The other night was game 5 of the World Series between Boston and St. Louis. The Red Sox won 3 to 1 taking a 3-2 lead in the series against the Cardinals. One more win and the Red Sox take the title for the third time in the past decade. The game is in Boston and the Red Sox have won two games in a row, so from that perspective they seem to have a slight advantage. On the other hand, Lackey is unpredictable as a pitcher and possibly tired from his two appearances so far in the series. In any case, we’ll have to wait and see what happens, should be a good game as the past few have been.
Now, the reason I bring up baseball is because I think it can illustrate an important point, namely, a point about what goodness is. The other night, it is clear Lester had a good game. Why? Because he held the Cardinals and prevented them from scoring enough runs to beat his own team. Lester is one of the better pitchers in baseball because of his ability to do this consistently. On the other hand, he probably wouldn’t be considered among the best pitchers in baseball either. Someone like Max Scherzer, the only 20 game winner this year, allowed less than a base runner per inning on average (.97 whip) and struck out more batters than he pitched innings (K/9 > 9.00…which is really good).
What made Scherzer a better pitcher than Lester? What makes Lester good? Why do we consider his start the other night to be a good start? We didn’t look for batting stats for these pitchers (which they probably only had a few plate appearances given that they play in the AL). We didn’t ask if they can play the piano or if they are nice guys. These factors would not affect whether or not they pitched well. The reason is that there is some standard by which we judge pitching ability that is not affected by qualities and events not related to pitching.
Now the standard of goodness is also clearly objective. The reason Lester pitched a good game the other night is not just because as a Red Sox fan I am happy that he helped the team win. A Cardinals fan would not be justified saying “Lester was lousy the other night, he only gave up a run in 7 innings!” Maybe the Cardinals fan is disappointed in Lester’s pitching performance because it hurt the Cardinals, but the fan cannot justifiably say that the performance is bad on this account. The reason is that goodness is not just about subjective value judgments but about an objective feature of reality.
A pitcher in baseball is considered good if he gets batters out and consequently prevents the other team from scoring. The more perfectly the pitcher does this, the more perfect a pitcher he is. The ideal pitcher, one that does not exist in reality, but exists hypothetically, gets all batters out at all times and gives up no runs. This perfect pitcher demonstrates the goal of the pitcher. Every pitcher must strive to be this pitcher and the closer he gets in every instance, the better he is. A pitcher who fails to do this is considered a bad pitcher.
The pitcher example illustrates what is meant by the objective feature of goodness: the more perfectly a thing lives up to the ideal version of that particular thing, the more perfect it is. The way a thing instantiates the ideal is by doing what that thing is meant to do, in other words, by fulfilling its various ends or end. So a good pitcher is one that gets batters out. Goodness is an objective feature in reality if objective natures with ends are.
How does this relate to morality? Well morality is the study of man becoming a “good” person by being the ideal human through fulfilling the ends of his various capacities and thus realizing his ultimate end as a person. Morality describes the specific kind of goodness that we have a rational choice to live out. Our eyes are good if they can see, but we don’t choose our eyesight abilities. However, as rational creatures, we have the ability to make choices about how to live life. Because of this, we can decide whether or not we want to use our abilities in accordance with their purposes and in accordance with reason. Ultimately, we have the choice whether or not to live by reason and thus more perfectly live up to the ideal human and reach our end. The most moral person is one who lives by reason, striving at goodness, and who finally realizes his end.
Morality therefore is the study of how man ought to reach his end. Morality is like coaching and training for pitchers in baseball. Morality helps us be the ideal human. Now, we all strive at goodness. There is no human who ever desires something that is not good in itself. The problem is that, we sometimes desire goods that are contrary to the goods of reason, that is, they are pursued in a disordered manner or at an unreasonable time. Because of this, they are contrary to the good of man as such. Take for example alcoholism. A drink is a good thing in itself because it can be a social good, an aid in relaxation, and it often tastes good. Someone who drinks to the point of being drunk is seeking one of these goods to an excess. If someone gets drunk in order to be drunk, they are seeking the “happy feeling” or something in order to drive away anxiety, lower inhibitions, etc. This feeling is itself a good, and the will perceives it as such and follows suit. However, it is a good contrary to reason because by becoming drunk, intellectual ability is suspended without justification, making it more likely the drunk person does something stupid or harmful to himself or others. Since man is a rational animal, it is contrary to his good as man that he suspends reason unnecessarily and it is harmful. Therefore, the reasonable man ought not to pursue the happy feeling through alcohol but find healthier means of relaxing his mind that do not involve getting drunk.
We always strive at some good, but our good as man is what we ought to strive for because by realizing our end is how we flourish. This raises the question, what is the end of man? St. Thomas discusses this question Here (specifically questions 21-63) . In short, he concludes that the purpose of man’s life must lie beyond death and it consists of union with God, specifically comprehension of God’s nature. St. Thomas argues for the end of man from reason alone, actually, the source I linked to is a work primarily directed at non-Christians.
Two side notes about the end of man: from a Catholic perspective, the natural end of man, that is the end of man which we can (a) know exists through reason alone and (b) which our nature is directed at on its own is distinct from man’s supernatural end. The natural end is in God, as is the supernatural end, it is just that the supernatural end perfects the natural end. We cannot know our supernatural destiny or how to get there without God’s revelation and our nature alone is not directed towards this end, rather we need supernatural assistance called grace in order to reach this end. The end I am talking about is called the “Beatific Vision” and is the essence of happiness in heaven. However this theological point is irrelevant for discussions on natural theology and moral philosophy because we can know our natural end in God from reason alone and this is sufficient for understanding proper moral action.
Back to the main point, morality cannot be separate from God because morality is ultimately directed back to God. It also is directed at our happiness, partially now before realizing our end as men (as is clear from the alcohol example) but more completely our happiness in either realizing or failing to realize our end, and that is an effect that kicks in after death. All the same, being moral is good for us as humans. We should want others to be moral if we want them to be happy. We should be moral if we want to be happy. Morality and happiness are intimately connected. Not just happiness in the sense of immediate satisfaction and pleasure, but happiness in the sense of being what it means to be a perfect person. St. Thomas discusses this at length in the link I provided, but it should be clear that we are restless and unsatisfied. We always seek more. This is because we have yet to fulfill our ends. Once something fulfills its nature, it seeks no more. We seek more until we rest in God, our last end. Morality is what guides us there and once we are there, we are truly happy. Just as the pitcher isn’t satisfied with strike one or out one, so the human isn’t fully satisfied until he reaches God.
Morality is an objective part of reality. It is not a subjective code and it is not relative. It is all based on our natures. Just like different baseball teams don’t have different standards of goodness for pitchers, different cultures don’t have different moralities. Yes, different cultures may live by different so called “moral codes” but this doesn’t mean that every culture has a correct view of ethics. For instance, if a baseball team thought that the best pitchers were those that could pinch run for batters who got on base in late innings, they would have a mistaken view on what makes a pitcher a good pitcher. Maybe the pitcher would be a valuable player in general, but not as a pitcher in particular. This is pretty obvious because the nature of pitchers is obvious. When it comes to morality, things are a little more obscure, but the point still stands: human goodness is an objective feature of the real world.
Coming soon, we will consider the implications of these facts in society and in government.
Note: As it turns out John Lackey pitched a solid game 6 for the Red Sox, pitching 6 2/3 inning, and while giving up 9 hits, he managed to space them out giving up only 1 run, and striking out 5. Congratulations to the Red Sox organization on a “good” season.