Geach on `good'

Philosophical Quarterly 40 (159):129-154 (1990)
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Abstract

In his celebrated 'Good and Evil' (l956) Professor Geach argues as against the non-naturalists that ‘good’ is attributive and that the predicative 'good', as used by Moore, is senseless.. 'Good' when properly used is attributive. 'There is no such thing as being just good or bad, [that is, no predicative 'good'] there is only being a good or bad so and so'. On the other hand, Geach insists, as against non-cognitivists, that good-judgments are entirely 'descriptive'. By a consideration of what it is to be an A, we can determine what it is to be a good A, even where the ‘A’ in question is ‘human being’. These battles are fought on behalf of naturalism, indeed, of an up-to-date Aristotelianism. Geach plans to 'pass' from the 'purely descriptive' man to good/bad man, and from human act to good/bad human act. I argue: (l) That the predicative 'good' does have a genuine sense and that it is a mistake to suppose that ‘good’ is a purely attributive adjective. This does not entail that the predicative good (as used by Moore) denotes a non-natural property, but his mistake, if any is metaphysical or ontological not conceptual. (2) That the attributive 'good' cannot be used to generate a naturalistic ethic. It is difficult to extract a set of biologically based requirements out of human nature that are a) reasonably specific; b) rationally binding or at least highly persuasive; and c) morally credible. On the way I protest against Geach’s tendency to try to win arguments by affecting not to understand things. My views to some extent anticipate those of Kraut in *Against Absolute Goodness*.

Author's Profile

Charles R. Pigden
University of Otago

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