Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Universality of Goodness


1.  Next, Thomas asks about the universality of goodness.  Is every being good?  The question is important for subsequent questions about the universality of God’s role as creator in light of the reality of evil.  Against the universal convertibility of the terms “being” and “goodness”, Thomas proposes four objections.  

2.  The first objection comes from the fact that in some sense “goodness” designates what is added to being, and therefore the being of a thing is contracted by its particular perfections (from being any sort of thing, to this particular thing; from being any possible good to being this particular good).  Thus goodness, as a limitation of being, must be contrary to it, and therefore not every being is good.

3.  The third objection is from the idea of prime matter.  Since the good is in some way desirable, and things are desirable on account of their forms, what lacks form must not be good.  But prime matter by definition is that which lacks any form.  Therefore there are some things that are not good.

4.  The fourth is from the fact that the notion of goodness does not enter into the science of mathematics.  Since every science concerns some set of existing things, if it is possible to examine some beings without reference to goodness, then such beings must not be good.

5.  For the Sed Contra he cites 1 Timothy 4:4.  Since everything other than God is created by God, and every creature of God is good, then everything is good.

6.  The Corpus is extremely brief, and reiterates what has already been discussed above: to be is to be actual, but to the extent that a thing is actual, it possesses the perfection of its act, and to the extent that a thing is perfect, it is desirable (having tended toward whatever it is), and therefore it is called good.  Everything that is, is good.

7.  Thomas addresses the first objection by pointing out that goodness contracts or limits being only in the way substance, quantity, quality, etc. limit being: namely, by determining it to a particular nature.  But goodness in itself doesn’t add anything to being; the notion of goodness as already discussed only adds to the notion of being the idea of desirability, which is already tacitly present in it.

8.  To the second he replies that things are called evil only relatively, by virtue of the non-existence in them of some due good.  This point will be discussed at great length in subsequent questions.

9.  To the third, he replies that prime matter is mere potency, so its goodness is mainly only a potential goodness: but it still has actual goodness in its actual aptitude to being perfected.

10.  To the fourth, he says that mathematical objects have only a logical existence, as abstracted by the mind from real individuals.  Thus the number three (for example) and the notion of an empty set (to use a more modern example) do not exist in themselves, but are notions produced by the mind by the consideration of material quantity in abstraction from the things which have that quantity.  But where the individuals that are numbered have besides their quantity of matter also form, motion, and therefore ends, perfections, and goodness, considered abstractly as quantities they do not have any of these things.  Hence mathematics does not include the notion of goodness, since it does not treat things either as perfect or as perfectible.


– Goodness contracts being to a particular state, and is therefore opposed to it.
– Goodness is opposed to evil things, and some things are evil.
– Prime matter has no desirability and is therefore not good.
– Mathematics is a science; sciences concern being; mathematics does not employ the notion of goodness; therefore the object of mathematics is not good.

– Everything that is, is good.

– Goodness does not add anything to being, except the notion of desirability, which comes by virtue of a thing’s particular nature and perfection.
– Evil is only relative, by virtue of the non-existence of some perfection.
– Prime matter is good in its potency to being perfected.
– Mathematics treats things that are good, in a way that abstracts from the qualities which make them good.

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