September 5, 2002

LEVEL: 8

[Chapter 1]

The Sense of the Good

[URL: SenseOfTheGood]


SECTIONS (& perhaps subsections):

            I          Introduction to “good” [lower-case]

                        A         Other meanings of “good” [lower-case]

                        B         “Goods” or “needs”?

            II         The Good [Upper-case] as an Abstraction; its Self-regardingness; and its Moral Neutrality

                        A         “Goods”; “a Good”; “one of my Goods”

                        B         “My Sense of the Good”; “my Good”

                        C         The Good is self-regarding

                        D         The Good is morally neutral: the Good vs. the Right / Ethics vs. Morality

                        E         Origins of the Good

            III        The Good Is Individual and Specific

            IV       The Good Is One’s Autonomous Choice

            V         One’s Sense of the Good Is Malleable

            VI       “There’s No Disputing Taste”

            VII      Nevertheless, We Can Meaningfully Engage Each Other about Taste

            VIII     Engagement Can Change Either Party

            IX       The Münchhausen Trilemma and Our Inability to Prove That Something Is Good

            X         Conflict Between Goods

            XI       Are Goods Hierarchical?

            XII      The Internal Experience of Goodness, Beauty, Virtue, etc.




 

 

I    Introduction to “good” [lower-case]

According to Jean Piaget, humans’ intelligence in all its glory and complexity flowers from the simple seed of the infant’s reflexes. Footnote I look at “goods” in much the same way: Footnote as the fundamental building blocks of human interaction. Footnote Our sense of what is good becomes much more complex as we develop, of course. Infants don’t see “social justice” as a good – they have no conception of it yet –, but the roots of social justice are there nevertheless in the simple fact that they cry when they need something. Footnote So to begin with I’m just going to talk in simple terms about goods.

            As I use the term in this work, goods [lower case] are things or states I want, and/or act to obtain, and/or welcome if they arrive. My use of “good” requires a broad and flexible understanding of it, because our sense of what is good shifts as we develop, moving from the infant’s obvious goods of food, warmth, etc. to the complex, inhibited balancing and meshing of those and later desires. The following subsections unpack these statements a bit. Subsection A notes that the term “good” is used in multiple ways, some of which refer to elements of my concept of “good” and others of which are distinct from my concept. Subsection B deals briefly with the relationship between the meaning of “good” and that of “need”.

 

A.  Other meanings of “good” [lower-case]

            In ordinary language we use “good” in many ways, some of which are appropriate for the meaning I want to give it here, others of which refer to meanings that are not part of mine. I therefore will list a variety of ways in which “good” is used, setting them against the meaning of “good” I want to use in this work. Footnote

          Things that directly satisfy a need or desire, e.g., as water satisfies thirst. If I am thirsty, then I want water, I may act to obtain it if it is not immediately available, and I welcome it when I obtain it.

          Things that bring aesthetic pleasure, as when I say that Duluth water is good. I am not praising its satisfaction of my physical thirst – any relatively uncontaminated water does that – but rather the particular pleasure I get from drinking it as opposed to, say, the heavily chlorinated tap water in Champaign, Illinois. And of course the aesthetic pleasure can also arise from something satisfying no physical need, as when I say that something is a good painting.

          Things that are useful for obtaining something else that is good, even though they may not be good in themselves. For example, I might not find a shovel to be good as a physical object standing alone, but I could nevertheless find it to be good – useful – for obtaining something more directly good when I see it as a means for planting crops.

          Most things are not useful in any simple sense but rather have multiple, even opposing ways in which they can be evaluated. For example, consider the several different characteristics of a sweet roll. First, it may directly satisfy my hunger. In that sense it is “a good”. Second, it may taste good, which is an aesthetic judgment I make about the pleasure of eating it. In that sense too it is “good”. Third, it may not be useful in attaining a desired state of affairs, i.e., being healthy. In that sense it is (not) “good for” some larger purpose; without making any moral judgments about my desire for this sweet roll (and a thousand more!), Footnote I can still recognize that pursuing this good over here – the thousand sweet rolls – will have consequences for other things I value, e.g., having my clothes fit. So sweet rolls have several and even conflicting senses of good: the physical satisfaction and aesthetic good of the sweet roll, on the positive side, and its effect on my staying healthy, on the negative side.

          To indicate that something is of high quality, meaning in whatever respect one desires such quality (e.g., a good shovel, not my old dull one with the loose handle).

          Self-assumed virtues or accomplishments to which one aspires (e.g., to be a good father). “Self-assumed” emphasizes that while a virtue might be pressed on me by my society, the important issue is whether I have accepted it as my own. Footnote It can also mean my own standards of virtue applied to others, as in, “It is good of you to come.”

          People or creatures performing as I desire (as in, “Good dog!” or “Good boy!”)

          All of the above uses of the term fit within my sense of the good. One use that does not fit is when one uses good to make a moral evaluation. I say more about this in the next section. Footnote

 

B.  “Goods” or “needs”?

            My conception of the good is related to that of “need”, whether one views needs in terms of either Kelley’s or Maslow’s theories. Footnote Moreover, it is formally possible to create a one-to-one correspondence between the good and needs: for every need, its satisfaction (or means of satisfaction) is a good; for every good, there is an underlying need corresponding to the feeling one experiences in its absence. Despite this formal possibility, I will use the language of “the Good” rather than “needs”, partly because it retains an openness I value (even though Kelley’s and Maslow’s need theories provide powerful descriptions of what are surely important aspects of the good) and partly because the language of needs is too peremptory for my purposes: it tends to imply that the need is absolute, whereas the language of the Good allows more tradeoffs among separate goods. Footnote That’s my perception, anyway, and while you and I may not share it, at least you know what I mean to accomplish by choosing the language of the Good.

 

II    The Good [upper-case] as an Abstraction; Its Self-regardingness and Moral Neutrality

This section is specifically concerned with distinguishing the sense of good from interpersonal morality. It does so by emphasizing that the sense of the good is self-regarding; it does not involve other people’s senses of the good and thus does not bear on interpersonal morality. This is the first of maybe three key sections in this work. To understand the rest of my ideas you need to understand clearly what I mean by “the Good”, particularly that it is defined separately by each individual and is morally neutral.

 

A.  “Goods”; “a Good”; “one of my Goods”

            A “Good” denotes any one of the goods mentioned above, and, to extend this fully, anything welcome to me. It denotes the quality of Goodness without specifying the specific good. It is thus a broader concept than a “good”. A “good” is certainly a “Good”, but something can be a Good without being consumable or usable or even physical in nature. For example, Rawls (1971:§xx) uses the term in this larger sense when he argues that justice is a good for everyone. Justice is not a physical object; one can’t consume it or use it; and yet one can value it positively.

 

B.  “My sense of the Good”; “my Good”

            When I wish to refer to the universe of my Goods, I call them collectively, “my sense of the Good” or “my Good” or “the Good”. Footnote Corresponding phrases would be, “your sense of the Good”, “her Good”, etc. This collection of Goods might not be reconciled, i.e., one could want both to eat sweet rolls and to become slender. But one’s sense of the Good is prior to one’s figuring out how to live a life satisfying all one’s Goods, which is what I term the problem of authenticity, dealt with in the next essay. Here, I simply want to establish a term for the collectivity of Goods without regard to the feasibility of satisfying them.

 

C.  The Good is self-regarding

            Examining the list of meanings of “good” given previously, not that one’s Goods are defined by what one experiences positively, what one welcomes, what one wants to possess, preserve, advance, or pursue, and that which one finds beautiful and/or meaningful. A Good is thus entirely self-regarding – located in the world and often assuming the participation or agreement of others, but still centrally defined by one’s own experience of well-being, satisfaction, pleasure, desire, meaning, usefulness, beauty. Footnote The same is true of one’s sense of the Good. As a collectivity of self-regarding Goods, it too is self-regarding.

            It follows that others cannot force you to see as good that which you see thus. If you enjoy eating brains, for example, and I am nauseated at the thought, it is not possible for me to force you to loathe them also. Even if I were to get God to thunder that She will strike you dead if you eat them, even if I were to arrange for your priest, parents, and ten best friends to demand that you change this disgusting habit, even if I presenting overwhelming scientific evidence that brains will infect you with BSE, the most I can accomplish is to alter your ability to satisfy that Good; I haven’t changed the fact that you still like brains. You might choose to avoid them for fear of BSE, or you might eat them only in secret, but you still like them; they are still part of your Good.

            Note that I’m talking only about forcing someone to change their Good. I am not saying that Goods are fixed or even that they are invulnerable to others’ persuasion. All I’m saying is that altering someone’s Good requires wooing instead of abduction.

            As far as I can tell, the only way anyone can alter anyone’s sense of the Good is, curiously, to help them to experience that Good more deeply and richly, becoming aware of either its different components or its integral relationship with other things. Footnote By different components I mean coming to understand the experience more precisely as a mixture of experiences both Good and Unwelcome. For example, I might invite you to pay close attention to your experience of eating brains, with the result that you discover that (say) you like their taste and don’t like their texture, or perhaps that an unpleasant bitterness underlies the yummy flavor. Previously, both experiences were present – good taste and awful texture, or good taste and underlying bitterness –, but you had not paid enough attention to them separately, only noting an overall, fuzzy sense of Goodness. Once the experience is differentiated, once you know more precisely the nature of your Good, you have more ways to get what you really want and more ways to find creative ways to satisfy your and others’.

            By “its integral relationship with other things”, I mean pointing out the necessary concomitants and consequences of your sense of the Good. For example, I will argue later that good ends cannot be achieved by bad means, that the bad means will not produce only the Good you seek (and may not produce even that) but will also produce bad results. You may still choose to use those means, of course, but your sense of the Good has been changed, in that the means can no longer be seen as a Good equivalent to the Good one intends.

            Note that it is possible to change the salience of Goods, either positively (advertising) or negatively (condemnation, repression). It is also possible, as E. E. Schattschneider (1960) notes, to change the terrain in which a Good is pursued, either to ease its pursuit (e.g., government grants) or to place obstacles (criminal laws). Footnote

 

D.  The Good is morally neutral: the Good vs. the Right / Ethics vs. Morality

            We will discuss this more fully in the next chapter, but to prevent confusion in this chapter, let me note here that it may or may not be moral (“Right”) for me to pursue things I consider Good. Morality / the Right has to do with people’s expectations of and agreements among themselves; the Good exists independently of agreements and limitations. The Good is the subject of the field of ethics; the Right is the subject of the field of morality. Footnote

            I want to be clear that I am not arguing that people care only for themselves. Indeed, a major point of this book is that people cannot help caring for one another, that it is the apparent lack of caring that needs explanation. I am distinguishing the Good and the Right simply to allow me in this chapter to talk about authenticity and its complexities without having to deal simultaneously (in my exposition of the ways of relating perspective, not in the reality of action in the world) with the separate, additional complexities of moral considerations. Anything I say in this chapter about one’s Good remains true even if the Good is my desire that you achieve your Good. I am not trapping myself in a “philosophy of the Subject”. It seems obvious to me that we are carriers of our senses of the Good as individuals, but this observation does not imply that we care only for ourselves.

            There is nothing particularly new in this last statement. Classical liberalism has long acknowledged that I can take any damn-fool thing I want as a Good. Care about myself, care about you – I can choose what I see as Good. What is new about this will not become apparent until Chapter 2, where I argue that one cannot help but include, as part of one’s sense of the Good, the desire for the other to achieve h/her Good, even if h/her achieving it conflicts with things Good for oneself alone. So while the Good-Right distinction lets me temporarily bracket issues of the Right, the latter will be considered in Chapters 2 ff.

 

E.  Origins of the Good

            Where does one’s sense of the Good come from? Is there some root Good (even if only for oneself alone) from which all else follows? Can one know, and if so how can one know, what the Good is for oneself and others?

            I claim that these questions cannot be definitively answered and to that extent are not meaningful. They seem meaningful, because we see people holding onto derivative Goods that don’t satisfy them, but therapeutic discourse is [indicated?], not paternalism. Mention something about Freud’s comment about the meaning of dreams disappearing down as if in a navel. From a pragmatic perspective, there is no way to prove that there is a root Good.

 

III    The Good is Individual and Specific

The ways of relating perspective sees the Good as individual and specific. Because the sense of meaning is individual, each person has her own sense of the Good. Each person has h/her sense of what is authentically h/her; each person finds things meaningful that other people may not. If there is an underlying, universal Good, its existence can be proven only through actual practice, which comes to the same thing: looking for the universal in the individual and specific.

            We will not only assume the individuality of the Good; we will also specifically reject two common views of the Good as single and universal. The first of these views is the utilitarian, where the concrete differences between senses of the Good disappear, subsumed within the undifferentiated concept of utility. The utilitarian approach has several obvious problems. First, the utilitarian principle itself is ungrounded; it expresses one way of considering the issues involved in a decision, but it is not self-grounding; it is unclear why we ought – morally ought – to consider them this way. In addition, the concept of utility seems hard to measure objectively; without such objective measurement, utilitarianism is hard to distinguish from a retrospective rationalization and justification of a decision made on other grounds.

            A second view of a single Good is that all particular senses of the Good are merely imperfect approximations of some true, universal sense. I will not pursue this path either, because the assumption is unprovable, and even if we knew (or could meaningfully assume) it were true, it has no bite when it comes to making real decisions. It has use only when someone tries to beat others into submission and compliance by using the unprovable claim that s/he knows the universal Good.

 

IV    To What Extent, and in What Ways, Is One’s Sense of the Good Malleable?

People’s sense of the Good is malleable; it can change and is always potentially changeable. Footnote

 

1:  Change over time

                        I may prefer listening to the Rolling Stones at one age and to Vivaldi at another. Or I may simply feel like hearing Vivaldi today and the Stones tomorrow.

 

2:  Change through understanding

                        I may see the connection between, say, the loathed exercise and my weight decreasing, so that exercise suddenly becomes a good for me.

 

V    The Good Is One’s Autonomous Choice

One might assume from this multiplicity and malleability that the ways of relating perspective assigns a reduced authority to a person’s sense of the Good – that is, leaves it a bit unprotected from other people’s insistence that you share their sense of the Good (e.g., that you convert from Islam to Methodism). But it would be incorrect to assume this. Even though people’s senses of the Good are malleable, it is a malleability arising from their internal choice. The use of external force to change someone’s sense of the Good is self-contradictory, since it violates the very authenticity from which the idea of the Good takes its meaning. Force may produce the semblance or pretense of change, but it cannot produce a true change. Footnote “What’s authentic is what I tell you is authentic” is the self-contradictory attitude. Something can be one’s authentic Good only if one has the simultaneous right to reject it. Footnote

            [Xx Fold the following material into the next section(s). A paragraph outline will help organize this.] It is true that the ways of relating perspective allows one’s Good to be challenged in a couple of fundamental ways. First, the perspective does not support any sense that one’ Good is beyond challenge. While it is always we who make the final decision about what we consider Good, we can never be certain that further reflection won’t alter it. So others’ challenges to our sense of the Good are always a propos, regardless of one’s final decision. We can’t escape having our Goods questioned.

            Second, the perspective gives no guarantee that one’s sense of the Good will prevail in the norms we agree to. Footnote Consider, for example, the moral concept of rights, meaning Goods which must prevail unless other, equally important rights must be balanced. The ways of relating perspective never sees rights as absolute moral imperatives but rather sees them only as social constructions representing our current guess as to how we are best to relate to each other. This relationship is primary in the ways of relating perspective; rights exists only insofar as they serve it. Footnote

 

VI    “There’s No Disputing Taste”                   

When I talk about “having my own sense of the Good”, there is a slight implication that this sense is fixed, unchangeable, even sacred. In particular, there’s the implication that we can’t challenge each other’s sense of the Good. For example, some people believe that it’s abusive for anyone to argue that, for example, homosexuality is a sin (or, its modern parallel, a mental disease).

            Classical liberalism is predicated on such a belief, or so it seems to me, since the social contract is presented as arising out of specified (and universal) Goods – life, liberty, and property, to take one formulation – and political discourse is presented in terms of compromise, not conversion, reconciliation or change.

• “There’s no disputing taste.”

• This attitude is parallelled by the attitude that “I want what I want, and I don’t have to listen to anyone else.” In other words, the attitude is that “my beliefs are sacred.”

• “Treating people with respect” is taken (often, I believe) to mean that we should not challenge others’ deeply held beliefs.

            What I feel is what I feel, regardless of what I ought to feel, regardless of your wishes I feel otherwise, regardless of whether you share my sense of the Good. It is true that my desires can be repressed: made so dangerous to reveal that I choose silence (like gays firmly locking themselves in the closet), or even made subconscious (like homophobes vehemently denying their same-sex desires). However, such repression does not change but rather affirms that these things are still Goods to me.

            We have the sense of some things as sacred, in that their value cannot be questioned. But their value derives from us; it doesn’t exist independent of our view. (That would be the tail wagging the dog.) Maybe a better way to put it: sacredness is expressed through us; pragmatically, it’s our experience of sacredness that grounds our understanding of the sacred. If there is or can be some universally acknowledged, sacred Good, that’s how it reveals itself. Or anyway, that’s the only criterion we have.

            I call this the “sacred” view of the Good, sacred in the sense of untouchable, unchallengeable. But note that classical liberalism arose in part out of disputes over people’s religious Goods. Liberalism became possible when people were able to differentiate the Right and the Good, recognize the impossibility of negotiating the latter, and find a way to negotiate behavior rather than beliefs.

 

VII    Nevertheless, We Can Meaningfully Engage Each Other about Taste

Against all of these (or to clarify all of these):

• Respect doesn’t mean agreement or even public neutrality. Indeed, public neutrality is disrespectful insofar as it derives from an attitude something like, “There’s no reasoning with those people.” Footnote

• We need to differentiate forced conversion from a conversation about senses of the Good – what I will shortly be calling “therapeutic discourse”. Footnote It is fear of the former (plus an inability to differentiate) that causes the resistence to listening. Footnote

• We can clarify or change our sense of the Good when we see its consequences – for us, and/or for others.

            Despite what I just said, there is a sense of disputation in which we can indeed dispute taste. That sense is one in which you simply share our sense of the Good with me, with the persuasive force lying in the “unforced force of the better argument” – Habermas’s classic expression –, even though the “argument” referred to is merely the claim, “Steve, I think you would find this a good sense of the Good.” Or, lest that formulation sound too circular, here is another one: “Steve, I invite you to try my sense of the Good on for size.” Such an invitation can be fleshed out by sharing your sense of your Good’s coherence and by elaborating the nature of its pleasures to you, and you can point out problems you see in my sense of the Good Footnote and help me think them through. An invitation, not a demand: no pushing, no haranguing, no emotional, physical or legal pressure to threaten my autonomy and therefore elicit my resistence. Such tactics come from confusing the Good – what I want – with the Right – what you ought to want. Even though you may have the most loving intentions toward me in suggesting your sense of the Good, even though you believe my sense of the Good is doing me harm, I retain my autonomy. Footnote  

            It may be useful to think about this in terms of admiring a painting. Footnote I can’t make you like a painting, but you may come to like it if I explain what I see in it: the nature of the brush strokes, the choice of colors, the emphasis and deemphasis of certain figures, the associations it has for me (and mayhap also you), and so on. (I don’t actually know about any of these things, but I can pretend I do here.) You may come to appreciate the painting as well, perhaps because you now see what I see, perhaps only because you’ve now paid enough attention to it to construct your own admiration. Or, of course, you might still not like it, or might like it even less. I can only hold up for you what I see; beyond that point, it’s all your experience.

 

VIII    Engagement Can Change Either Party

If you hold up your sense of the Good as an alternative to mine, it might happen that you find your own sense of the Good changed. Footnote This is a peril, but it is also the sine qua non of human (as opposed to strategic) communication. If you do not open yourself to me in the same way that I open myself to you, then we are not meeting as equals. I cannot trust what you say, because I cannot assume that you will understand me well enough to threaten your own sense of the Good. If I am to let you affect my sense of the Good deeply, then I must have confidence that you will take me for who I am, not distorting your knowledge of me and the conversations based on it because it threatens you. Footnote

 

IX    The Münchhausen Trilemma and Our Inability to Prove That Something Is Good

The so-called “Münchhausen Trilemma” (Habermas 19xx:xx) is a demonstration that it is impossible to prove by formal logic – i.e., deductively, conclusively – that something is Good. The argument is quite brief.

Figure 1

The “Münchhausen Trilemma”


The three inadequate forms of deductive justification of Z:

(a) Circular

Z ⇐ Y ⇐ X ⇐ ... ⇐ Z

(b) Infinite regression

Z ⇐ Y ⇐ X ⇐ W ⇐ V ⇐ .....

(c) Arbitrary termination of the sequence

Z ⇐ Y ⇐ X!


Source: See Albert (1985), Habermas (1983/1990)

One justifies something as being Good by an argument based on certain premises. These premises require their own justification, and so on. There are only three possibilities for this chain of justification: it is either (i) circular, or (ii) infinitely long, or (iii) broken off at some set of premises that are not themselves justified. (See Figure 1.) None of these cases provide the necessary justification. The third case offers the most hope, because we can at least hope that we can find premises that are believed by all, in which case the demand for justification does not arise except for a Scholastic concern for whether the claim is then “really” justified.

            The third form of the trilemma is easily mistaken for true justification, since people tend to believe that the premises they accept are so obviously true that no one could possibly disagree. To the extent that others do disagree, they are dismissed as crazy, or ignorant, or stupid, or unreasonable, or neurotically trouble-making, or ivory-tower intellectuals, and so on. But of course such tactics are, seen dispassionately, only justification by force.

            The logic above is clear, but I want to refer briefly to the emotions attached to it. Even if we recognize and agree with the above logic, it is extraordinarily difficult to acknowledge that one’s perspective is not the gold-plated truth. Certainly this is hard for me, and in my experience it’s equally hard for others. However, I think this is a cultural artifact rather than an inherent human characteristic. Footnote In the society I’m familiar with, at least, making one’s view prevail over all others is tied to lots of Goods: wealth, promotion, respect, safety, sometimes even basic survival. And in such circumstances, the acknowledgment of one’s fallibility becomes simply a signal for others to trample one underfoot in the struggle for dominance. As I see it, U.S. society is moving toward intensified struggle, not decreased struggle. As the society provides less and less of a safety net, Footnote the greater the stakes riding on domination and the more Hobbesian the struggles become. In such circumstances we have to ask who this way of relating really benefits – but I will not pursue this question until much later in this work.

 

X    Conflict between Goods

There is nothing about the Good that says I can’t want many different things at once. As I write this, for example, I want to continue writing, I want a drink of water, I want the sirens outside to stop, I want to see The House of Mirth, and so on. I want these all now. It does not matter that, for example, I can’t figure out a way to reconcile them, e.g., I can’t write this and see The House of Mirth at the same time. The fact remains that I still want both. These multiple Goods need not be rationally ordered or, indeed, have logical structure. For the most part, we will just let this multiplicity lie, assuming that we “want it all” – that we simply want what we want when we want it. Footnote Even unreconciled to each other,  these Goods remain things I want.

            Notice that I term the Goods “unreconciled”, not “opposite” to each other. I contend that it is impossible to hold truly opposing Goods; one cannot truly want both X and not-X. Footnote Consider the “monkey trap” story. Footnote To trap a monkey, drill a hole in a coconut just big enough for a monkey to get its hand into, then place some, say, walnuts in it. Fasten the coconut securely to something heavy. A monkey finds the nuts inside the coconut and grabs one, but cannot then pull its hand back out of the hole. You can capture the monkey as it frantically tries to get its arm out of the coconut while still holding the nuts. Isn’t this a case where two Goods – getting the nuts and escaping the humans – are opposite? After all, the monkey can’t keep hold of the nuts without being captured, and it can’t avoid capture without letting go of the nuts.

            I claim that it makes more sense to regard the two Goods as unreconciled than as opposite. Let’s take the two assertions that most directly describe the situation:

1. “The monkey sees walnuts as Good”; and

            2. “The monkey sees freedom as Good”.

 

If the two Goods are logically, inherently, absolutely opposite, then we could also say, equivalently,

            ~1. “The monkey sees freedom as bad”; and

            ~2. “The monkey sees walnuts as bad”.

 

However, ~1 and ~2 aren’t as plausible as 1 and 2. Something has been lost. Comparing these two sets of statements, we see that the problems with the second set arise in their false generality. Certainly the monkey doesn’t see walnuts as unwelcome in general but only in this situation, and the same for freedom. Surely it characterizes the situation better to say only that the monkey can’t find a way to achieve both Goods in the current circumstances. After all, ways do exist (or can be imagined) that achieve both Goods. The monkey could go to a gym, build up its shoulder and arm muscles, and then smash the coconut apart with a big rock and escape with the nuts. Or the monkey could go to the store, buy some glue, put some on the end of its finger, and haul out the nuts that way – or use a glue-laden stick to do this, much as chimpanzees fish for termites. Maybe it could buy a saw at the store and saw the coconut apart. Granted, these alternatives are not employed by the average monkey. But my point is that the Goods are not logically, inherently, absolutely opposite but only unreconciled. Their apparent opposition comes from the circumstances, not from the Goods themselves. It may be that there really isn’t any way monkeys can achieve both Goods, but we cannot know that in advance. The facts that (a) no monkey has ever succeeded in keeping both the nuts and its freedom and (b) we can’t think of any way a monkey could actually do so – these do not prove that no such way exists. I wouldn’t bet on the monkey succeeding, but I can’t prove that it can’t.

            “OK, OK, Chilton – you can make up wild solutions, and I don’t want to get into a debate about whether they are realistic. What about the example of Buridan’s ass, said to have starved to death when, placed equidistant between two bales of hay, it could not decide which to eat from? Regardless of the story’s realism, aren’t the two bales of hay opposed Goods, at least immediately, because the ass can’t reach them both?” I grant that this story does make the opposition clearer. Unfortunately, it still serves to demonstrate my contention. I could imagine, for example, that Buridan’s ass could inhale so powerfully that both bales of hay are drawn to it. Perhaps, standing there paralyzed by the conflict, the ass comes to realize that its deepest interest is not in eating both bales simultaneously but rather in keeping an eye on one bale while watching the other to make sure its fellow asses don’t eat it; it was only paralyzed because it thought it had to forego protecting one bale if it went to the other. Or I could advance other resolutions involving the ass’s exerting telekinetic control over the bales, or Buridan rushing to the rescue, and so on. (I’m shameless when it comes to making up magical resolutions.) Still, despite my shamelessness in making up magical resolutions, doesn’t it remain true that in the end we have to confront the issue of what is realistically possible? Don’t we live in a world without telekinesis, a world where Buridan is off taking a bath somewhere? Well, yes, but here we find the core of the issue: the map is not the territory. Our understanding of the world – even of the physical world itself, let alone of our slippery social world and our mysterious emotional world – is always contingent. Any attempt to set up a situation in which Goods are inherently opposed has to bracket the possibility that resolutions might exist. Sure, such resolutions may appear unlikely, and we can bracket them all we like, but with our contingent understanding we cannot – cannot – exclude the possibility one might exist.

            Of course regardless of this theoretical point, it seems obvious that few situations can be resolved in practice through miraculous solutions making all parties happy. We criticize movies having a deus ex machina resolution of all problems, and my silly solutions above certainly have that flavor. However, the ways of relating perspective is not founded on magical solutions. More common resolutions are those based on empathy and on clarification of the Good, which I discuss at greater length elsewhere. Suffice it here to say that empathy solves many problems, because when we take the other’s Good as our own, what was a conflict between Goods changes form to a choice of Goods. Footnote Clarification of each other’s senses of the Good also solves many problems, because when we distinguish what we are actually seeking – our actual Good – from what the constraints of the situation lead us to believe we are seeking, then we can indeed frequently find creative solutions that satisfy our most important Goods, even though we may have to neglect some less important ones. I will defer further discussion and examples to this chapter’s essay on Therapeutic Discourse.

            I dwell on this question – opposed vs. unreconciled – because of its implications for where we locate our problems and thus how we relate to each other. If I see my Good(s) as opposite instead of unreconciled to yours, I do not look for creative ways to satisfy both; instead, I simply look for ways to satisfy my Good(s) and deny you yours. I assume that you, not the situation, are why I can’t get what I want. My aim then becomes defeating you, not solving the actual problem of how to obtain both our Goods. As Fisher et al. (1991) put it, “The people aren’t the problem; the problem is the problem.” If I confuse the map with the territory, as in the above examples, I am creating conflict, or at least making it look inherent, when the reality may be otherwise. Perhaps to get my Good met I will in the end wind up denying others their Good, but that’s a reason for our mutual sorrow, not hostility.

 

XI    Are Goods Hierarchical?

xx

 

XII    The Internal Experience of Goodness, Beauty, Virtue, etc.

[In this section I talk about how what I say applies to all internal experiences.]