Some thoughts on goodness

1. Let’s distinguish between intentional goodness and effective goodness. Any of us can intend something good without that intention being effective, either because: (1) we don’t know or understand what we need in order to accomplish a good end; (2) we lack the power or resources to bring about the good end.

2. By intentional goodness, I mean something that intends concrete performance, and thus intends effectiveness. An intention unconcerned with effect is no intention at all — it is merely a sentiment.

3. Sentimental goodness is a state of feeling approving of some (apparent) good. Such sentiment is not in itself a bad thing; it is even a good thing if it leads to the intentional good. Sentimental goodness is blameworthy when it mistakes the pleasant feelings of the apparent, prospective good with the satisfaction that ought to attend the achievement of an actual good. Sentimental goodness is the good-felt-in-prospect stripped of the difficulties of actually being effectively good. It confuses itself with good intention, when it is nothing of the sort. Sentimental goodness is usually (and prematurely) self-congratulatory.

4. Intentional goodness is still a very good thing, but not as good as effective goodness, since an ineffective intentional goodness would include as one of its aims the cultivation of effectiveness and would consider itself defective until the effective good is achieved. Intentional goodness is a dynamic mean between sentiment and right action.

5. One cannot be effectively good without intelligence and good judgment. It is a duty of intentional goodness to recognize that fact and to act upon it. Intentional goodness that does not concern itself with an education that would make it effectively good is not sufficiently intentional — in fact it is merely sentimental.

6. An intentional goodness that has not reached a level of knowledge or power sufficient to be effective is not blameworthy; in fact it is praiseworthy, provided: (1) it is willing to strive for the requisite intelligence, good judgment, etc. that it lacks, and (2) it defers from acting carelessly outside the sphere of its own competence. If it must act, it should act very carefully, conscious of its ignorance and alert for the means of correcting it.

7. An effectively good person is the only adequate rule of right action. Against such there can be no valid law.

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