Chapter 10


Very well, then, let us assume that we are correct, and we use our imagination to create ideals, and then in evaluative judgments compare the facts to the ideals we have created. It turns out that we don't speak of "truth" and "mistakes" in this context, because of course the facts are what they are, and if they don't meet our expectations, they're still what they are--but there's something "wrong" with them.

Conclusion 9: The notion that something "ought" to be a certain way always comes from comparing the facts to an ideal.

A mental construct (like my imagining myself as a humpback) that is not involved in an evaluative judgment has no "ought" connected with it; it's just different from the way things really are. It is only when we take this mental construct and use it as a standard to which the facts are to conform that the "ought" emerges.

This has to be the case. If things aren't what they "ought" to be, we obviously couldn't derive what they "ought" to be from what they are, and so we must get it from somewhere else. But where? From knowing what God thinks they "should" be? But that would be an ideal in God, and if it's in God, then it actually exists. From abstracting the "true essence"? But, as we saw, this means mistaking the limitation for the existence. Then where? From making up an ideal.


Conclusion 10: Since ideals are subjective, "ought" always has a subjective, not an objective, basis.

Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but the way things "ought" to be is made up by each of you, and is not something that is objectively true, any more than humans with wings and tails are objectively true; and if someone thinks that we "ought" to have wings and tails, he is no "more subjective" than someone who thinks that we all "ought" not to have to work for any individual, or someone who thinks we "ought" to live in a pollution-free environment, or whatever. All of these are subjective; none of them are the way things "really ought" to be. There is no objective meaning to "This is the way things really ought to be."

I told you this was a controversial part of Blairianism. Here I am a realist in my epistemology; and the most important part of the world--the way it ought to exist--doesn't have any objective reality to it at all. But that's where the evidence leads. So be it.

We can see what this entails if we make a couple more definitions:

An object or fact is good when in fact it conforms to my ideal of what it ought to be. An object or fact is bad or has something wrong with it when it disagrees with my ideal of what it ought to be.

That is, evaluative judgments don't give you "truth" and "mistakes," as to judgments of understanding; they give you "goodness" and "badness"; and whereas in judgments of understanding it is the judgment that is true or mistaken, conversely (as you would expect) in evaluative judgments, it is the fact or object that is good or bad.

There are several things to notice here. First of all, what is called "good" or "bad" can be either a fact or the object that the fact "hooks onto"; thus, when we hear that someone is dying of cancer, we say, "That's bad," meaning that the fact is not what we think ought to be true of him, not that he is bad. We would, however, say that something is wrong with him, meaning that he has this unfortunate aspect of having a cancer. On the other hand, in referring to cancer itself, we might say that "Cancer is really bad," meaning that it as an object (a disease)is something that is the opposite of what we think ought to exist.

But actually, this second sense of "badness" that refers to objects, where they are looked on as "defective things," comes from the fact of their existence; we think that that fact is the "bad" one. We may not, by the way, think that they ought not to exist at all; it may be just that we think that they ought not to exist in that way; a "bad" computer that keeps giving disk errors is not something that you think should be thrown away, necessarily; you just think it should be fixed. In this case, it is the fact of how it is finite (that it exists with the particular kind of finiteness it "has") that is the fact that is the"bad" one. Hence, even the goodness and badness of objects is really the goodness and badness of a fact about the object.

The second thing to notice about goodness and badness is that bad facts or objects are just mistakes looked at in reverse: they don't agree with your concept of them. In the case of the mistake, you say, "Oh, I thought the dog was trained, but it seems he wasn't"; in the case of the evaluative judgment, you say, "That's a bad dog."

Let me give you a diagram that will illustrate how goodness relates to truth:

Thirdly, since the ideal used as the standard for the object to conform to is subjectively created, then the basis of goodness and badness is subjective, not objective. Hence, we can draw the following conclusion:

Conclusion 11: Goodness and badness are basically subjective, even though they refer to objects; the "goodness" itself (or the "badness") is not something objective about the object at all.

That is, the goodness in a good object is simply the fact that it matches your preconceived ideal for it, and isn't any kind of a "property" or "quality" it has; it is not even its existence. Its existence, to be sure, causes you to know it as it is; but this has nothing to do with the fact that it conforms to your expectations for it. It is what it is whether you expect it to be that way or not.

And since God has no ideals, we can say this:

Conclusion 12: For God nothing is either good or bad.

The reason for this is that God does not have "expectations" for things that things "ought" to conform to but might not; what God knows (if he knows, and he does), he knows absolutely as it exists, because his knowledge of it is identical with his act causing it to exist as it exists.

Hence, if you want to use "good" and "bad" with God, then, since his "idea" of something creates it, and the object cannot be different from his knowledge of what it is, everything is "good" for God and absolutely cannot be "bad." But of course in that case, since for God anything's "being bad" is absolutely out of the question, then "being good" doesn't mean anything for him beyond simply "being." God doesn't think in terms of good and bad; an object simply is for God.


Conclusion 13: Goodness and badness only occur from a human point of view.

It is because of our peculiar way of knowing things, by comparing the effects of them on our consciousness, and by our being able to store perceptions and recombine the stored perceptions into images that don't exist that we can create forms of consciousness that aren't directly caused by objects, and which therefore can be used as ideals against which to evaluate objects.

As far as I know, I am the first philosopher--and almost certainly the first realist philosopher--to hold that goodness is subjective. Every other one, from Plato on, has held that goodness is "out there," either (as in the case of Plato and his followers) as an Aspect which exists in itself, or (as with Aristotle) as an aspect of the object which can be "abstracted" from it.

One of the difficulties with either of these positions is that, though everybody can agree on what "green" is, and even on what "human," by and large, is (we can recognize humans and distinguish them from horses or apes), people don't seem to be able to agree on what "good" is. What one person calls "good" can be the exact opposite of what another calls "good"; and one and the same object can be recognized by two different people as good and bad--and defended hotly by each side. Is an unspoiled forest, untouched by human beings good or bad? If loggers come in and trim the trees and cultivate it, are they improving it or wrecking it?

And yet, each person is convinced that he knows whether something is good or not; and this has led people like G. E. Moore to say that "good" must be an undefinable quality like "yellow" that you can't describe in words, but you recognize when you see. The problem with Moore's view is that, no matter how true what he says is, it's still the case that what people "recognize when they see it" is manifestly not the same thing, while they agree on what the term "yellow" refers to, even though they can't define it in words.

And of course, my view accounts for both of these difficulties. Everybody can recognize when the object agrees with his preconceived expectations for it; but since the expectations are different for different people, then what each person "recognizes" in the object is different from what the others "recognize." Notice that goodness is recognized as in the object, as a kind of aspect of it, or fact about it; but the fact about it is the peculiar one that in fact it does conform to my preconceived notion.

It is this factuality that has caused the confusion; the goodness is in the object; but what its goodness is is its relation of conformity to what is subjective. This is why anyone can recognize it when he sees it, and can say that objectively the object is good or bad; but why the goodness or badness is different for different people, because the relation is to different ideals.

Of course, the purely subjective idea of goodness, where it has absolutely nothing to do with what is "out there," is invariably the result of a relativist or idealist epistemology, where truth is as subjective as goodness is.

The connection of what is good with the end of a process (one of the things that figures heavily in Aristotle) can't be discussed fully until we investigate changes and processes. But I have to say a few words here, because it looks like a good candidate for something which will refute my position.

The idea of a change, where something is "headed somewhere," involves the fact that the object in question is now unstable, or in (in some sense) a self-contradictory condition, which can only make sense in some future condition. Thus a growing child gives evidence that he can't exist in his immature condition, and must exist as the adult he is "headed toward"; and so somehow the "end" is there in him "potentially," as Aristotle would say.

What he is headed toward, then, does not exist, and (because of the instability of his present condition) ought to exist. Hence, the end is "the good." Since everything that changes must necessarily be unstable in order to become different, then it follows from this way of looking at it that everything that is changing is headed toward its good, or the good is the end; and this would be a sense of "good" that is "out there" in the object itself and would contradict my view.

That is, the end of a change does not depend on what I expect the change to end in; the adult the child will become can turn out to be very different from the person's expectations. And of course in science, you have to discover from similar instabilities and how they have in fact turned out where a given instability is headed before you can predict the end. The end is something "out there," and is not the result of expectations at all. So the instability creates an "objective ought," because of its self-contradictoriness which objectively is removed by end toward which it is headed. Hence, if this end is "the good" (what "ought" to exist), then goodness in this sense would seem to be objective, not subjective.

But consider. If the end is good, and the end is objective and doesn't depend on what we would like to exist, or even what we expect will exist, then it follows that the results of any process will have to be objectively better than the initial state.

But then what do you do with reversible processes? Take water and put electrodes into it and pass a current through it. This sets up an instability in it whose end is a separation into hydrogen and oxygen gases. If the end is an objective good, then we can say that the separate hydrogen and oxygen is better than the water. But then, of course, if you mix the hydrogen and oxygen and pass a spark through it, you get water again--which now means that water is better than what was better than the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.

Now of course, you could say that being hydrogen and oxygen is "better" than being unstable water; and being stable water is better than being unstable hydrogen and oxygen; and so the end isn't better than the condition before the instability, it's better than the unstable condition, because it's the unstable condition that's the objective contradiction (the effect whose "final cause" is the end, or which has the "objective ought" connected with it).

There is no question about this "objective necessity" of getting to the end; the question is whether this necessity should be called an "ought" in the evaluative sense, so that the end deserves to be called good and forms an objective basis for evaluative judgments.

And it doesn't seem that this will work. Even if you make the move that the "ought" doesn't occur in the state before the instability but in the instability itself, you find that many instabilities lead right back to the condition the object was in before it got to be unstable: the reaction to the light falling on the grass and making the molecules super-energetic is the "getting rid" of the excess energy and returning to their "ground state," and so the end is the beginning. And when you get to living bodies, this tendency to remain the same and return to the previous condition is even more marked. Most of the injuries we receive (making us unstable) are repaired by our bodies; and so it is clear that (a) our bodies don't "want" to be unstable, and (b) when they become unstable, they "want" just to get rid of the instability and return to their original condition.

That is, living bodies, when certain instabilities are set up in them and certain processes begin, set up reverse processes that have the exact opposite goal. Viruses trigger antibodies; diseases trigger fevers whose purpose is to kill the disease. If the end is what is good, why does the body itself seem to regard the end as bad and try to get back to the initial state (because that's the purpose of the antibodies and the fever, after all)?

In other words, if the end of the instability is "the good," why do we fight the virus that makes us unstable in such a way that we will die? Why do we eat to avoid the weakness and eventual death that come from the instability due to having too little internal energy? Since our bodies as alive are at every moment existing at so high an energy level that we are unstable physically and chemically, why don't we rejoice in this tendency toward death and decay as our "good"?

Further, if a child gets a crippling disease, then the end of this instability is, of course, the crippled adult--and this is better than even a non-crippled child? It is better objectively that we die of AIDS or cancer or whatever than that we live forever? It is better that we gradually lose our powers as we get older and decay by degrees than that we keep going "from strength to strength," as the psalmist says? If the "end" is always "the good," then obviously nothing can be called "bad" except not being at the end yet; everything you turn into is better than before.

There is obviously something very peculiar in saying that the end of a process is by definition what is good for the body that is in that process. This would automatically mean that there are no destructive processes; and yet many of them in fact make the body cease to exist. How can it be "objectively better" for this body not to exist as this body than to exist as this body?

The more you examine trying to call the end "the good," the more you see that, however plausible it looks at first, there is no way you can make sense out of using the term "good" to refer to the objective end of a process or unstable condition. As reversible processes show, if you call the end "good," you can't mean that the state before the instability was the "bad" one, or the reverse process contradicts itself. But if the instability itself is what is "bad" and its future state is what is "good" for the body, then the body would never fight it, and most bodies, even inanimate ones, do in fact fight a great number of instabilities--from the elastic restoration of a ball that's deformed by hitting it to the elaborate mechanisms the living body uses to defend itself against all sorts of instabilities.

And so what those who would defend Aristotle are reduced to saying is that "good" is just another term that means "the end of a process" and has no evaluative force at all. That is, for a true Aristotelian, "better" means simply "not the same as," and if a process is destructive of the body, this is better for it--not in the sense that the body is better off being destroyed, but simply in the sense that afterwards, there's no body.

But nobody uses the terms "good" and "better" in that way. If something is "good" and there is no evaluation connected with the meaning of "good," then what term are you going to use to evaluate the object? That is, these people who call "the end" by definition "the good" have preempted the only term we have for evaluation and stripped it of all evaluative force, and left us no term to use for evaluating. And, of course, they have a perfectly good term, "the end," which of itself has no evaluative force, which they can use and everybody will understand them; whereas if they use "the good" to replace it, everybody who isn't in on the secret will think that they are evaluating the end as superior to what went before it.

What I am saying, then, is that if you are an Aristotelian, and say that the end is "the good," you are either adding an evaluative tone to the end of every process or you aren't. If you are, you are involved in all the contradictions involved in reversible processes and in fighting instabilities with counter-instabilities. If you aren't, you are taking a term which you don't need and using it in a sense you want to give it which is not the sense anyone else uses it in; because all the rest of us use "good" and "bad" for evaluation.

I rest my case.

But what Aristotle did was a noble effort. The end, since it doesn't exist yet and can be "seen in" the instability, is the most promising candidate for a goodness that is "out there" and yet is a kind of "objective ideal to be realized" by the unstable object. What I tried to show is that no matter how good a try (no pun intended) it was, it won't work in practice.

Hence, goodness isn't "out there" at all; it is simply the fact that the object lives up to our expectations for it; and our expectations form the ideal, not something "out there." In this respect, Kant was right and Aristotle was just wrong. And, of course, if you want the unstable object to be at the end it is headed toward, this end is now good in my sense of the term--such that if the process were sidetracked along the way, this would be bad. Thus, for instance, a student is in the process of obtaining a degree, and so clearly having one is both the "end" in the sense of what stops the process and "the good," for him, because it is the ideal that he is working toward. So it would be bad if, for example, he did not have enough money for tuition and had to quit in the middle.