Volume 92, 2018
Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life
The Objective Relativity of Goodness
A Rapprochement between Peter Geach and Thomas Aquinas
Peter Geach claims in Good and Evil that there can never be “just good or bad, there is only being a good or bad so-and-so” and thereby denies that goodness can ever be used in a non-relative sense. Although his rejection of absolute goodness might initially seem to be a startling and mistaken departure from the Thomistic understanding, I argue that an examination of Thomas’s texts reveal a strong agreement between them, one grounded in a common rejection of univocal goodness. For both, “good” is relative to the nature of a being. To defend the relativity of goodness, I consider two objections: first, that relativizing goodness leads to subjectivism. Second, that divine goodness is absolute and non-relative. In answering these objections, I show that in both Thomas’s medieval and Geach’s modern accounts “good” is an analogical perfection relative to a nature. In this way, then, goodness is objectively relative.