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Chapter 5: The Goods Which Fulfill Persons


As the preceding critique of scholastic natural-law theory suggests, a sound account of normative existential principles must show how they are grounded in human goods. If they are not so grounded, there is no adequate answer to the question, “Why should I be morally good?” The answer is not that God commands this, for the moral obligation to obey divine commands, although rightly accepted by believers, is not self-evident. Indeed, nothing clarifies the force of moral norms except the relationship of morality to human goods.

The present chapter therefore focuses on human goods. It first takes up the meaning of “good” and “bad” in general, setting aside the specific question of the existential good and bad—that is, the morally right and wrong. It then clarifies the human goods, including the fact that the goods which fulfill human persons are not yet of and by themselves moral principles—they do not directly tell one which choices to make and which to avoid. However, as chapters six through twelve will explain, moral principles are indeed grounded in human goods, since these principles generate judgments of conscience which direct action in line with love of all such goods.

Moral norms are based on human goods. “Good” means fullness of being; “bad” means privation of this fullness. There are various sorts of goods which fulfill human persons. Some complete persons in their existential aspect—insofar as they constitute themselves by their choices. Others complete persons in other aspects. The human good as a whole is not only moral goodness; it includes a rich participation in all the human goods.