The question is whether everything is good by virtue of its mere existence, a kind of metaphysical goodness. In the posts below, I reluctantly conclude that this does not make sense. Why should the mere presence of a slab of lard or a dude make either the lard or the dude “good”?
However, the intuition that the world is good kept gnawing at me.
Again, there are three objections to the idea that all things just “are” and are neither good nor bad:
- It would seem to belong to divine goodness to create good things.
- If God loves us, and that which is loved is good, then we must be good in some sense.
- If our human nature, when appropriately uplifted, is a means to our true happiness, then is not humanity itself good?
There is a way to arrive at what seems to be the demanded conclusion in a more roundabout way.
Humans’ final cause, unlike the final cause of merely material things, is within them. It is their own happiness, whereas the goodness of matter consists in its ability to assist men in their search for happiness. So, no individual can be essentially a means to an external end. (To be sure, on the free market, social cooperation can be viewed as people using each other efficiently. But the end of such mutual help is greatest overall happiness. It is still the happiness of individuals, even if aggregated somehow.)
Suppose I plant flowers in spring, and when they bloom, I say: “They are very beautiful.” Am I not therefore attributing some form of goodness to them that goes beyond a mere means to my ends? The flowers are not “tools”; they are “works of art.” They are not functional but expressive. In this sense, humans have no external purpose to them as means but are nevertheless expressive of God’s artistry.
In other words, even if we admit that humans are not essentially useful goods, they can still be virtuous goods.
In short, humans, as well as many other things, are if not good then certainly beautiful. Now unlike goodness which is objective real, beauty is subjective real. This means that it belongs to us (to paraphrase St. Thomas, we are beautiful by our own beauty not by divine beauty) but only insofar as other people or God delight in us. However, we are not “good” as in good independent of God’s or other people’s opinion.
Humans are beautiful to the extent that they evoke loving feelings from others and God. Our beauty as things by virtue of our mere presence is determined by others.
But with respect to God’s opinion it can be affirmed that God’s sense of beauty is perfect; hence, we may argue in favor of a “divine command theory of beauty”: X is beautiful if and only if God finds it so. With this, beauty becomes more objective and convertible into goodness. Moreover, no creature is condemned to hell; so, all things are more or less beautiful.
Again, the preeminent condition of human beauty is the extent to which a person is truly happy. The reason still to invoke God’s external perception of us is that He is in many ways the Author of our happiness, discerns an individual’s beauty most competently, and beauty’s subjectivity need not mean there are no right answers.
In sum, the world is good insofar as it is beautiful in the eyes of God and even a non-divine rational creature. To the extent that beauty is convertible with goodness, the world is also good simply as existing, in its own self.