The problem of a rational good
Gish, Delbert Raymond
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The central problem of this dissertation arises out of a conflict between the emphasis on irrational or nonrational values, on the one hand, and the emphasis on the rationality of good on the other. The philosophy of those who follow immediate and uncriticized preferences, their unreflective common sense and prejudices, is inevitably opposed to that of any who are devoted to the ideals of truth and reason. Advocacy of the rationality of good encounters two main objections: that the rational good is impossible to realize, and that it is undesirable when compared with good as otherwise conceived. Some of the objections tend to disappear when the rational good is defined. In the minds of many the word 'rational' has unpleasant associations with the abstract and the formal. However, the term 'rational' is conceived to mean more than any merely abstract or formal thought. Something in addition to the usual connotation of formal consistency is needed, and this extra meaning is found in the notion of a coherent ideal end which includes the widest possible scope of experience, of fact, of objective reference. Defined in this way, 'rational' means that which is coherently, purposively, concretely, and ideally whole. The term 'good' also needs definition. It does not mean whatever a person happens to like; this defines value. Neither is the good an ideal of the Platonic kind, as often conceived, out of meaningful connection with the workaday world. The good is the ought-to-be-liked (true value), an ideal which is relevant to the actual. If it were irrelevant to the actual, it could not be a principle having necessary application, or requiredness, or oughtness. Good differs from value in just this quality; it compels rational assent even when it is not immediately liked. In comparing and contrasting the good and the ideal it may be said that all goods presuppose ideals, but not all ideals are good. Everything which ought to be liked is an ideal in so far as it is a concept of a not-yet-appreciated, not-yet-realized fact or event which ought to be appreciated and realized. Ideals are of various grades or levels, and no one could say that those which are impossible to make actual in any degree ought to be universally striven for. Whatever ideals a man acknowledges prescribe the good for him, and this prescription contains an imperative which he must heed if he would be rational. A search for clues to the nature of the rational good leads to the examination of the philosophic systems and basic attitudes of those who oppose it. Natural sciences abstract from and therefore ignore the whole concept of good, except the good of knowledge. Naturalistic philosophy, although often concerned with moral good and allowing it, denies the whole concept of good any objective reference, except for the good of knowledge. Authoritarianism, pessimism, transvaluationism, mysticism, and factualism assume partial, subjective, or otherwise inadequate positions of opposition to the rational good. These views are defective in the metaphysical picture which they portray. Rationality and goodness are inseparably connected. Desire for the true good creates an obligation to be rational. Irrationality, in so far as it is inconsistent, is always self-defeating; furthermore, it is self-defeating even when consistent, if reason is subordinated to the status of a mere instrument. To be rational means to aim at the good. To aim at nothing, and to spend all one's time in criticizing means while neglecting ends are equally irrational procedures. The connection between the rational and the good may be variously approached. Bergson has done much to call attention to the complementary relationship between intellect and intuition, and to show that neither alone is adequate for the tasks which the whole mind must perform. A wholly rational good, therefore, is one which acknowledges intuition as a recognizer of values, but which also acknowledges reason as critic and establisher of relations. The compulsion, requiredness, or obligatory quality of true values is a reaction of the whole mind to them. Kant demonstrated the connection between the rational and the good by reference to the requirements of the pure reason and the moral ought. Every rational person feels obligation, but he also feels that fairness and justice require appropriate rewards for fulfilled obligations. In a world of free agents this is impossible unless there should be a central co-ordinator who has both the wisdom, the will, and the power to dispense justice. Thus the situation (the interrelation of pure reason and empirical fact) demands that such an efficient agent be postulated—-an agent in whom goodness and rationality are united. Just as the good and the rational are connected, so the rational good and the real are connected. Reality is defined as any fact or event which has objective reference and can be thought about coherently. It does not contradict itself and it has the capacity to endure. Good is fully capable of conforming to this standard when it is conceived as inhering in personality, or as the good will. Negatively, it is difficult to see how anything can have value or be good except as it comes under the form in which it is intelligible to minds; in short, unless it is related to minds. Indeed, value means appreciation or enjoyment by a mind. The chief argument for the objectivity of good, or more exactly, for its identification with the real as personal, is the element of purpose which is present wherever anything is conceived as good. On the whole the world acts so as to promote the rational and to expel or discourage the irrational. It seems to be aiming at an end, for its changes are, as a rule, orderly and consistent. Further, in history, whenever important decisions had to be made, individual men have often made better decisions than they knew. That which was not the conscious design of any single human mind cannot be called the operation of mere finite intelligence (as Bosanquet suggests). Purpose is the basic element in personality. If the real is purposeful, it would seem to be also mental and personal. The good, the rational, and the real are three distinct concepts, but they coalesce and find their unity in personality. Personality is the only realizer of value, and is the supreme good. The rational good is realized as persons develop more sympathetic attitudes, sensitive perceptions, good will, and coherent, self-consistent, widely-inclusive thinking. God, the Supreme Person, works for the realization of these ends in more and more persons, and is the guarantor that man's efforts shall not be in vain. While the rational good is an end achieved in human individuals, it cannot come to full realization unless individuals achieve it co-operatively. Wider inclusion is a goal for social order as well as for the individual mind. A current ideal is a world-community. All forms of political organization which adhere to short-sighted, limited ends defeat the rational end of continuous progress of all nations; a progress which is the realization of the capacities for good in every concrete human personality. Conclusions: 1. The rational good is differentiated by the fact that it involves an 'ought' grounded in the coherent relationship of ends and means, and in the endlessness of the task of reason. 2. Opposition to the rational good comes chiefly from those who take positions with less complete perspective than the rational good affords. Unless reason itself be repudiated, the opposition may make a contribution to the more inclusive view. 3. The ideal of the rational good is apprehended jointly by intuition and the discursive reason. Each is complementary to the other, and each alone tends to fall into error, which can be corrected only by the joint operation of both. 4. The ideal of the rational good is concretely realized and exemplified in persons, who are loci of all values. In abstraction from personality value and good are without meaning. 5. The reality of the rational good requires the enduring validity of the ideal, its presence in the divine mind, its operation in the world of things, and its capacity to foster harmony among persons. 6. Social progress consists of the realization of the ideal of the rational good in increasing numbers of individual persons, and in a more compact, efficient social structure. 7. Forms of political organization have significance for social progress. Most forms have the defect that while they aim at the best possible good, the actual good attained is limited to too few persons, thus violating the rational principle of widest possible inclusiveness. 8. Whatever means are employed to secure social and political co-operation, reason prompted by a good will ought to determine where, when, and how they are to be employed.
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