Let’s make an argument based on several observations. Let’s say that these observations are rational and broad. For example, we can tell the difference between a good and a “lesser good.” Maybe there are some instances when two goods are not so easily distinguished. Let’s suppose instead that there are two situations: one involving a clear good and one involving a clear evil.
By “clear” I mean to say that there is no ambiguity in a thing’s being good and a thing’s being evil. This is evidenced by the fact that we have differentiated them in the first place. Moreover, this differentiating of “goods” is real. Let’s say two things about moral behavior. This first is a primary question to be asked: (i) Is the moral behavior appropriate? Is it the right thing to do? The second is more nomic or as principle: (ii) an action is morally good if the person’s intentions are good.
Consider four different possibilities (Ronald Nash 1999):
- A deed that is a right act and a morally good action.
- A deed that is a right act and a morally bad action.
- A deed that is a wrong act and a morally good action.
- A deed that is a wrong act and a morally bad action.
Someone under (1) could under a good motive want to give money to a charity. Someone under (2) could preform a right action but was brought about by a bad motive; I save someone from dying because I want to gain fame or glory, etc. Someone under (3) has pure motives but is nonetheless preforming a morally wrong act; I wish to bestow a gift on someone which inadvertently hurts them in the process, etc. Someone under (4) would preform a morally wrong act with bad intentions; telling a lie to hurt someone’s feelings, etc.
Now ask this question: Which of these would be the most preferable course of action? I suspect you might say (1). But then suppose I were to ask you to select the next best kind of behavior; which would you pick and why?
Let’s suppose that this differentiating of goods entailed that there is a hierarchy of goods. This is because more or less goods can only be known by comparison to what is “most good.” This is like saying that we cannot know something falls short of that standard unless the standard is known. Now suppose this premise:
- (a) The maximum of a kind is the cause of the rest of that kind.
If there is a standard of Good, then all other instances of comparison are merely participations in the Good. Nothing is intrinsically good in itself; a thing is only good in so far as it shares in the nature of the Good. Therefore, given the truth of (a), the following is true:
- (b) There exists a Most Perfect Cause (by whom the standard owes its being).
This little argument has started with the basic and rational observation that goods can be graded. If one follows this path of reasoning long enough, the conclusion follows that “there exists a Most Perfect Cause,” because the Good must be grounded in an unchanging and personal foundation. The Most Perfect Cause could not be changing and finite, all the while accounting for objective moral facts. The Most Perfect Cause also could not be impersonal, like a mere concept or number, since these don’t cause anything.
Objection. This argument supposes that there is a “better.” Is it not the case that any qualification as one thing being “better” than another is purely subjective? Aren’t the gradation of goods bound by opinions and personal perspectives?
Reply. This objection demonstrates the point further. Was it better that you raised this criticism as opposed to not mentioning it all? It seems that you chose one of the other, considering one would serve some “better” purpose than the other.
Objection. There may be some objective moral facts but these are only “apparently” objective and not actually real. Morality is absolute in an unqualified way.
Reply. Think for a moment about the definition of justice. Justice can be defined as the basic Aristotelian notion “situations where people receive their due.” Let’s understand distributive justice on the other hand as receiving some good or burden apportioned to human persons. For example, a woman dies and legally disperses her estate, enheritances and etc. to the rightful heirs among her family. Hence, distributive justice typically occurs when equals are treated equally and unequals or treated unequally. However, according to one philosopher: “This knowledge won’t get us very far until we discover some moral principle that will tell us the relevant respects on which equal and unequal treatment would be based (R. Nash 1999).”