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But perhaps it is desirable that we should examine the notion of a Universal Good, and review the difficulties that it involves, although such an inquiry goes against the grain because of our friendship for the authors of the Theory of Ideas.1 Still perhaps it would appear desirable, and indeed it would seem to be obligatory, especially for a philosopher, to sacrifice even one's closest personal ties in defense of the truth. Both are dear to us, yet 'tis our duty to prefer the truth.2 [2]

The originators3 of this theory, then, used not to postulate Ideas of groups of things in which they posited4 an order of priority and posteriority5 (for which reason they did not construct an Idea of numbers in general). But Good is predicated alike in the Categories of Substance, of Quality, and Relation; yet the Absolute,6 or Substance, is prior in nature to the Relative, which seems to be a sort of offshoot or ‘accident’ of Substance; so that there cannot be a common Idea corresponding to the absolutely good and the relatively good. [3]

Again, the word ‘good’ is used in as many senses as the word ‘is’; for we may predicate good in the Category of Substance, for instance of God, or intelligence; in that of Quality—the excellences; in that of Quantity—moderate in amount; in that of Relation—useful; in that of Time—a favorable opportunity; in that of Place—a suitable ‘habitat’7; and so on. So clearly good cannot be a single and universal general notion; if it were, it would not be predicable in all the Categories, but only in one. [4]

Again, things that come under a single Idea must be objects of a single science; hence there ought to be a single science dealing with all good things. But as a matter of fact there are a number of sciences even for the goods in one Category: for example, opportunity, for opportunity in war comes under the science of strategy, in disease under that of medicine; and the due amount in diet comes under medicine, in bodily exercise under gymnastics. [5]

One might also raise the question what precisely they mean by their expression the ‘Ideal so and-so,’8 seeing that one and the same definition of man applies both to ‘the Ideal man’ and to ‘man,’9 for in so far as both are man, there will be no difference between them; and if so, no more will there be any difference between ‘the Ideal Good’ and ‘Good’ in so far as both are good. [6] Nor yet will the Ideal Good be any more good because it is eternal, seeing that a white thing that lasts a long time is no whiter than one that lasts only a day. [7]

The Pythagoreans10 seem to give a more probable doctrine on the subject of the Good when they place Unity in their column of goods; and indeed Speusippus11 appears to have followed them. But this subject must be left for another discussion. [8]

We can descry an objection that may be raised against our arguments on the ground that the theory in question was not intended to apply to every sort of good, and that only things pursued and accepted for their own sake are pronounced good as belonging to a single species, while things productive or preservative of these in any way, or preventive of their opposites, are said to be good as a means to these, and in a different sense. [9] Clearly then the term ‘goods’ would have two meanings, (1) things good in themselves and (2) things good as a means to these; let us then separate things good in themselves from things useful as means, and consider whether the former are called good because they fall under a single Idea. [10] But what sort of things is one to class as good in themselves? Are they not those things which are sought after even without any accessory advantage, such as wisdom, sight, and certain pleasures and honors? for even if we also pursue these things as means to something else, still one would class them among things good in themselves. Or is there nothing else good in itself except the Idea? If so, the species will be of no use.12 [11] If on the contrary the class of things good in themselves includes these objects, the same notion of good ought to be manifested in all of them, just as the same notion of white is manifested in snow and in white paint. But as a matter of fact the notions of honor and wisdom and pleasure, as being good, are different and distinct. Therefore, good is not a general term corresponding to a single Idea. [12]

But in what sense then are different things called good? For they do not seem to be a case of things that bear the same name merely by chance. Possibly things are called good in virtue of being derived from one good; or because they all contribute to one good. Or perhaps it is rather by way of a proportion13: that is, as sight is good in the body, so intelligence is good in the soul, and similarly another thing in something else. [13]

Perhaps however this question must be dismissed for the present, since a detailed investigation of it belongs more properly to another branch of philosophy14 And likewise with the Idea of the Good; for even if the goodness predicated of various in common really is a unity or something existing separately and absolute, it clearly will not be practicable or attainable by man; but the Good which we are now seeking is a good within human reach. [14]

But possibly someone may think that to know the Ideal Good may be desirable as an aid to achieving those goods which are practicable and attainable: having the Ideal Good as a pattern we shall more easily know what things are good for us, and knowing them, obtain them. [15] Now it is true that this argument has a certain plausibility; but it does not seem to square with the actual procedure of the sciences. For these all aim at some good, and seek to make up their deficiencies,15 but they do not trouble about a knowledge of the Ideal Good. Yet if it were so potent an aid, it is improbable that all the professors of the arts and sciences should not know it, nor even seek to discover it. [16] Moreover, it is not easy to see how knowing that same Ideal Good will help a weaver or carpenter in the practice of his own craft, or how anybody will be a better physician or general for having contemplated the absolute Idea. In fact it does not appear that the physician studies even health16 in the abstract; he studies the health of the human being—or rather of some particular human being, for it is individuals that he has to cure.

Let us here conclude our discussion of this subject.

1 The translation ‘Forms’ is perhaps less misleading: εἶδος is not a psychological term.

2 Probably a verse quotation.

3 Or perhaps ‘importers’ from the Pythagoreans of S. Italy.

4 Perhaps ‘we posit’.

5 A is ‘prior in nature’ (though not necessarily in time) to B, when A can exist without B but not B without A; and they cannot then be on a par as members of one class.

6 Lit. ‘that which is by itself’.

7 δίαιτα is used of the habitat of a species of animals, De mundo 398b 32; though it has been taken here to mean ‘a favorable climate’ for human beings. In Aristoph. Frogs 114 it may mean ‘a lodging’, and later it denotes an apartment or suite of rooms, as in Pliny's descriptions of Italian villas.

8 Literally ‘so-and-so itself.’

9 i.e., ‘the ordinary notion of man’—the concept of man in general which we form from our experience of particular men, but do not regard as a thing existing independently of them—; or perhaps ‘a particular man,’ but this seems to require ἀνθρώπῳ τινί or τῷδε.

10 This parenthetical note might come better after 6.4 (Burnet, Cl. Rev. 3:198). The Pythagoreans, instead of (like Plato) saying the Good was one, more wisely said the One was good (or akin to the Good). Some of them (Aristot. Met. 986a 22) taught that there were ten pairs of opposing principles, which they ranged in two columns—limit and the unlimited, odd and even, unity and plurality, right and left, male and female, resting and moving, straight and crooked, light and darkness, good and bad, square and oblong. They also held (Aristot. Met. 1072b 32) that good and beauty were not original, but appeared in the course of the evolution of the world; hence perhaps the late position of good in the list of opposites. The phrase ‘column of goods’ (cf. Aristot. Met. 1093b 12 ‘column of the beautiful’) is inexact, as good was only one of the things in the column—unless it means the column to which good things among others belong; but doubtless all the positive principles were regarded as akin.

11 Speusippus was Plato's nephew, and succeeded him as head of the Academy.

12 i.e., the species or class of things good in themselves will be a class to which nothing belongs (for the Idea is not in the class).

13 The writer's own solution: when different things are called good, it means they each bear the same relation to (viz. contribute to the welfare of) certain other things, not all to the same thing.

14 .i.e., First Philosophy or Metaphysics.

15 Or perhaps ‘to supply what is lacking of it’ (the good at which they aim); cf. 7.17.

16 i.e., the particular good which is the end of his own science.

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