Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

On Some Ways in Which A Thing Can be Good*

Judith Jarvis Thomsona1

a1 Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

I

There are a great many ways in which a thing can be good. What counts as a way of being good? I leave it to intuition. Let us allow that being a good dancer is being good in a way, and that so also is being a good carpenter. We might group these and similar ways of being good under the name activity goodness, since a good dancer is good at dancing and a good carpenter is good at carpentry. Everything good at doing something D is good in a way, and for each activity D, being good at D-ing falls into the class of ways of being good which I call activity goodness.

Again, let us allow that being a good hammer is being good in a way, and that so also is being a good butter knife. We might group these ways of being good under the name equipment goodness, since a good hammer is good for use in hammering nails and a good butter knife is good for use in buttering bread. Everything good for use in achieving a purpose P is good in a way, and for each purpose P, being good for use in achieving P falls into the class of ways of being good which I call equipment goodness.

Again, let us allow that tasting good is being good in a way, and so also are looking good, sounding good, and so on. The class here is aesthetic goodness.

Is all goodness goodness-in-a-way? Intuitively, the answer is yes: it seems right to think that everything is good only insofar as it is good in one or more ways.

Footnotes

* I am grateful to the other contributors to this volume — and to its editors — for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this essay. Many others made helpful comments on a later version; I am particularly indebted to Jonathan Bennett and David Gauthier.

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