Is anything just plain good?

Philosophical Studies 172 (6):1485-1508 (2015)
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Abstract
Geach and Thomson have argued that nothing is just plain good, because ‘good’ is, logically, an attributive adjective. The upshot, according to Geach and Thomson, is that consequentialism is unacceptable, since its very formulation requires a predicative use of ‘good’. Reactions to the argument have, for the most part, been uniform. Authors have converged on two challenging objections . First, although the logical tests that Geach and Thomson invoke clearly illustrate that ‘good’, as commonly used, is an attributive, they don’t show that ‘good’ lacks an intelligible predicative interpretation. Second, even if the English word ‘good’ fails to express the property of goodness, we can just stipulate that ‘good*’ expresses goodness and thus formulate consequentialism accordingly. The second objection is one way of voicing skepticism about the method of drawing substantive philosophical conclusions from considerations about ordinary language. In this essay, we present an argument, inspired by Geach and Thomson, which isn’t susceptible to the same objections but which supports the same conclusion. The significance of our argument for ethics is obvious; it challenges the intelligibility of standard consequentialism, and even certain forms of non-consequentialism. One might be inclined to think that a more sophisticated consequentialism, which relies on ‘good {possible world/state of affairs/outcome}’ instead of just ‘good’, evades the criticism. But we explain why the criticism can’t be so easily evaded.
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Archival date: 2020-12-02
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