In my last post, I discussed the illusory theory of goodness. That was the theory that goodness is not in the thing that is good, but in our minds. But the modern theory of goodness is different. It says that goodness really does exist, and it is present in part in at least some things. But goodness is not in the thing as a whole, but in the thing as a part.

According to this theory, not only is morality real, but our moral statements are truthful and reasonable. Depending on the theory, we might be able to determine what property makes things good by science, mysticism or divine revelation. On the other hand, we may not be able to determine that at all. This theory of goodness does not determine this on its own.

This theory of goodness is compatible with most moral theories. It says nothing about which property goodness is. It does not even claim that goodness is a single property. Maybe goodness could be many properties or a family of properties. So there is no easy way to move from this theory of goodness to any particular moral theory.

This moral theory does have some problems though. If only one property is good, then why is that property good. It seems that there is no sensible answer to that question. If there is no reason, then it is just a brute fact that the property is good. If there is a reason, then the property is not really good at all. The reason why the property is good is itself the property of goodness. But then we can ask the question again. Since there cannot be an infinite series of properties, the reason why the property of goodness is good must be a brute fact. But a brute fact is simply a way of saying that there is no explanation at all. Without an explanation, there is no reason to believe that the property is good at all.

Nor is this the only problem. There is also the question of how the property of goodness makes something good. Suppose that every pleasure is good and only pleasure is good. So we might think that pleasurable activities are good. But why? The pleasure is good, but there is no reason to believe that this makes the activity good. We could equally well suppose that the activity is bad because it contains something distinct from pleasure. But if the property of goodness does not actually make anything good, then it is not really a property of goodness.

Finally, there are problems that only appear when further details are considered. For example, if many things are good such as friendship and knowledge, then they must have a property in common that makes them good. But it seems as if there is no such property. If only one of them is good, then it seems that our intuitions are wrong and falsely identify one of these things as good when it is not good. Goodness also appears in many activities – such as pursuing friendships, the friendship itself and the people who are friends. But it is also hard to see what property these three have in common. (If it is “personhood”, then further problems arise.)

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