Saturday, March 20, 2010

WHAT IS GOOD?

WHAT IS GOOD?

David Q. Santos

Philosophers, politicians, and theologians (among other groups) have all struggled with the desire to identify and define what “good” is. This struggle has been put through the “thought mill” many different ways over the century. Philosophers have approached the topic of good from multiple angles; expressing good from an existential and universal perspective down to a practical and utilitarian view. Politicians and rulers have made attempts at multiple types of governments, employing the thoughts of the ages, so as to bring about utopian societies and/or to gain a hold of power. All of the knowledge of philosophy, political science, and religion put together miss the authoritative answer to what good is.

Philosophy looks into human knowledge and ethics to find good. Philosophers commonly ground their inquiry of good in epistemology and metaphysics. Epistemology is “the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope.”[1] Dr. Christopher Cone states that epistemology asks the question “how can we know?”[2] He continues, writing,

An epistemology is the first basic element in philosophy that must be encountered. Before one can begin inquiry he must first accept a set of ground rules. He must adopt a system whereby he can accept certain propositions and reject others. He must accept first principles upon which he will build.[3]
Once the ground rules are established a philosophical inquiry can begin. “Both are, however, sciences based on experience rather than metaphysics.”[4] This yields a system of knowledge that is without God. Geisler explains that “there is a kind of mystical epistemology presumed in this “God is unknowable” approach.”[5]

Whether the inquiry is based on experience or metaphysics true good is never found without God. In fact these systems always turn to a self centered system to express what good is. Arthur Pink affirmed this point when he wrote, “That is the sum of the world’s philosophy—self shielding and self-seeking; but that which Christ preached was not spare “but sacrifice.”[6] The search for intrinsic good quickly becomes futile. This can be seen in virtue ethics which prescribes to the view that “happiness as the highest end, achievable by means of virtue.”[7] The Virtue ethics of Plato and Aristotle is “centered on the notion of the traits of a fully functioning, psychologically healthy, and morally good person.”[8] This then becomes a matter of epistemology. While Plato and Aristotle assume that man in intrinsically good the Bible does not. In fact the Apostle Paul wrote that “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10) And Jesus made the point very clearly when he stated that “No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Lk. 18:19)

The view of anthropology that affirms the belief that man is intrinsically good is also found in political philosophies. Plato and Aristotle’s view that man is naturally good can be found in most systems of ethics that make an attempt to find the good in society, or at least develop a system by which “good” can be maintained in a society. Bentham, Hobbes, and Locke used variations of Utilitarianism to express their worldviews. Utilitarianism seeks to find good in a society by balancing pain and pleasure. Bentham “develops a calculus for measuring the worth of an action based on its accomplishing of pain or pleasure.”[9] This balancing act creates problems for defining and locating true good.

Utilitarian theories are challenged by cases in which the sacrifice of a minority appears to bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number; Kantian deontological theories are tested by cases in which actions judged inherently wrong by the theory (e.g., lying) appear to actually be justified when alternative actions seem to lead to even worse consequences (not lying, and sacrificing a life). Moral theories which yield outcomes which are clearly contrary to the standard intuitions or widely accepted moral beliefs of one’s moral community are either rejected or modified to cover the adverse cases.[10]
Utilitarian thought yields a social contract that maintains many of the same problems of utilitarianism. It continues to come to this point; these Godless approaches still have man to contend with. These systems cannot overcome the problems of being man centered. As Cone stated, “morality is built not on any absolute standard of good (besides the end of happiness)…”

The final approach at producing a good political society can be seen in two opposing views. Marxism attempts to produce a utopian society after the same model of Plato and his work titled The Republic (although there are some key differences). This system finds good in a society with no class distinctions. The state keeps all resources in common making everyone equal. But the reality is that everyone is not equal. This system places a ruling class that controls the state’s resources. This system demands that there be no property ownership, no family, and no religion. While many have espoused this system it still fails to provide the promised utopian society.

This system cannot overcome the problem of evil and oppression in a society. J. Ronald Blue wrote,

Marxism needs to be subjected to the light of biblical authority. Earthly utopianism needs the added dimension of eternal reality. Holistic universalism will never bring the unity and renewal that redemptive liberty affords… Whatever the analysis one makes and irrespective of the solutions one proposes, every person must heed Gutierrez’ challenge to act on behalf of those in need. This is the will of the Father. True liberation, however, can only come through the touch of the Father. It behooves every believer to follow the Master’s example and “preach good news to the poor” and “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “the oppressed” (Luke 4:18–19). God’s good news will always do more than man’s good works. Redemptive theology is the answer to the flaws of liberation theology.[11]
The contrasting view of Democracy takes a step closer to finding a “good” society. It affirms that mankind has rights that are divinely granted. The Declaration of Independence takes many of its statements from the thoughts of John Locke as well of the Bible. It states,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.[12]
The men who developed the Declaration of Independence were Christian (although revisionists have made them out to be deists) who know their Bibles. They attempted to develop a political government that would protect God given rights of the people in its land.

The Bible claims that national existence is dependent on commitment to the instructions, directives, and moral principles of God’s Word (Psalm 33:12)… This means that the Founders believed that freedom, free enterprise, and economic prosperity rise solely from the foundation of Christian morality.[13]
Many of the founders of the United States of America acknowledged that their newly formed republic would only last as long as there were moral people running it. When they spoke of morality they held to principals from Scripture to define their “good.” This system works well as long as the Biblical worldview exists. When Biblical principals are left the system goes much the same way as the other systems. Democracy without a Biblical worldview is just a mob rule where the mob can institute regulations to bring personal satisfaction. Once again, the system fails because of the inability of mankind to be good or moral without God.

Solomon’s inquiry concludes the need for God. He explains that without God all is vanity. Yet, with God, the lives of men have meaning and fulfillment. The meaning and purpose of life is to know God. (Jn. 17::3) Apart from the Biblical worldview all is vanity just as Solomon discovered. Millard Erickson summarized when he wrote,

Yet Christian theology has a definite worldview. The Bible quite clearly affirms a theistic and, specifically, a monotheistic understanding of reality. The supreme reality is a personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, and holy being—God. He has created everything else that is, not by an emanation from his being, but by bringing it all into existence without the use of preexisting materials. Thus the Christian metaphysic is a dualism in which there are two types or levels of reality, the supernatural and the natural, a contingent dualism in which all that is not God has received its existence from him. God preserves in existence the whole creation and is in control of all that happens as history moves to the fulfillment of his purpose. Everything is dependent on him.
Taking the biblical concepts as the tenets of one’s view of reality restricts considerably the range of philosophical worldviews that are acceptable. For instance, a naturalistic worldview is excluded, both because it restricts reality to the system of observable nature, and because possible occurrences within this system are restricted to what is in conformity with its fixed laws. Materialism is even more emphatically opposed by biblical revelation. Similarly, most idealisms are excluded insofar as they tend to deny the reality of the material world and the transcendence of God.[14]
Erickson affirms Solomon’s point that good is only found through God. All of the ethical and political systems designed to produce “good” people or “good” societies fall short. They fall short because there is no true good without the Creator God and His Son Jesus Christ. It is only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ than man can truly follow the will of God. It is only by the washing of the Word that mankind can perform actions for the right reasons of desiring to honor and glorify God. Good, therefore, is what God says is good.

Work Cited:

Benner, David G. and Peter C. Hill, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed., Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999).

Blue, J. Ronald, “Major Flaws in Liberation Theology,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 147 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1990; 2002).

Chismar, Douglas E., “Ethical Reasoning: A Philosophical-Psychological Exploration,” Ashland Theological Journal Volume 14 (Ashland Theological Seminary, 1981; 2007).

Cone, Christopher, PhD, ThD, Life Beyond the Sun: An Introduction to Worldview & Philosophy Through the Lens of Ecclesiastes, (Fort Worth, Tyndale Seminary Press, 2009).

The Declaration of Independence, “Foundations of Freedom” (Virginia Beach, VA).

Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998).

Geisler. Norman L., Systematic Theology, Volume One: Introduction, Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2002).

Miller, Dave, PhD, Christianity, Democracy, and Iraq,” (Montgomery AL, Apologetic Press, 2005), 12/21/2009, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/308

Pink, Arthur Walkington, The Arthur Pink Anthology (Bellingham, WA.: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2005). Chapter 14.

Soanes, Catherine and Angus Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). “Epistemology”

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[1] Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). “Epistemology”

[2] Christopher Cone, PhD, ThD, Life Beyond the Sun: An Introduction to Worldview & Philosophy Through the Lens of Ecclesiastes, (Fort Worth, Tyndale Seminary Press, 2009), 24

[3] Ibid, 24

[4] David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, 2nd ed., Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999), 1174.

[5] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume One: Introduction, Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2002), 134.

[6] Arthur Walkington Pink, The Arthur Pink Anthology (Bellingham, WA.: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2005). Chapter 14.

[7] Cone, 90.

[8] Benner, 1251.

[9] Cone, 179.

[10] Douglas E. Chismar, “Ethical Reasoning: A Philosophical-Psychological Exploration,” Ashland Theological Journal Volume 14 (Ashland Theological Seminary, 1981; 2007), 4–5.

[11] J. Ronald Blue, “Major Flaws in Liberation Theology,” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 147 (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1990; 2002), 102–103.

[12] The Declaration of Independence, “Foundations of Freedom” (Virginia Beach, VA), 39.

[13] Dave Miller, PhD, Christianity, Democracy, and Iraq,” (Montgomery AL, Apologetic Press, 2005), 12/21/2009, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/308

[14] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 57–58.

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