Footnote to It It Good to be Good?

I notice that Jason Rennie’s question to me, as to why I place a silly conceit like Utilitarianism above a noble one like Stoicism, was never answered.

Here was my list in order of the reasons to be good.

One should be good:

(1) to avoid punishment — the child’s answer. This is a serviceable answer so long as the authority meting out punishments is just and true.

(2) to have a pleasant life — Epicurus’ answer. This is a serviceable answer so long as one finds a life of temperance and moderation pleasant.

(3) to build character, that is, to achieve greatness of soul — Aristotle’s answer. This is a serviceable answer so long as no self sacrifice is required. All hope of building character ends with one’s life.

(4) to do one’s duty — the Stoic answer. This is a serviceable answer so long as one’s duties are correctly understood, but it is an inhumanly dispassionate way to live.

(5) to do good for others, and to resolve conflicts in favor of the majority, that is, to do the greatest good for the greatest number — the Utilitarian answer. This is a serviceable answer so long as the good of the majority is respectful of the good of the minority. Otherwise it is merely three wolves and two sheep voting on what to have for dinner. It also assumes the good of the majority is correctly understood. The reason why I counted Utilitarianism above Stoicism is that, even though it is a comically inadequate and procedural idea of the good, Utilitarianism at least places the good of others into consideration. Stoicism does not, except when one’s duty happens to extend to others. And even in such a case, the Stoic does his duty for others because it is his duty, not out of any compassion or altruism for others.

(6) to serve an ideology or institution — the Marxist answer. Whatever is good is what serves the Party. This is a serviceable answer so long as the ideology is itself is just and true. That may apply to a patriot serving his nation, or a celebrant serving the Church. But a German patriot after the takeover by the Nazis is serving evil, as is any churchman loyal to a heretical or schismatic denomination. Note that the Marxist ideology pretends to be serving the greatest good for future generations by hastening the onset of utopia, which is an good so desirable that anything and anyone may rightly be sacrificed to its cause: and since utopia is impossible, the ideology is actually a psychopathology: all the windy bloviations of Marxist demagogues are hypocrisy, not ideology, and an endless list of irrational excuses for irrational evil.

(7) to serve the Lord — the Christian answer. To serve the Lord is prompted by love for Him, and one needs no additional motive to do what love prompts.

But, generously enough, this answer includes all lesser answers. It includes serving the Church and the nation — rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s — for so long as they are in service to God. This answer would include the utilitarian concern for others, the stoic concern for duty, the Aristotelian concern for building character, the Epicurean concern for a tranquil life, and the child’s concern for avoiding punishment. But in this case, the punishment comes from a Judge who cannot be deceived, mistaken, unfair or imperfect, who cannot be bribed or fooled.

So serving the Lord also serves church and kingdom, serves others, fulfills duties, makes you a better person, grants tranquility amid turmoil, and avoids punishment. It is a perfect answer.