Research Article

What is the Order Among the Varieties of Goodness? A Question Posed by von Wright; and a Conjecture Made by Aristotle

David Wigginsa1

a1 New College, Oxford


The great variousness and plurality of goodness has given comfort to general scepticism about values and a multitude of metaethical attitudes or predilections. But is this variousness and plurality really the hotch-potch it has appeared? The paper recapitulates and expands von Wright's typology of the varieties of goodness and looks to explain the order or system that underlies the phenomena by developing and extending a conjecture of Aristotle's, the so-called ‘focal hypothesis’, and combining therewith a suggestion of von Wright's, to the effect that the central case of something good is the faring well of a being. By means of focal hypothesis, one may account fairly well for medical, technical, instrumental, beneficial and utilitarian goodness. Other varieties such as hedonic and ethical goodness complicate the picture, as also do all cases where it seems that an antecedent kind of goodness impinges upon a being. These complications mirror in part the finding that the human scale of values is not a scale exclusively of human values.