Volume 20, Issue 1, Spring 2015
Speaking Rationally About the Good: Karol Wojtyła on Being and the Normative Order
In this paper, I explain and defend Karol Wojtyła’s claim that “if we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to the philosophy
of being. If we do not set out from such ‘realist’ presuppositions, we end up in a vacuum.” I begin by outlining Wojtyła’s existential understanding of the good,
according to which the good for x is found in those ends that complete the being that is lacking in x, or that enhance its existence in keeping with its nature.
(Here Wojtyła is drawing from, and building upon, Thomas Aquinas’s account of goodness and being.) Then I explain how Wojtyła moves from an existential
understanding of the good to the thesis that “exemplarism is the very heart of the normative order.” Finally, using representative thinkers from both the Continental
and Analytic traditions, I defend Wojtyła’s claim that when we divorce goodness from being we end up in a moral vacuum, in a kind of nihilism where
the good signifies nothing other than the rationalized articulation of one’s subjective needs, desires, or wishes. In such a state, the only means for resolving moral
disagreements is through the consensus of the majority or the forceful rule of the strongest will.