being. that is perfectible by it; therefore, the introduction of any real, addition is vain and useless. Thus, for instance, bread in its own nature is agreeable to a hungry man. So, in like manner, wisdom is of itself, prescinding from any supervening mode, consonant with our intellectual nature. Similarly, the odour of a rose is in itself concordant with the sense of smell. Then, again, if this supposed real addition induces Goodness in its subject, it must itself be good, and would, consequently, require another mode constitutive of its Goodness; which would necessitate an infinite progression. Lastly, it is of perpetual occurrence, that the same thing, at one and the same time, remaining identically the same, is good for one and bad for another. Thus, for instance, stimulants are good for persons suffering from one form of disease, and are fatally bad for persons suffering from another form of disease. Milk is good

476 Attributes of Being.

for cats, but is said to be bad for dogs. The same quantity of water which is good for the nasturtium, would be bad for the maiden-hair fern. Sand answers as a mould for iron, not for glass. Nitrate of silver is a useful re-agent for testing the presence of a chloride, but not the presence of a sulphate. But, if so, Goodness cannot be an absolute perfection added to the entity; otherwise, remaining the same, such entity would exhibit its Goodness indifferently to all. If the good thing is considered as good in and to itself; it is likewise manifest, that its Goodness is not constituted by any modal or other addition made to itself. For, -- to take an example, -- life is good to every living thing in and of itself, prescinding from any supposed mode. But it is not necessary to insist on this form of Goodness; since it is not of itself sufficient for the adequate concept of Transcendental Goodness; as will appear from the next Thesis.

{1} 'Tam verum quam bonum . . . habent rationem perfectivorum, sive perfectionem. Ordo autem inter perfectiones aliquas potest attendi dupliciter: uno modo ex parte ipsarum perfectionum, alio modo ex parte perfectibilium. Considerando ergo verum et bonum secundum se, sic verum est prius bono secundum rationem, cum sit perfectivum alicujus secudum rationem speciei; bonum autem, non solum secundum rationem speciei, sed secundum esse quod habet in re. Et ita plura includit in se ratio quam ratio veri, et se habet quodammodo per additionem ad illa. Et sic bonum praesupponit verum; verum autem praesupponit unum, cum veri ratio ex apprehensione intellectus perficiatur. Unumquodque autem intelligibile est, inquantum est unum; qui enim non intelligit unum, nihil intelligit, ut dicit Philosophus in 4 Metaph. Unde istorum nominum transcendentium talis set undo, si secundum se considerentur; quod post ens est unum, deinde verum, deinde post venum, bonum. Si autem attendatur ordo inter verum et bonum ex parte perfectibilium, sic bonum est naturaliter prius quam rerum duplici rations. Primo, quia perfectio boni ad plura se extendit quam perfectio veri. A vero enim non sunt nata perfici nisi illa quae possunt aliquod ens percipere in se ipsis, vel in se ipsis habere secundum suam rationem, et non secundum illud esse quod ens habet in se ipso. Et hujusmodi sunt solum ea quae immaterialiter aliquid recipiunt, et sunt cognoscitiva. Species enim lapidis est in anima, non autem secundum esse quod habet in lapide. Sed a bono nata sunt perfici illa quae secundum materiale esse aliquid recipiunt, cum ratio boni in hoc consistat, quod aliquid sit perfectivum tam secundum rationem speciei quam secundum esse, ut prius dictum set. Et ideo omnia appetunt bonum; sed non omnia cognoscunt verum . . . Secundo quia illa quae nata sunt perfici bono et vero, per prius perficiuntur bono quam vero. Ex hoc enim quod participant esse, perficiuntur bono, ut dictum set; sic hoc autem quod cognoscunt aliquid, perficiuntur vero. Cognitio autem est posterior quam esse.' De Verit. Q. xxi, a. 3, a.

{2} 'Verum, absolute loquendo, prius est quam bonum. Quod ex duobus apparet Prima quidem ex hoc quod verum propinquius se habet ad ens, quod est prius quam bonum. Nam verum respicit ipsum esse simpliciter et immediate; ratio autem boni consequitur esse, secundum quod est aliquo modo perfectum; sic enim appetibile est. Secundo apparet ex hoc quod cognitio naturaliter praecedit appetitum.' 1ae xvi, 4, c.

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