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ON “THE GOOD” WHICH IS NOT THE USEFUL

 

CARMELO VIGNA


1. Good is what we all want (or would like to have). We should perhaps begin with this maxim which expresses an immediate and universally widespread experience. Good is “what we all want” and not in the sense of wanting something (like health) but in the sense that every time one of us wants something, it is because it appears to be “good”. We say that an apple, or a relationship are “good”. The attribute “good” referred to something expresses the relationship between the desire (of what we are) and what our desire is aimed at (if I am hungry, I desire an apple and not a stone). Usually “good” is referred to the object that triggers off our desire; however it is evident that “good” does not take on the meaning only from the object of our desire, but also from what we are. “The good quality” in other words is never “unilateral”, it is rather the result of our desire encountering what we desire.

2. Sometimes we despair of having contact with “real” good, especially after a disappointment, particularly when it is a question of human relationships. A human being is quite complicated and often shows a “false self”, by lying when communicating. Often we are deceived about the values of life’s “good”, either underestimating or overestimating them. That is, sooner or later we discover that there are “apparent” good and “real” good that we must be able to distinguish them. In order to do this we need someone to train us.

3. To relate to good we must trust not in something but in someone. When we are born we must trust in another human being, in the same way that we do every day of our life, even if it has implications. For example, the idea that there is a contract at the origins of our social life. Yet this idea immediately seems false. In fact, one can avoid entering into a contract, whereas a human being cannot avoid entering into a relationship with another human being.

4. There is a lot of debate about which good it is that everyone can converge on and not just this or that man, but the whole community. One could reply that this good is represented by every human being when he is born. Who can deny that he wants to be the object of respect and attention? To exclude someone from this respect and attention, one would have to say that he is not a human being. In fact, before using violence on a human being, we call him by the name of an animal.

5. Much of the good that we speak of is a human thing. The “green thought”, relative to the environment is the world of men; a “large organic body”. But in the same way that the body of a human being is in the soul, (those who think the contrary are wrong), the soul is the form of the body, so the world is an environment inside man. Man knows the environmental world, whereas the environmental world does not know man, even if one can smile at the primitive thought that ingeniously puts man at the centre of the world. However, such a vision is truer and more profound than the tangled mechanicism of modern physicists which ends up by being anti-humanism.

6. In public debates on ethics, every reference to the divine is ignored and thus increases the difficulty in determining good. In such a debate one certainly cannot begin by treating the theme of transcendence, also because citizens and those who represent them have varying convictions about it: those who believe in a God are perhaps not the majority. So one can determine common good resting practically in the human context. However, such a relationship remains unfounded, as what is human is not absolutely absolute, even if it possesses a certain infinity (intentional infinity). Therefore, only the reference to a Being absolutely absolute and his real infinity makes the respect of man a norm “not to be trespassed upon”. Hardly anybody says this anymore and yet, remembering it can help understand the problem.

7. The passage from ontological good to ethical-political good is a problem today which is faced only at the level of civil society but politics and religion cannot completely ignore each other, and it has never happened before. The endemic conflict between the “two powers” is known. Recently in the west, things have been improving with an attempt to integrate the political world and the religious world, respecting their sphere of influence (“render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”). The interference of the State would make it impossible for citizens of different religions to live together. Thus religion acts like yeast in the customs of civil society.

8. In spite of the fact that there is the possibility of defining a common good in the people who live in community, their relationship with the good is very fragile because it follows the principle of cause interpreted by freedom. But even if a human being needs other human beings in order to be born or die, he cannot be certain that he is reciprocated in relation to his personal needs. A human being’s desire for another human being that has the wish to desire him is really in line with what desire wants. In fact, obtaining recognition from someone else is one of the rarest and most difficult things to achieve, even if in the same measure, it is man’s most universal and deeply felt sentiment. That is man doesn’t want to concede to others the recognition that they want, while at the same time expecting it from them.

9. The fragility of the relationship with good is also the fragility of the relationship with the good of life, those goods which make up personal relationships. These goods can cease for various reasons but especially because too little in line with our desires. Sometimes we are full of “opportunities”, while at other times we are not offered any. A well-balanced use of goods is possible, but it needs a lot of courage and consequently few manage to achieve it.

10. Fragility is a condition of human desire: just because it is human, it has no power over the object of its desire. Vice versa, human desire is conditioned by the object of its desire because it is desire that “triggers it off”. The relationship between desire and its object is fundamentally “intentional” and not causal (productive). A human being uses strategies to get near and capture the object of his desire, but does not have the certainty that it will be his because the act of making it his is only a s and it remains thus even when the habit of possessing the object is reassuring.

11. The fragility of our relationship with the good does not mean that it is impossible because we always have direct contact with good as we are impotent in front of it. It is we who are tied to good and not good that is tied to us. The object of our desire can always take its leave of us: we see this daily, even the bond with our body. Life takes its leave of us without asking our permission. Thus, the good possesses us while we do not possess the good except when it mysteriously offers itself to us.

12. The fragility of our body conditions our relationship with the goods of the earth. In our welfare state we can “reach out” and take the goods we want, even in a supermarket. But just having flu can stop us going there for a time, while a more serious illness could stop us going there for ever.

13. The fragility of the relationship with the good is different to that of the difficulty of distinguishing an apparent good from a real good even if the two things often join and intertwine. So as the good has no bond with us, but rather we have a bond with the good, it is possible that when we approach the good, the essence is different to its appearance. The Good can approach us but also hide from us. When it is a matter of a particular good linked to our existence, which is deeply upset by our instincts, we are often not “in line” with it especially when it is a matter of a particular good. This particular good is always intercepted by one’s existing. Therefore, the essence of the good always differs in some way from the way it appears. But this difference is not radical and fortunately we can capture the essence of the good through certain distortions and certain obscurities. For example, when a person shows us substantial friendship in spite of weaknesses on both sides.

14. The fragility of the good and the difficulty in understanding its essence can be overcome gradually only through a relationship where each person recognises the other. Reciprocal recognition allows human beings to enter a relationship of causality, inspired by liberty, in which each of them is assured the saturation of desire within humanly possible limits. That is, a person who acknowledges the good and is grateful, makes himself a person who is recognised and is thus capable of producing a good relationship inspired by liberty. This relationship does not limit itself to the causality of what happens. Instead, in a recognised relationship, a person is bonded to causality inspired by liberty and this causality possesses internally, and not externally, the possibility that the bond will continue. Something which is impossible in the act of something simply happening.

15. A person who acknowledges the good and is grateful, makes himself recognized, without his essence being threatened by his appearance. In a relationship in which each person recognises the other, neither can cheat because both bare themselves and put themselves into each other’s hands without any disguise. He who puts himself into the hands of another has no way of hiding and he does not want to hide. Does not Sidgwick do this when, choosing Universalistic hedonism and coming out of the fragmentation of chaos of egoistic utilitarianism, he chooses the theistic order of the Cosmos in which the concept of benevolence is elevated to the concept of acknowledgment of the good through gratitude and prayer?

 

Published with the author's consent

Sul "bene" che non è l'utile (stesso srticolo in italiano)

 

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Sidgwick thinking HENRY SIDGWICK (english) Henry Sidgwick

 

 

 

 

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