Conversation with St. Thomas Aquinas: On Goodness in General, Q5, A1

A civilian responds to St. Thomas Aquinas (Aquinas is in quotes). The work of Aquinas was first brought to my attention by Alasdair MacIntyre who specifically mentioned this question (number five in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica):

Whether goodness differs really from being?


Objection 1: It seems that goodness differs really from being. For
Boethius says (De Hebdom.): “I perceive that in nature the fact that
things are good is one thing: that they are is another.” Therefore
goodness and being really differ.

I answer that, Goodness and being are really the same, and differ
only in idea; which is clear from the following argument. The
essence of goodness consists in this, that it is in some way
desirable. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. i): “Goodness is what
all desire.” Now it is clear that a thing is desirable only in so far as
it is perfect; for all desire their own perfection. But everything is
perfect so far as it is actual. Therefore it is clear that a thing is
perfect so far as it exists; for it is existence that makes all things
actual, as is clear from the foregoing (Q[3], A[4]; Q[4], A[1]).
Hence it is clear that goodness and being are the same really. But
goodness presents the aspect of desirableness, which being does
not present.

RESPONSE to Answer: It appears that Aquinas is saying that Good is
an apt descriptor of Being as it is “desireable”. What is desireable? That
which satisfies completely, which is, in other words, perfection. Perfection
is the degree to which a thing is actual (or complete), existing without
change. In this sense, Good is Being. However, good adds to the state of
being the quality of general desireability. In that sense, if it is a subtle case
of semantics, Being and Good are distinct from one another.

AQUINAS Reply to Objection 1: Although goodness and being are the same really, nevertheless since they differ in thought, they are not predicated of a thing absolutely in the same way. Since being properly signifies that something actually is, and actuality properly correlates to potentiality; a thing is, in consequence, said simply to have being, accordingly as it is primarily distinguished from that which is only in potentiality; and this is precisely each thing’s substantial being. Hence by its substantial being, everything is said to have being simply; but by any further actuality it is said to have being relatively. Thus to be white implies relative being, for to be white does not take a thing out of simply potential being; because only a thing that actually has being can receive this mode of being. But goodness signifies perfection which is desirable; and consequently of ultimate perfection. Hence that which has ultimate perfection is said to be simply good; but that which has not the ultimate perfection it ought to have (although, in so far as it is at all actual, it has some perfection), is not said to be perfect simply nor good simply, but only relatively. In this way, therefore, viewed in its primal (i.e. substantial) being a thing is said to be simply, and to be good relatively (i.e. in so far as it has being) but viewed in its complete actuality, a thing is said to be relatively, and to be good simply. Hence the saying of Boethius (De Hebrom.), “I perceive that in nature the fact that things are good is one thing; that they are is another,” is to be referred to a thing’s goodness simply, and having being simply. Because, regarded in its primal actuality, a thing simply exists; and regarded in its complete actuality, it is good simply—in such sort that even in its primal actuality, it is in some sort good, and even in its complete actuality, it in some sort has being.

RESPONSE to Reply to Objection 1: You could say that “Good” is the
expression of Being- that a thing is not good until it is completely
expressed- therefore what is not good must not be fully expressed. And
whatever is not fully expressed is to a degree still in a state of “potential”,
and as potential it is not yet Being but rather in anticipation of Being. One
could state that Goodness is the anticipation of a complete state of Being
(potential). Therefore, Goodness is incompleteness moving towards perfection,
while Being implies completeness already in a state of perfection.

In this greater sense, Being is the accumulation of all qualities overtime
which together form the true sense of completeness and actuality. Being is
likened to a Whole; Goodness is the way in which potential Parts relate to
the Whole.

Screen shot 2015-08-09 at 1.53.55 PM
When my Teacher says “everything is Good”, it implies that
everything is a part of the Whole Being- everything makes up a part of
perfection- that everything has a role in the actualization of Reality, and
nothing can be outside of the Whole, and nothing can be excluded.

Screen shot 2015-08-09 at 2.15.28 PM

OTHER THOUGHTS: “Being”, “Completeness”, or “Perfection can only
be expressed retrospectively. In a reversed temporal order one could say
that the present is the memory wheel of what Is, and What Is is expressed in
the wheel’s movement in Time, or Creation. What Is does not change, but
the “expression” or “memory” can manifest in several ways. It would be as
if what Is is the Whole, and the whole can come together (or split apart) in a
myriad of ways, and it does not matter how it comes together, the Whole will
still remain the same in its sense of Wholeness. Even the various potential
parts are changeless in that not matter their shape and size, they remain
indicative of the Whole from which they started or to which they will end.


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