Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

All statements about values can be restated as statements of facts. The truth or falsity about value claims can be discovered by investigations of facts. Goodness is a word that can be defined by reference to certain kinds of factual relationships in the world. Whether or not something deserves to be called good can be determined by investigating the relevant factual relationships in the world to see if they are rightly instances of good or not. The same goes for “bad”.

In short, I reject the notion that there is a fundamental distinction between facts and values. Values are kinds of facts. I also reject the wide interpretation of the naturalistic fallacy which claims that one can never derive an “ought” statement from an “is” statement, i.e., that a statement of facts can never tell anyone about how things ought to be. There are indeed fallacious inferences that endorse certain factual relationships as truly valuable when they are not and that make this erroneous judgment from a simplistic and mistaken equation of certain kinds of facts with certain kinds of values which are not actually directly (or at all properly) entailed by them. Some of these cases of fallacious inference would properly be accused of committing what is known as the “naturalistic fallacy”, insofar as that fallacy refers to hasty inferences from “is” to “ought”.

But not all inferences from “is” to “ought” are fallacious and therefore not all of them deserve to be accused of committing the naturalistic fallacy.

In what follows I will lay out systematically my case for calling goodness a matter of objective fact.

The most factual sense of the word “good” we have is the sense of effectiveness. Effectiveness is a matter of straightforward fact. My heart right now is effective at pumping blood. Many rivers have been effective at carving valleys. The sun is effective in innumerable ways at sustaining life on Earth.

To say that x is good at y is to make a verifiable or falsifiable fact claim that x is effective at y-ing.

To say that x is good for y is to make a verifiable or falsifiable fact claim that y is able to do what it does more effectively when x contributes in some specifiable way to y‘s activity.  Sometimes this means that y‘s effective performance is, as a matter of fact, enhanced in a particular way by x. Sometimes it could mean that y‘s existence is in some or all instances, as a matter of fact, preconditioned by x, such that y only happens in some or all instances if x is present.

This sense of goodness, as sheer effectiveness, is the most basic kind because it is the only factual kind. It is the kind which refers to naturally occurring and objectively describable relationships and all the other, more complicated senses of “goodness” which we use can be analyzed in terms of how they relate to fundamental relationships of effectiveness.

Every being is a function of its components parts working together in the characteristic way definitive of that kind of being.  Every component part is a further function of its own constitutive parts down to the most basic rudiments of existence.  In this way, beings are essentially describable as functions of the parts which compose them as engaged in particular processes which occur when they are combined in particular quantities and arrangements.  Increasingly complex beings are essentially increasingly complex functions made up of constitutive beings, each of which are functions themselves.

Given the nature of being as functionality, there are two basic kinds of effectiveness.  The first kind of effectiveness is the successful functioning of a function itself.  A function exists through its functioning effectively.  There is no function apart from the act of functioning.  Ceasing to function makes a function cease to be.  Since a being is a function, a being’s ceasing to function entails necessarily its ceasing to be.

So any being’s intrinsic good is to function effectively according to that function that the being is.  Of course, as has already been described, each being is composed of many parts, each of which itself is a function composed of further parts.  This means that increasingly complex beings are composed of increasingly numerous functions on increasingly numerous levels.

So for every being to do well as the being that it is, it must function according to its characteristic activity well, i.e., effectively.  What each function is can be characterized in objective terms as a description of its essential functions and therefore its objective good, its effective functioning, can be described in terms of the conditions by which it functions well as the function it is.

Let me stop to stress that functions are not defined by consciously given purposes. A river is a river because it functions in a river way, not because any intelligent being purposed it to act in that way.  A heart is a heart because it functions in a heart way, not because any intelligent being decided it should act in that way.

Goods in this way need no being to declare a preference for them in order for them to be good. A thing’s goodness does not come from a god or any other person declaring it good. Its goodness is in its functioning as what it is. Neither is goodness the same thing as pleasantness. We call many pleasant things “good” as a shorthand way of saying they are effective for a purpose we have an interest in.  Some of these things are objectively good for us insofar as whether through their pleasantness or something else they contribute to our effective functioning.  But their pleasantness is not by itself their goodness.

Our conscious interests are also not the arbiter of “goodness”. Often when we refer to things being good or not good (bad) by reference to our interests, we refer simply to their being effective or ineffective for attaining what we want. In these cases we use the word good in a shorthand way.  What we really mean is that x is effective at satisfying our conscious desire for y. Whether x is actually good for us is an objective matter, which hinges on what our objective interests are.  Our objective interests, which may be completely independent in some cases of our conscious desires, involve what is objectively effective at constituting or increasing our own functioning through which we have our being.

What best advances our functioning, best advances our being, and is thereby our objectively greatest interest.  This can be theoretically be determined according to facts about the nature of our characteristic functioning and facts about what effectively constitutes or advances that functioning the most.

There is much more to say on this topic, of course, but I will end this post at a reasonable length and return to related topics in coming posts.

Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on these and related problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular:

The Contexts, Objective Hierarchies, and Spectra of Goods and Bads (Or “Why Murder Is Bad”)

Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

Non-Reductionistic Analysis Of Values Into Facts

Effectiveness Is The Primary Goal In Itself, Not Merely A Means

What Is Happiness And Why Is It Good?

On The Intrinsic Connection Between Being And Goodness

Deriving An Atheistic, Naturalistic, Realist Account Of Morality

How Our Morality Realizes Our Humanity

From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

Can Good Teaching Be Measured?

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

The Objective Value of Ordered Complexity

Defining Intrinsic Goodness, Using Marriage As An Example

The Facts About Intrinsic and Instrumental Goods and The Cultural Construction of Intrinsic Goods

Subjective Valuing And Objective Values

My Perspectivist, Teleological Account Of The Relative Values Of Pleasure And Pain

Pleasure And Pain As Intrinsic Instrumental Goods

What Does It Mean For Pleasure And Pain To Be “Intrinsically Instrumental” Goods?

Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral vs. Non-Moral Values

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

On Good And Evil For Non-Existent People

My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

Further Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

On The Incoherence Of Divine Command Theory And Why Even If God DID Make Things Good And Bad, Faith-Based Religions Would Still Be Irrelevant

God and Goodness

Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

The Harmony Of Humility And Pride

Moral Mutability, Not Subjective Morality.  Moral Pluralism, Not Moral Relativism.

How Morality Can Change Through Objective Processes And In Objectively Defensible Ways

Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”


Is Emotivistic Moral Nihilism Rationally Consistent?

The Universe Does Not Care About Our Morality. But So What?

Why Be Morally Dutiful, Fair, or Self-Sacrificing If The Ethical Life Is About Power?

A Philosophical Polemic Against Moral Nihilism

Why Moral Nihilism Is Self-Contradictory

Answering Objections From A Moral Nihilist

If You Don’t Believe in Objective Values Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either

On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Yes, We Can Blame People For Their Feelings, Not Just Their Actions

Why Bother Blaming People At All? Isn’t That Just Judgmental?

Is Anything Intrinsically Good or Bad? An Interview with James Gray

My Metaethical Views Are Challenged. A Debate With “Ivan”

On Unintentionally Intimidating People

Meditations on How to Be Powerful, Fearsome, Empowering, and Loved

Is It Ever Good To Be Annoying?

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Why Misogynistic Language Matters

Sex and “Spirituality”

Can Utilitarians Properly Esteem The Intrinsic Value of Truth?

No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

Moral Offense Is Not Morally Neutral

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