To understand virtue, let’s begin by understanding our motivations — what do we desire? We are complex creatures, and so we have different longings that we must categorize to appreciate and understand. Philosophers and theologians have identified eight different categories of goods for which we all desire and long. They are:
- Goods related to physical life — nourishment, sexuality, health, sleep, safety (these give us physical pleasures).
- Goods related to knowledge — information, data, facts, the satisfaction of curiosity.
- Goods related to enjoyment of beautiful things (aesthetic appreciation) — art, concerts, deep-dish pizza, sporting events, physical beauty, poetry, nature.
- Goods related to achievement — success, accomplishments, meeting goals. We want to be good at something, we want to contribute, to be makers and doers, not just appreciators.
There are also “good” relationships that we pursue:
- The good of inner peace — the relationship between our internal faculties. This gives us mental and emotional stability. It is why so many people go to psychiatrists, or practice meditation because they lack inner peace.
- The good of self-identity — this allows us to be honest, sincere, and live according to our convictions. It makes our lives authentic and consistent. Without this good, we feel phony or fake. This does not mean doing whatever we feel like; nor does it necessarily mean “being yourself.”
- Good relationship with other human persons — this is the good of friendship which includes married love, family relationships, community and love between all persons.
- Good relationship with supernatural persons — this is the good of religion, faith, beliefs and the ultimate reasons that motivate all our actions.
Regardless of what action we scrutinize, if we keep asking, “Why did I do that?” we will end up at one of these eight categories. Even money or power is desirable only if it can help us gain one of these goods. So, we pursue these things because they make us happy.
Next issue — Human Formation — Living Rightly, living well: When good becomes evil.