Rationality and Good

There was conversation that I had a while back.  My conversation partner was arguing that ‘good’ is distinct from rationality.  To him, good was not a matter of knowledge, and to put knowledge first was an arbitrary action.  He said that I was dogmatically asserting the value of knowledge, just as he was dogmatically asserting his good.  At the time I did not respond to my own satisfaction – I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.  I’ve reflected further on the issue though, and I am ready to present a counter-thesis: good only makes sense in a rational world and therefore good is a matter of knowledge.

Good, I have argued and will argue again, is a matter of should.  Good is found in action, because good only makes sense in a world that can be made otherwise.  There are two different aspects to good (and bad) – the status of the world and the status of our actions.  The latter reflects the former; our actions are good in as much as bring good into the world.  This perhaps sound more utilitarian then I intended.  A better phrasing might be that actions are good in as much as they should be expected to bring good into the world (I’m a fan of good intentions).

Why does good only make sense in a rational world?  My answer is that good only makes sense in a world with agency.  It could be argued that good and evil exist without agents, but I would say they would not exist in a meaningful way.  Good and evil only become relevant to the world when agents contemplate ways in which they would like to change the world.

Referring back to the conversation, my opponents thesis was that he was better able to enact the good in which he believed by believing in it dogmatically (or, in other (my) words, abandoning the rational component).  Why, he asked, could I assert that the good was better served by rationality?  I’ve decided that what I was trying to argue was that without rationality we do not know how the good is being served.  I think that he was acting off a rational premise in embracing dogmatism however – he was asserting in a rational way that dogmatic people are less hesitant in their actions.  I’m fairly willing to concede this point; my rebuttal is essentially that it is an act of some arrogance to think that yourdogmatism is going to bring good into the world, despite dogmatism’s unfortunate inclination to easily go off track.  I doubt that this would persuade my conversation partner, but this answer at least momentarily persuades me.

As always, thank you for reading,

Ryan Workman

via Blogger http://creative-philo.blogspot.com/2013/09/rationality-and-good.html


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