Goods that Ain’t So Good
Zagzebski makes an interesting claim in the “Goods and Virtues” chapter of Divine Motivation Theory (pg. 110, specifically). There, she argues that there is no direct relationship between X being an intrinsic good and X being good in the highest degree. She suggests that to think otherwise is a common mistake. In this case, I’ll have to count myself in the group of deluded individuals.
I’m not suggesting that she’s wrong. I honestly have no idea. But her claim did grab me, because I’ll admit that I always assumed this to be true. She says:
There is one other common assumption about intrinsic value that I think is mistaken and that may also explain some of the resistance to the idea that pleasure is intrinsically good. That is the idea that intrinsic goodness is goodness to a high degree. What makes a good intrinsic is the source of its goodness; it has nothing to do with its degree.
Well, she’s certainly right, I think, is pointing out that the two concepts have different meanings. To say that X is an intrinsic good is just to say that its goodness is not derivative; intrinsic goods are basic, they are primitives. Seen in this way, she seems to have a point — to say that a good is self-contained and basic is not to say that it is good to highest degree (when compared with other goods). One thing shouldn’t have to do with the other.
But still this is one of those cases where although I see her point, my intuitions feel unshaken. What is it? Is it the belief that it makes little sense to say that something is an intrinsic good if it isn’t good to the highest degree? I’m not sure. Any takers?