Posted by: gcarkner | November 8, 2012

Quality of the Will…8

The Multiplicity of Goods

Within the moral horizon, according to Taylor, the domain of the moral includes many different goods that vie for one’s attention. This can be frustrating and confusing; there is often competition and even conflict between these goods, especially in society at large, but even within the self. Taylor wants to strongly affirm these goods for the benefit of the self, in their plurality; he does not want to stifle their potential just because they come into conflict.

Conflict is not negative here. This may seem counter-intuitive, but he believes that the tensions between goods are a healthy sign, and thus he does not want to resolve these tensions in any facile way by allowing that, for example, one good should devour, repress or eliminate the rest. This can happen in various schools of moral thought. Taylor believes that within the moral framework, one good—the hypergood—tends to surpass in value, and organizes the other lesser goods in some priority.

Why is this diversity of goods important to Taylor? He tries to explain in his tome Sources of the Self with a chapter entitled ‘The Conflicts of Modernity’ (1989, pp. 495- 521), a broad reflection on the diversity of goods and the conflicts of the good among the major movements within modernity. Taylor is quite convinced that there exists a diversity of goods for which a valid claim can be made; he means that they have a legitimate claim on the self.

Ethics, in his view, ought not be reduced to the choice of just one good or principle, such as happiness (as per utilitarianism), efficiency, unfettered-freedom, or self-interest, to the exclusion of all others. This kind of choice is too simplistic and narrow, and it is Taylor’s conviction that the denial of certain goods or families of goods has led to serious imbalance (one-sidedness) within Western moral philosophy. This has eventually led to negative consequences for how people live together in the world.

A one-good-only ethics can become a destructive ideology. He cautions against a selective denial or exclusion of certain goods: (Taylor, 1989, p. 503), “They find their way through the dilemmas of modernity by invalidating some of the crucial goods in contest.” There is an avoidance of such goods as benevolence or one’s moral responsibility to the Other; justice is sometimes articulated as justice for oneself over against the corporate good.

Taylor affirms that the tension between goods can instruct us and need not hinder us (even if it does annoy us). Relationship to a good comes with a cost; there are times when one good has to be sacrificed for another, especially a lower for a higher. He strongly claims that a conflict between goods should not entail or require the conclusion that one must refute or cancel out other goods, nor even worse to refute the general validity of goods in general. He wants to revive these goods in moral currency to “uncover buried goods through rearticulation— and thereby to make these sources again that empower” (1989, p. 520); he wants to affirm the complexity of multiple moral goods in his type of moderate realism.

Crucially, according to Taylor, it is the affirmation of the tension between these goods that keeps an ethical theory and praxis robust and in healthy balance. The tensions are not beyond resolution, but resolution requires the recognition of the need for a hierarchy of the goods (recovering the concept of a greater and lesser good). Taylor (1989, pp. 503- 507 & 514) promotes an important inclusive, anti-reductionist stance on the good. This is important background information in order to explain the importance and key function of the hypergood. In our view, this is a powerful and profound concept.

Gord Carkner


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