Expanding on Good

The purpose of this brief is to expand on an earlier post which had within it a definition of Good in its abstraction. A unique definition I thought of while studying in my final year at the University of Toronto.

The definition of Good as thought by me, recently edited for clarity, is the following:

That which generates externalities outside oneself which have a greater tendency to promote positive externalities amongst those experiencing effects from the initial externality than it would promote negative externalities over a given timespan.

What does this mean in the real world though? In the following few sections, I will explain further the definition by way of an example, and share a benefit and constraint of this definition.

An externality is an effect generated by a given cause. My sitting at a desk for two hours has the externality of my legs being sore. Since legs are painful when they are sore, and pain is a negative sensation, this is an example of a negative externality. Another example is when I compliment someone on their nice hat, they feel good. The externality is the recipient feeling good. This is an example of a positive externality.

The definition does not end with a single event however in describing Good. The reason for this is that in existence there is a continuum of events and an action which causes a blip of good feelings or pain in the leg may cause more negative externalities or end up causing tremendous positive externalities if we take our scope of time and lengthen it.

Looking at the two examples just shared, let us continue the examples and see how that sheds light on the definition.

The worker who has just experienced the negative externality of pain in the leg has actually warned his colleagues about staying seated for too long and in fact now what used to be common negative externalities amongst workers, has altogether been eliminated. The externality then which caused an initial negative externality would be defined as Good, within this timeframe. An externality which generated greater positive externalities amongst those experiencing the effects from the initial externality, then negative externalities, over a given timeframe.

The hat wearer received a compliment and decided to leave his girlfriend because of his now enlarged ego. Now the hat wearer’s girlfriend is sad and inconsolable along with her parents who hate to see her this way. The externality then which caused an initial positive externality would be defined as Bad, within this timeframe. An externality which generated greater negative externalities, over a given timeframe.

What is a benefit of this definition and constraints?

A benefit of this definition is that it understands and is rooted in the complexities of life. Would complimenting someone on a nice hat always be Good? For some, it would be because the act generates pleasure in the recipient. As a rule, it might even be seen as good because everyone likes compliments. What Good is, however, I would argue, is more than an instance in time. It is an externality which has had a lasting impact for more than a brief moment in time taking into account all individuals affected. Additionally, Good is not a Rule to prescribe an action based on past indications that it more than not generates pleasure or benefit. It is my opinion that Rules attempt to reproduce an action that was initially found to be Good. That could similarly apply to this definition but what is defined as Good would not be made based on its ability to be formulated into a prescribed Rule.

One constraint is that it could be said that the timespan in determining whether an externality was Good is not fixed. Detractors could say well as of now it is Good, but what if we wait a year and see how it has a further effect on people. In response, proponents could argue in measuring Good, if possible and in fact, I lean on that it cannot be, we must go with what is known to present day while acknowledging it may not always be Good.

To conclude, this is my definition and it is not without the need for further thought and development. Additional examples could further shed light on the definition in practice and I hope that by use of those used a picture of what is meant has been provided while perhaps not a full picture. I hope though it has peaked interest in its use as a viable approach to defining the morality of actions, events, and similar.

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