Basic Human Goods & Human Morality

What are the basic human goods? What is their connection to our fundamental moral laws? 

Basic Human Goods:

Life, Health- includes sufficient satisfying food, Knowledge, Aesthetic experience, Skilled work, Play, Friendship, Internal harmony with one’s thoughts and feelings, Harmony with others, Sense of belonging in creation – sense of a meaningful life, Marriage – includes sexual satisfaction in coitus open to conception for strengthening and maintaining life-long male/female life-long monagamous bonding.

These are goods which, in general, people naturally desire.  The first principle of practical reason – reasoning about conduct – states “Do good, avoid evil.”  What is good is specified by the above list of basic human goods. If humans had not chosen to set aside pursuit of these basic goods for some lesser satisfaction, the so-called first principle of practical reason would describe human behavior. That describes a state of innocence.  Instead, the first principle of practical reason is an imperative. We are commanded to pursue these basic human goods and never to intentionally frustrate them.  Thus, they become obligatory goods.

The human choice that made basic human goods obligatory goods, viz., original sin, created morality. The vast array of principles, developed over the ages, about what we ought to do and ought not do are a human product. If we had not freely made the choice to deliberate about whether to pursue basic goods and never intentionally frustrate them, we would not need to have moral laws commanding us to do so.

We can still hold that moral laws are commands of God. The commands, though, do not come directly from God. God created us with our basic goods as our natural goods but with a will free to choose or not to choose them without hesitation.  We chose to “make up our own minds” about pursuing them. Dreadful experience over the ages as a result of choosing lesser goods has forced humanity to use its God-given capacity to command itself to articulate moral laws.

I adapted the above list of basic goods from the New Natural Law Theory as characterised in the selection from the article below.  My claims about morality should not be regarded as those of this theory.

Christopher O. Tollefsen, University of South Carolina*

First, the New Natural Law view holds that practical reason, that is, reason oriented towards action, grasps as self-evidently desirable a number of basic goods.  These goods, which are described as constitutive aspects of genuine human flourishing, include life and health; knowledge and aesthetic experience; skilled work and play; friendship; marriage; harmony with God, and harmony among a person’s judgments, choices, feelings, and behavior. As grasped by practical reason, the basic goods give foundational reasons for action to human agents. Moreover, they are recognized as good for all human agents; it is equally intelligible to act for the sake of the life of another as for one’s own life. 

Second, these goods, and most of their instantiations in action, are held to be incommensurable with one another. That is to say, there is no natural hierarchy of goodness such that one good may be said to offer all the good of another plus more. Rather, each of the goods is beneficial to human agents, and hence desirable, in a unique way; each offers something that the other goods do not. The same is generally true of particular instantiations of the goods: one way of working, playing, or pursuing knowledge, for example, may offer benefits that are not weighable by a common standard of goodness in relation to instantiations of the other goods, or even instantiations of the same good.[4]

In more recent years, the New Natural Lawyers have developed an account of a specifically sexual morality around two claims: first, that marriage is one of the basic human goods, distinct from life or friendship; and second, that the human person is a rational animal, a living organism of the human species. The New Natural Lawyers see general principles of sexual morality as flowing from these claims.[12]

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