II. The Meaning of Good and Bad.


A fairly plausible view is that good means the same as desired, so that when we say a thing is good we mean that it is desired. Thus anything is good which we either hope to acquire or fear to lose. Yet it is commonly admitted that there are bad desires; and when people speak of bad desires, they seem to mean desires for what is bad. For example, when one man desires another man’s pain, it is obvious that what is desired is not good but bad. But the supporter of the view that good means desired will say that nothing is good or bad in itself, but is good for one person and perhaps bad for another. This must happen, he will say, in every case of a conflict of desires; if I desire your suffering, then your suffering is good for me, though it is bad for you. But the sense of good and bad which is needed in ethics is not in this way personal; and it is quite essential, in the study of ethics, to realize that there is an impersonal sense. In this sense, when a thing is good, it ought to exist on its own account, not on account of its consequences, nor yet of who is going to enjoy it. We cannot maintain that for me a thing ought to exist on its own account, while for you it ought not; that would merely mean that one of us is mistaken, since in fact everything either ought to exist or ought not. Thus the fact that one man’s desiremay be another man’s aversion proves that good, in the sense relevant to ethics, does not mean the same as deisred, since everything is in itself either good or not good, and cannot be at once good for me and bad for you. This could only mean that its effects on me were good, and on you bad; but here good and bad are again impersonal. (§ 6 ¶ 1)