Does Goodness Differ From Being?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We are going through the Summa Theologica in order to understand the doctrine of God. The Summa can be read online at Last night, we finished the perfection of God and we’re going to start now with goodness, but before discussing the goodness of God, we need to discuss goodness in general. Before that, I need to go over my prayer requests. Goodness in general is interesting when beginning a prayer request for Christlikeness. I am more aware of where I want to be and just wonder what it will take to get there. Second, I ask for prayers for my financial situation. Finally, I ask for prayers for a third related area in my life.

This might sound like an odd question to some. Does goodness differ from being? Who would ask that? The medievals would. With the advent of uncovering the works of Aristotle, there was an emphasis on the doctrine of being. Goodness was considered to be a transcendental whereas wherever being was, there was goodness.

It is not a shock that Aquinas uses the very definition of goodness that comes from Aristotle, who he and others referred to as “The Philosopher.” When Aristotle defined goodness, he defined goodness as that which is desirable.

By doing this, we can avoid the Euthyphro dilemma. This was the dilemma asking in a monotheistic context, is something good because God wills it, or does God will it because it is good? Aristotle would have been familiar with the Euthyphro, the dialogue of Plato, from which this argument comes.

This can often be used to try to stump Christians on the goodness of God. Some say we define goodness by God’s nature, which is just as circular. Why not go Aristotle’s route? Define goodness first? It is the route that Aquinas takes.

This is the path that Aquinas takes when he says that goodness is that which is desired. This is an important point. The only reason anyone desires anything is they think it is good. There is some good in all that someone desires.

The vigilante for instance who takes matters into his own hands wants justice, which is a good thing. The abortionist aborting their child wants a lot of good things. The suicide even wants a good thing or else he would not be committing suicide. We can agree that there can be good ends in mind to action, such as justice, relief from financial pain, or the end of suffering, but the means to get there are not good.

Aquinas says the real good to be desired however is perfection. All desire their perfection. (Being a constant perfectionist, I agree.) To be perfect is to be actual. That which is most actual is God who is perfect and whose nature is being as well. (Hence, Aquinas would argue that all really desire God. Even the atheist does.)

But how does this answer the question? It would seem they are the same. Aquinas says no because being does not expressly contain the idea of being desirable. Goodness does. However, he does agree that something is good insofar as it possesses being. So what is his answer exactly then?

For Aquinas, they are the same in nature, but not in our conception of them. By saying something is, we state that it exists. By saying that it is good, we are saying that it is desirable. While they are the same in reality, they are different in concept.

We shall continue looking at goodness tomorrow.

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