The idea of the good has come up in a few different ways recently. It is the organizing idea for my blog. It is the central part of the problem of evil. And it is of personal importance as each of us tries to find meaning in life.
The good is that which we seek for itself, and not for the sake of something else. It is the highest end. There are some things we choose for the sake of another goal, and there are also effects of our goals which we seek indirectly by achieving our goals. The idea of the good is therefore present in each of our choices, however far removed or mundane we consider a given choice to be.
When we make a choice, we choose what we consider at the time to be best. Therefore, we can distinguish between what we believe to be good, and what is actually good. The failure to know what is actually good results in our thinking we are choosing what is good but not actually choosing the good. There are inherent consequences in this, specifically, that we live without the good and the meaning it brings.
The failure to know the good is culpable because it is clear what can and cannot be sought as an end in itself. I'd like to end this post by considering some common but mistaken views of the good. The good is said by some to be: happiness, virtue, duty, excellence, money, praise of men, comfort, pleasure, relationships. There are more, but these cover most kinds.
There is one I left off that list so that it could have a place of its own. Among many religious persons, the good is said to be heaven where the greatest blessing is achieved in the beatific vision. There is a non-Christian version of this in Plato's Republic Book 7. This view of the good says that the summum bonum is the direct vision of highest reality once the soul is released from the body. Many religious people continue to promote this view and shape their lives around it.
This relies on the idea that the good can be achieved through direct percept, apart from the need to interpret our perceptions. It also implies that the good is not achievable in this life, but only after death, and that the body/material world is not necessary and is indeed a hindrance to attaining the good.
I'd like to suggest nothing can be known directly. God is not revealed immediately, but mediately through his works. One obvious reason for this is that God is a spirit whom no man has seen or can see. Whatever "vision" one gets is not the essence of God as a spirit. I've been told that this vision is being with Jesus in heaven. However, many people were with Jesus on earth and did not understand/know him. So "being with" is only as valuable as the understanding that is present, and this understanding can be there whether one is physically "with" or "not with." It is the knowledge that is of value.
What is the implication if the most common definitions of the good are clearly not ends in themselves? This raises the problem of culpable ignorance about the good which I'll take up in another post.