Elucidations: Prev Next

Two notions of good

  • Distinction: good (absolutely) vs good for something vs good
    • E.g. It’s good to be kind, it’s good for me to study math, that’s a good car
  • British 20th centurary moral philosophers like GE Moore don’t like “good for X” wanting a morality that is not egoistic, instead trying to frame in terms of absolute good.
    • These theories overlooked possible justifications which use “good for” but are not egoistic.
    • Absolute good is a much more abstract / questionable concept, so it would be nice to frame ethics without it if possible.

Is there bad

  • These may be different (absolute good is incoherent, but not absolute bad) but Kraut needs neither.
  • It’s coherent to say “pain is bad”, but we also say “it’s bad for me to feel pain”. What more is gained by using absolute language?
  • What about cruelty/cowardice?
    • Again we can show that these things are bad because they are bad for people.

Moral consequences

  • Does this point of view lead to egoism, e.g. good/bad being instrumental to what we want?
    • Mistake to conflate “good for me” as “what I want” or “good for some end I want”.
    • There are objective truths of what is good for certain types of beings, even if we’re ignorant.
    • There are differences and similarities for what is good for different people/species.
      • Cannot apply same formula to each case.


  • What problems does thinking about morality in terms of absolute good have?
    • It’s not necessarily bad. But it could be used to justify something that is bad for everybody.

Practical applications


  • Argument against euthansisa: life itself is good (would not be sufficient if Kraut’s thesis is accepted)

Conflicting interests

  • E.g. good for A to be loud, good for B to be in quiet environment
  • We should organize political institutions to avoid needless conflict.
  • The concept of justice is needed to resolve these cases.
    • “Absolute Good” not needed

My response at the time

  • We can frame some instances of absolute good/bad in terms of good for, but the interesting question is can this be done for all uses?
    • if absolute bad exists, then it does seem possible that an institituion / relationship is good for everyone involved but still is bad (or vice versa). E.g. euthansia.
    • Kraut’s grammar of moral terms should not alter this fact.