We have discussed the existence of God in a past blog and moved on to His divine essence with discussions on the simplicity of God and the perfection of God. We remain in our discussion on the perfection of God now by examining what goodness in general means before moving on to the goodness of God.
So let’s begin Question 5, Part 1 of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.
Whether Goodness Differs Really from Being
Goodness and being are the same, and here’s how. Goodness, as Aristotle says, is what we desire. We desire it because it is perfect. That which is perfect, however, is that which is desirable. That which is perfect exists. Since goodness is fully actual, not lacking anything, it exists. If it exists, then it is being, and so goodness is being.
Thomas answers objections
Boethius said, “I perceive that in nature the fact that things are good is one thing: that they are is another.” Does that not mean that goodness and being are not the same?
Not exactly. First, we know that something has being as long as it is not in complete potentiality. Each thing has what Thomas calls “substantial being.” Viewed in its complete actuality, one sees being as relative when comparing its actuality to potentiality against other beings. On the other hand, that which is ultimately good, which is ultimately perfect, is simply good. That which is good, but not ultimately good, has some perfection, or some actuality. However, it is not simply good. Rather, it is relatively good. So a thing in its substantial being, even only in being relatively because it still has some potentiality, is simply being. But a good that has some potentiality is not simply good. Instead, it’s relatively good. Turn it around and you’ll find that even a being viewed in its complete actuality is now absolute being while a good in its complete actuality is simply good. So now let’s go over Boethius’ statement: “I perceive that in nature the fact that things are good is one thing: that they are is another.” This statement speaks of a thing having being simply and a thing having good simply. There’s no such being in nature and, therefore, Boethius was right.
According to the commentary De Causis, good has the form of being. But is it not true that nothing can be its own form?
Goodness is only a form when it signifies complete actuality.
Goodness can be more or less while being cannot be more or less, so does that not mean they cannot be the same?
We speak of a more or less goodness only when we consider what Thomas calls “super-added actuality,” such as knowledge or virtue. And that’s all Thomas said about that.
Whether Goodness Is Prior in Idea to Being
Being is prior to goodness in idea. The intellect first conceives the meaning of the name of a thing. It first conceives being because only what is in actuality is that which is knowable.
Thomas answers objections
Since Pseudo-Dionysius in his work the Divine Names assigned Goodness as first of God’s names preceeding Being, it would seem that in idea God’s goodness comes before being, right?
Thomas says that since we creatures name God, as the effect names its cause, Pseudo-Dionysius was implying a causal relationship in his Divine Names. Now when we seek goodness, we are seeking something desirable. This implies a final causal relationship. What is the final cause? It is the end, what the maker intends to make or the doer intends to do. Goodness is something that is desirable, and to achieve that end is to achieve something good, something desirable. There are four causes. There is the efficient cause, the material cause, and the formal cause, along with the final cause. We’ll worry about those other causes later, but right now we’re discussing the final cause. Thomas says that the final cause is the cause of all causes because “an agent does not act except for some end” and that the agent (i.e., the doer or maker) can take a rock, that has no form of a statue, is carved into a statue, which would then have the form of a statue. So why did Pseudo-Dionysius assign Goodness as first of God’s names over Being? According to Thomas, “goodness, as a cause, is prior to being, as is the end to the form.” Thomas, in this answer to this objection, leads into his answer to the next objection by discussing how the Platonists viewed matter. They viewed it as non-being. However, goodness extends to non-being because matter strives to be like its form. Being, on the other hand, doesn’t extend to non-being.
Pseudo-Dionysius once said that “goodness extends to things both existing and non-existing; whereas existence extends to existing things alone.” Since that which is the more extensive is prior in idea, and, based on the words of Pseudo-Dionysius, goodness is more extensive than being, would goodness not be prior in idea to being?
Goodness extends to existing and non-existing things alike as its cause, not only to those which simply do not exist but to those things that are in potentiality. Here it is important to note that it is the final cause, goodness, that extends to existing and non-existing things while it is not predicated of them. Being, on the other hand, is not a cause of being and non-being alike.
Goodness would seem to be more universal than being because it is desirable; even non-existence is desirable to some. Take Judas and his suicide, for instance. Now that which is more universal is prior in idea, so would not goodness be prior in idea than being?
Non-being is a relative good. It is desirable if it means doing so removes a particular evil. But on the matter of being and its desirability, removing an evil is only desirable if that evil deprives some being itself. That makes being desirable of itself.
Is goodness not a universal appetible and being a particular appetible since not only is goodness desirable but life and knowledge among other things?
Thomas says that life and wisdom are desirable only when they are actual. So their very being is desired. Thomas says that “nothing can be desired except being; and consequently nothing is good except being.”
Whether Every Being Is Good
“All being is good,” Thomas says, “for all being has actuality and is in some way perfect; since every act implies some sort of perfection; and perfection implies desirability and goodness . . . Hence it follows that every being as such is good.”
Thomas answers objections
It doesn’t seem that every being is good because isn’t goodness something super-added to being? Also, would goodness not limit being because you’re adding something to it as you would substance, quantity, quality, etc.?
It is true that substance, quantity, quality, etc., limit being, but desirability and perfection are proper to being, so goodness doesn’t add anything to being and thus doesn’t limit it.
Some things you would call evil and Isaiah said not to call good evil and evil good. So how can we say every being is good?
We only speak of a being as evil when it lacks something, such as a man who lacks virtue or an eye that lacks sight.
Since goodness implies desirability, and primary matter is not that which is desirable, but is that which desires, does it not seem that primary matter does not contain the formality of goodness?
Primary matter has potential being, “so it is only potentially good.” “It does participate to a certain extent in goodness.”
Aristotle says that “in mathematics goodness does not exist.” Now, mathematics are entities since science studies them, so obviously there’s not good in every being.
Aristotle was right because mathematics do not subsist in realities since they “have only logical existence, inasmuch as they are abstracted from motion and matter.”
Whether Goodness Has the Aspect of a Final Cause
Goodness is what all things desire, Thomas says. “Since this has the aspect of an end, it is clear that goodness implies the aspect of an end.” The idea of goodness presupposes the idea of the efficient cause and that of the formal cause. The efficient cause is the maker or doer. The formal cause is the form itself. Thomas says that the last in the thing caused is the first in causing. That means that even though the maker or doer moves the object closer to its form before coming up with the end product or result, the end product or result precedes the maker or doer. How is that possible? That is possible because the final cause, the end product or result, is what moves the agent to act. What follows the agent in action is the agent moving the object to form (efficient cause) followed by the form itself (the formal cause). Now from the perspective of what is caused we see that goodness (the final cause) is first, the agent (or efficient cause) is second, and the form (or formal cause) is last.
Thomas answers objections
Pseudo-Dionysius once said that “goodness is praised as beauty.” Beauty is a formal cause, so does it not seem here that goodness is a formal cause rather than a final cause?
Beauty and goodness are identical fundamentally, but they differ logically. They are identical fundamentally because they are based upon form. They are different logically because goodness relates to the appetite whereas beauty relates to the cognitive faculty. Since goodness relates to the appetite it has the aspect of an end. Beauty, on the other hand, “pleases when seen.”
Would goodness not also seem to be an efficient cause rather than a formal cause because Pseudo-Dionysius seems to say that goodness is self-giving?
“Goodness is described as self-diffusive in the sense that an end is said to move.”
Augustine said that “we exist because God is good.” So would that not make goodness an efficient cause since we owe our existence to God?
“The will relates to its end as the final object.” Here, we are discussing the end, not the maker. God’s will is good because He wills toward a good end.
Whether the Essence of Goodness Consists in Mode, Species, and Order
Thomas affirms that the essence of goodness consists in mode, species, and order. He quotes Augustine here, who says, “These three — mode, species, order — as common good things, are in everything God has made; thus, where these three abound the things are very good; where they are less, the things are less good; where they do not exist at all, there can be nothing good.” In his reply, Thomas explains how mode, species, and order are good. First, let’s discuss mode. Thomas says that “the form presupposes determination or commensuration of its principles, whether material or efficient, and this is signified by the mode.” What is meant by commensuration? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, commensuration is something “equal in measure or extent.” Thomas is referring to the commensuration of the formal cause to the material and efficient causes. Table-ness as a formal cause would not make sense if its efficient cause is chair or its material cause is plate. The chair is not its maker and the plate is not its matter. Rather, the table maker is the efficient cause and the particular table is the material cause. It must be commensurate. All of this is referring to mode. “The measure,” Thomas says, “marks the mode.” As the presupposing of the determination or commensuration of the form’s principles is signified by the mode, the form itself is signified by the species. “For everything is placed in its species by its form.” Finally, “upon the form follows an inclination to the end, or to an action, or to something of the sort.” Here we are talking about that which signifies order. “Everything, in so far as it is in act, acts and tends toward that which is in accordance with its form.” Thomas demonstrates how these three — mode, species, and order — deal with form, which deals with goodness. In order for a thing to be good, it must have a form, “together with all that precedes and follows upon that form.”
Thomas answers objections
Goodness and being differ logically, but mode, species, and order seem to belong to the nature of being, according to what is said in the book of Wisdom and by Augustine. So does it not seem that these three don’t belong to goodness?
Mode, species, and form follow upon being only if it is perfect, and perfection is goodness.
Would every mode, every species, and every order each have its own mode, species, and order in endless succession since the essence of goodness consists in mode, species, and order?
Mode, species, and order formally constitute others good. They are not formally constituted good by something else. “They have no need of other things whereby they are good.” They are good and they are beings. They are not subsistences.
Since evil is the privation of mode, species, and order, but is not the absence of goodness, then would it not seem that the essence of goodness does not consist in mode, species, and order?
Since all beings have a form they each have a mode, species, and order. Man himself has a mode, species, and order, but each being that is predicated of him, e.g. learned, as well has a mode, species, and order. Thomas uses the example of blindness to make his conclusion. He says that blindness is a deprivation of the being of sight and only that of sight and is called evil. But it is not a deprivation of the other mode, species, and order of each other being particular to the man.
Since we speak of an evil mode, species, and order, then should goodness not consist in these three?
In his response, Thomas quotes Augustine here as saying, “Every mode, as mode, is good (and the same can be said of species and order). But an evil mode, species, and order are so called as being less than they ought to be, or as not belonging to that to which they ought to belong. Therefore they are called evil, because they are out of place and incongruous.”
Since mode, species, and order are caused by weight, number, and measure, but Ambrose says that light is not caused by weight, number, and measure, then does it not seem that the essence of good does not consist in mode, species, and order?
Light is not absolutely without weight, number, and measure, but only in comparison to corporeal things.
Whether Goodness Is Rightly Divided into the Virtuous, the Useful, and the Pleasant?
Goodness is rightly divided into the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant. How are they done so? Thomas says that the ultimate term, or end, of a movement can be taken in two ways — “either as the thing itself toward which it tends . . . or a state of rest in that thing.” First, let’s look at the “thing itself toward which it tends.” We can divide that into the useful and the virtuous. It is useful when, in the movement of the appetite, the thing desired terminates the movement of the appetite relatively, “as a means by which something tends toward another.” It is virtuous when the last thing sought after absolutely terminates the movement of the appetite. “For the virtuous is that which is desired for its own sake.” The other the ultimate term, or end, of a movement can be taken by way of what is pleasant. It is “that which terminates the movement of the appetite in the form of rest in the thing desired.”
Thomas answers objections
Since goodness is divided by the ten predicaments, according to Aristotle, how can it be rightly divided into the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant?
This division is divided according to its “proper formality.”
Every division is made by opposites, but the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant are not opposites. So how can goodness be rightly divided into these three?
Goodness is not divided by three things, but by three aspects. The pleasant can be sometimes hurtful and contrary to virtue. The useful does not find its end in something desirable itself but in something that can take it further, such as into the virtuous. The virtuous is something desirable in itself.
The useful here is divided against the virtuous and the pleasant, but should it not be virtuous and pleasing in order to be goodness?
We’re not talking here about three equally divided things, but three things that have rank and order. So the virtuous is first, followed by the pleasant, then the useful.
— Kin Easter
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