Good is what is useful to you, that is, what facilitates your capacity to preserve yourself; for your body, good is what facilitates your power of activity; for your mind, good is what facilitates your capacity to form accurate ideas.
Bad is the opposite of good: it’s what hinders or erodes your conatus, what diminishes your power to act, and what undermines your rationality.
These Spinozian1 definitions are what I have in mind whenever I use the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ on this blog. Even more, they are the touchstone of every conscious decision that I make, as this idea of goodness helps me to concretize my True Will.
- Self-preservation must be the primary constituent of goodness because without it, there is no possibility of anything else being good.
- There is no need to incorporate concepts like ‘flourishing’, ‘well-being’, or ‘happiness’ into the definition of ‘good’, because they are already empirically implied in the notion of ‘self-preservation’ (e.g., happy, healthy people live longer; also, they have a greater power of activity).
- The values of freedom and self-determination are implied in the notion of ‘power of activity’.
- The values of truth and honesty are implied in the notion of ‘accurate ideas’.
- The scope of goodness can be scaled from you to your family, to society, to humanity, and to life altogether; between these scopes, however, conflicts may arise.
- Goodness is always relative to something (good for me, good for you, good for society,…), rather than absolute (good in itself); thus, unlike the religious ‘good–evil’ antonymy, it does not lend itself to judging the intrinsic moral worth of anyone or anything. For example, a man who violently restricts my freedom is bad for me if I lack the means to overpower him, yet I could not call him a bad person without committing a category error, even if he were a murderous dictator (I might call him an evil person, but that would be a religious statement, and I’m not religious).
- For references, see Ethica: pars IV def. I (“Per bonum id intelligam, quod certo scimus nobis esse utile.”), pars IV prop. VIII dem. (“Id bonum, aut malum vocamus, quod nostro esse conservando prodest, vel obest, hoc est, quod nostram agendi potentiam auget, vel minuit, juvat, vel coercet.”), and pars III prop. XI (“Quicquid Corporis nostri agendi potentiam auget, vel minuit, juvat, vel coercet, ejusdem rei idea Mentis nostrae cogitandi potentiam auget, vel minuit, juvat, vel coercet.”).