Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Facing the Ambiguity of "the Good"

   In my experience, the platonic insistence that all things go towards the Good is polarizing: people either think it is either a very helpful or completely empty sentiment.  As one who finds talk of the Good important, I would like to attempt an apology.
   Frequently, those who find the Good useless as a theme, confront those who appreciate it with the question: "what is the Good?"  Those who are comfortable with the discourse about the Good are very happy to answer that it is indeterminate.  However, if this is as far as the conversation goes it is frustrating for everyone — especially if this same conversation repeats frequently.  How can something indeterminate be helpful?
   Rather than taking the Good as a peculiar fact claim or occult object, I think it is helpful to consider it an expression concerning the philosophical life.  The Good signifies the highest possible 'thing' to reflect on, and while I must leave this "highest possible thing" as something undetermined, I can at least say that the upshot of the discourse about the Good, and particularly that all things go towards the Good, is that there is nothing which is excluded from this highest reflection.
   Far from suggesting the discovery of some particular thing that everything is guided towards, those who concern themselves with reflection on the Good should be characterized as seeking to understand how all things relate themselves to what is best, even in conditions where we continually need to re-evaluate what Good is.  While it seems unhelpful to be guided in reflection by something unspecific as a particular, consider the following:  why do we not have this same concern with the 'all things' portion of the relation to the Good, since we clearly do now know what constitutes all things?
   When we hear 'all things' we do not see before us an aggregate  of all objects, but rather 'all things' serves to guide us in appropriating things into the context of reflection.  In the same way 'the Good' should not call to mind some particular Good, but rather should serve to guide our reflection over everything that is mediately good towards the hazy depths of whatever is good in itself.  The combination of 'all things' and 'the Good' in the claim that all things go towards the Good, leads to a connecting of the pursuit of our interests in the world, with our interest in how we are ultimately concerned with the world, and primarily claims that these two halves - the world and the best - are to be understood as best as possible together.
   The Good should stand as a constant reminder for much more difficult and pressing work than dispute over the term 'Good' being useful or not.  However, far from suggesting that anyone adopt the use of 'Good', I am rather trying to provide some direction back to concerns that we can all rightfully share in common whenever this discourse is causing fractures in philosophizing together.  These pursuits should be more important to us than simply defending the term 'Good', but when it is being used, those who have the will to understand should try to allow themselves to see that it is suggesting something that we all can and should participate in.
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