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Against Absolute Goodness$
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Richard Kraut

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199844463

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199844463.001.0001

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Attributive and Predicative Uses of  “Good”

Attributive and Predicative Uses of  “Good”

Chapter 30 Attributive and Predicative Uses of  “Good”
Against Absolute Goodness

Richard Kraut

Oxford University Press

Geach and Thomson believe that Moore makes a terrible mistake about the word “good.” In their words, he failed to see that it is an “attributive adjective” rather than a “predicative adjective.” What they mean is this: Moore says near the beginning of Principia Ethica that when someone speaks of good conduct, a good book, or any good thing, he is using a complex notion that must be taken apart. To understand what good conduct is we must separately look at those two things: goodness and conduct. Goodness is the property that all good things—a good book, a good act, a good man—have in common. It follows from Moore's way of thinking about goodness that even the mundane judgment that something is (for example) a good toaster can be analyzed as containing two independent subclaims: first, it is good; second, it is a toaster. But as Geach saw, that is a mistake. To call something a good toaster is to evaluate it as a toaster. It is to compare it favorably with other toasters. To evaluate it in this way is not to attribute to it first the property of being good and then also, as a separate matter, the property of being a toaster. This chapter contends that successful arguments against the friends of absolute goodness cannot be found, if, like those of Geach and Thomson, they bypass the question posed in this investigation: what work can be done with the concept of absolute goodness in moral philosophy?

Keywords:   Geach, Thomson, Moore, good, moral philosophy

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