Reason as the Leading Motive

Philosophy Today

Posted by Jerry on October 19, 2007

Learn how to write several paragraphs and yet not say a word:

From Philosophy Now

Why Should I be Good?

The term ‘good’ has many uses. We might say: “Kevin is a good footballer”; “This is a good pen”; “It’s a good thing my train arrived on time.” But in none of these cases does ‘good’ have any moral implications. Kevin’s being a good footballer does not in itself make Kevin a good person. Yet when I ask why I should be good, I take this to be equivalent to my asking why I should be a good person. This is a question that underlies moral action.

When I say that Phyllis is a good person, I do not mean that she performs some particular function well. Persons can perform various functions or roles, and can perform these better or worse, but it is not these capacities that we are interested in when we ask whether some person is good. If Phyllis is a good person, this is not because she functions well, but because she acts rightly.

So why should I act rightly? Acting rightly is a matter of doing the right thing. But why should I do the right thing? Some might respond that that’s a silly question, because doing the right thing is simply doing what it is right to do – and if something is the right thing to do, it is simply what one ought to do, and there is no more to be said.

I think there is some sense in this point. To ask why I should act rightly is to invite a tautological response: I should act rightly because that’s the right way to act. And, similarly, I should be good because it is good to be good. This shows that concepts such as ‘goodness’ and ‘rightness’ cannot readily be analysed into more basic constituents.

So I am confident that I should indeed be good, and that this means doing the right thing. But I now need to determine what the right thing to do is. And there, as Shakespeare says, is the rub.

Dr. Mikel Burley, University of Leeds.


3 Responses to “Philosophy Today”

  1. I like your new Leitmotif photo!

    I just skimmed this Burley thing you posted here. This is not exactly the kinda crap I have to deal with, but crap is crap, ya know?


  2. Ergo said

    Ya. When I first read through this Burley crap, I was so irritated: I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and say, “Get to the point! What is your answer to the question!!?” Notice how he flirts with virtually every synonym of “good”, “goodness”, “right”, “rightness” and its various connotations, and yet manages to say nothing of substance.

  3. Zach said

    This certainly drives me up the wall

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