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II: Instrumental and Technical Goodness

1. IN this chapter we shall deal with two of the uses of the word ‘good’—with two forms of goodness. These are the two forms for which I proposed the names the instrumental and the technical good.

Instrumental goodness is mainly attributed to implements instruments and tools—such as knives watches cars etc. Hence the choice of the term ‘instrumental’. Substantially the same form of goodness is also attributed to domestic animals—dogs cows and horses. This case however I shall not discuss here. Later when speaking of the goodness of human acts we shall be concerned with the notion of ‘a good way of doing something’. It is if not identical with at least closely related to that which is here called instrumental goodness.

The goodness called technical relates to ability or skill. Somebody we say is good at (doing) this or that. The thing at which a being is good can often be called an art in the broad sense of techne in Greek. Hence my choice of the attribute ‘technical’ for this form of goodness.

By calling something ‘good’ in the instrumental or technical sense we often though not always or necessarily say that this thing is good of its kind. For example: a good knife is as a knife good. A good general is somebody who as a general is good.

Let ‘X’ be a variable name of an individual thing and ‘K’ a variable name of a kind of thing. One could make a distinction in meaning between ‘X is good as a K’ and ‘X is as a K good’. Usage may be said to hint at this distinction but cannot be said to uphold it rigorously. When we say of some thing that it is good as a K we often mean that although this thing is not a K it nevertheless can be used with some advantage in the way K's are normally used or performs with some success in the way characteristic of K's. When on the other hand we say of a thing that it is as a K good we usually mean that this thing is a K and moreover a good one.

The possibility of making the above distinction shows that not every attribution of instrumental or technical goodness is an attribution of a goodness of its kind to some thing. When ‘X is good as a K’ is so used as to imply that X is not a K then the goodness attributed to X in the judgment is not a goodness of X's kind.

It seems to be the case that whenever instrumental or technical goodness is in question then the judgment that X is a good K attributes to the individual thing a goodness of its kind. The phrase ‘X is a good K’ may then be regarded as identical in meaning with ‘X is as a K good’.

It would however be a mistake to think that every judgment to the effect that X is a good K attributes to X a goodness of its kind. For example: When we call X a good act or a good habit we are not saying that X is an act or a habit and as such good. The phrase ‘X is a good habit’ is not identical in meaning with ‘X is as a habit good’. Nor is ‘X is a good act’ identical with ‘X is as an act good’. This is so because so far as I can see there exists no (instrumental technical or other form of) excellence which is peculiar to acts as acts or to habits as habits.

2. To attribute instrumental goodness to some thing is primarily to say of this thing that it serves some purpose well. An attribution of instrumental goodness of its kind to some thing presupposes that there exists some purpose which is as I shall say essentially associated with the kind and which this thing is thought to serve well. An attribution of instrumental goodness of its kind to some thing is thus secondary in the sense that it logically presupposes a judgment of goodness for some purpose. Not everything which is good for some purpose also belongs to some kind which is essentially associated with this purpose. Therefore not every primary attribution of instrumental goodness for some purpose to a thing also serves as basis for a secondary attribution of instrumental goodness of its kind to this thing.

By calling a purpose (or set of purposes) ‘essentially associated’ with a kind K I mean that no thing X will qualify as a member of the kind K unless it can serve the purpose (or some of the purposes of the set) in question. Capacity of serving a characteristic purpose in other words is a logically necessary condition of membership of the kind.

A purpose (or member of a set of purposes) which is essentially associated with a kind K I shall call a K-purpose. Ability to serve a K-purpose is a functional characteristic of members of the kind K. Beside functional morphological characteristics may be necessary conditions of membership of the kind. Nothing is a hammer unless it can be used for driving in nails. A knife if it has a thick and heavy handle may be used for driving in nails and thus used as a hammer. But since the morphological features of knives and hammers are in any case distinct this use of the knife as hammer does not make it a hammer. Therefore we do not ordinarily say that a knife which serves the purpose of a hammer well is a good hammer nor do we on that account call it a good knife. (But we can quite correctly say that it is good as a hammer.)

Assume that there are several purposes which are essentially associated with the kind K. Then it may happen that a certain X serves some of these K-purposes well but others not well or even not at all. Can we then call X a good K? Can we say both that X is a good K and that X is not a good K?

Since the possibility which we have just mentioned is altogether realistic consider what we do say in such cases. Knives serve many purposes. Some knives are suited for carving meat others for sharpening a pencil others for cutting open a book others for still other purposes. A knife which carves meat well could perhaps also be used for cutting the pages of a book. But it would hardly serve the second purpose well. A knife suited for cutting paper could probably not be used for cutting meat at all. This inequality in the capacity of serving different purposes is a ground why we distinguish between various kinds of knife or sub-kinds of the kind ‘knife’ such as carving-knives paper-knives table-knives razor-knives etc. according to the specific purposes which they are designed to serve. Is there any limit to this distinction of sub-kinds according to specifications of a generic purpose? Assume that a carving-knife carves mutton well but not pork. Is it then a good carving-knife or is it not a good one? We can call it either or both. There is nothing illogical in saying of a knife that it is both good and not good when this means that it is good in some respect but not good in another. But we can also say of the knife in our example that it is a good mutton-cutting-knife but not a good pork-cutting-knife and regard the two as distinct kinds of knife essentially associated with two distinct purposes. The criterion of distinctness of kind and of purpose would here be the inequality in the goodness of the performances of the two knives.

It would be dogmatic however to maintain that every kind K which is essentially associated with a set of purposes can be split up into a definite number of sub-kinds K1Kn such that each sub-kind is essentially associated with at most one purpose.

3. What is the ‘opposite’ of a good K when ‘good’ connotes instrumental goodness?

It is noteworthy that the adjective ‘good’ in English and the corresponding word in many other languages has several opposites. I shall not stop to discuss why this is the case. The fact is striking and its explanation could therefore be interesting.

Two of the opposites of ‘good’ in English are ‘bad’ and ‘evil’. The opposites of the German ‘gut’ are ‘schlecht’ and ‘übel’; the opposites of the Finnish ‘hyvä’ are ‘huono’ and ‘paha’.

In German the opposite of an instrumentally good K would normally be called ‘schlecht’ and in Finnish it would be called ‘huono’. But in English this opposite is not ordinarily called ‘bad’ although ‘bad’ (not ‘evil’) in most cases is the English equivalent of ‘schlecht’ and ‘huono’. The normal English word for the opposite of an instrumentally good thing is the adjective ‘poor’.1

Thus for example tools such as knives and hammers are called ‘poor’ rather than ‘bad’ if they do not serve their proper purposes well. Similarly it would be more natural to call a watch-dog ‘poor’ than to call it ‘bad’ if it were unsatisfactory for its purpose. If we called it ‘bad’ we should thereby imply that the dog is dangerous or a cause of annoyance e.g. because it is ill-tempered and apt to bite members of the family. If on the other hand the dog were deaf or blind and did not easily notice approaching strangers it would be a poor watch-dog not a bad one. A hammer the handle of which easily breaks into pieces is a poor hammer for the purpose of driving in big nails in a piece of hard wood. A hammer which is apt to damage the wood might be called ‘bad’ even if it is very efficient for driving in nails.

The use in English of ‘bad’ and ‘poor’ in connexion with things which serve purposes thus seems to be indicative of a conceptual distinction. By calling an X which is supposed to serve some purpose poor we imply that it does not serve its purpose well. This judgment is so to speak in the dimension of instrumental goodness. By calling an X which is supposed to serve some purpose bad we imply that apart from the way X serves its purpose—and it may serve this purpose well—X has some other features which we regard as unwanted or undesirable and which reveal themselves in the use of X. This judgment is not in the dimension of instrumental goodness.

4. Granted that the opposite of ‘good’ in the dimension of instrumental goodness is ‘poor’ and not ‘bad’ (or ‘evil’) the question may be raised: How are the instrumentally good and the instrumentally poor opposed to one another? Do ‘good’ and ‘poor’ here name contraries or contradictories?

Is for example a knife which does not serve its proper purpose well ipso facto a poor knife? How do we actually judge of such cases? The practice it would seem is not rigorously fixed. But sometimes—I am inclined to say usually—we do judge in such a way that an instrument which definitely does not serve its proper purpose well is thereby said to be poor for this purpose. Under this way of judging to be instrumentally poor is to fall short of the standards or requirements of instrumental goodness. The poor K is the not-good K. Poorness on this view is a privation. It consists in the absence of goodness. When one of two terms names the privation absence or lack of the thing named by the other term then their meanings are contradictorily and not contrarily opposed to one another.

What may make us even accepting the view of instrumental poorness as a privation yet hesitate to call the instrumentally good and poor contradictorily opposed is the fact that it may be difficult to judge definitely whether a K for its proper purpose good. This is so because of the vagueness of the notion. (We shall discuss the question of vagueness in the next section.) But the fact that the border between the instrumentally good and the instrumentally poor is vague and not sharp is in my opinion not an adequate ground for calling the two notions contrarily and not contradictorily opposed.

It should be added in this place that the negation of the proposition that X is a good K is capable of two interpretations. That X is not a good K can mean either that X is not a K and therefore a fortiori not a good K or that X is a K though not a good one. If the negative proposition is understood in the first way then that X is not a good K does not entail that X is a poor K.

Similarly that X does not serve a certain purpose well can mean either that X does not serve this purpose at all and therefore a fortiori does not serve it well or that X serves this purpose though not well. Only when the negative proposition is understood in the second way does the proposition that X does not serve a certain purpose well entail the proposition that X serves this purpose poorly.

Of the X which is not a K it is true to say not only that it is not a good K but also that it is not a poor K. And of the X which does not serve a certain purpose at all it is true to say not only that it does not serve this purpose well but also that it does not serve this purpose poorly. The existence of things which are in the senses explained both not-good and not-poor constitutes no ground for saying that ‘good’ and ‘poor’ are contraries and not contradictories.

5. Are judgments of instrumental goodness ‘objectively’ true or false? This is a difficult question worth—I think—a much more thoroughgoing discussion than can be given to it here.

It is convenient to tackle the problem of objectivity first for judgments of instrumental betterness. It is also convenient to distinguish some main types of case when a thing is judged instrumentally good or better than another. I shall here briefly discuss four cases.

First case. Someone says of one knife that it is better than another. He is asked why he thinks thus. He answers that the first knife is sharper. But why should the sharper knife be the better knife? All depends upon the purpose for which it is being used. Our man is evidently not using the knife to cut the pages of a book. For then sharpness is no particular virtue of the knife. Assume that he is carving meat. Other things being equal the sharper the knife the less will it tear the surface of the slices cut. He wants the slices to be as smooth as possible. Therefore the sharper knife is in his judgment the better knife.

In this example there are two relationships worth special attention. The one is between the sharpness of the knife-edge and the smoothness of the cut. The other is between the smoothness of the cut and the goodness (or betterness) of the knife. The first—between ‘sharper’ and ‘smoother’—is a causal connexion. That the sharper knife should give the smoother cut is no logical necessity. For some materials it may not even be true. The second—between ‘smoother’ and ‘better’—is a logical connexion. If the user of the instrument wants to cut the smoothest possible slices then the knife which cuts more smoothly necessarily serves this purpose better. ‘Better knife’ one feels inclined to say here means ‘smoother-cutting knife’.2 But then it should be observed that it is only in this particular setting: wanting to cut as smoothly as possible that there is this meaning-connexion between the two phrases.

It is important to keep these two questions apart: What does the subject want to do? and How does he want to do this? The answer to the first question is in the case under discussion that the subject wants to carve slices of meat. This is the purpose for which he uses the knife—the K-purpose as we called it. The answer to the second question is that he wants the slices to be as smooth as possible. This I propose to call the subjective setting of the purpose.

So far as I can see the phrase ‘this is a good K’ or ‘this K is better than that other K’ makes sense only within a given subjective setting of the K-purpose. That X is a good K we said means that X serves some K-purpose well. The word ‘well’ is an adverb which qualifies the way of serving the purpose. It is natural to think that the meaning of this adverb in the particular case should be given by another adverb or adverbial phrase which also qualifies a way of serving this same purpose. In our example the key-word which gave meaning to ‘well’ was the adverb ‘smoothly’.

It should be observed that the man in our example who judges that the sharper knife is better is here judging that the sharper knife cuts more smoothly. He is not judging that the smoother-cutting knife is better; this is presupposed in the judgment. He is judging a causal property of the sharper knife. This judgment of his is ‘objectively’ true or false. This is: the judgment is true or false—the word ‘objectively’ is in fact redundant. The man who makes the judgment can be mistaken. Assume that contrary to what he believed to be the case the sharper knife does not give the smoother cut. Then the sharper knife is not the better knife. His value-judgment was false.

Following an established terminology I shall call sharpness in our example a good-making property of knives. Being sharper can then be called a better-making property. A good-or better-making property of a thing it should be observed is thus causally related to the goodness or betterness of this thing. It has however this relationship by virtue of the fact that it is causally related to some other property which is in its turn logically related to the goodness or betterness of the thing within a certain subjective setting of a purpose.3

‘Smooth’ and also ‘sharp’ are words with a vague meaning. A surface which is judged smooth by one may be judged rough by another and more demanding judge. And the same holds true for ‘sharp’ and ‘blunt’. This vagueness of the ‘descriptive’ or ‘naturalistic’ adjectives will here entail a corresponding vagueness of the value term ‘good’. In the case which we are discussing the goodness of a good knife is exactly as vague as the smoothness of a smooth surface. This is a noteworthy feature. But to call value-judgments ‘subjective’ because of the vagueness which they often have would I think be more misleading than illuminating.

Another noteworthy thing is that although the absolutes ‘smooth’ and ‘sharp’ are words with a vague meaning the comparatives ‘smoother’ and ‘sharper’ are not. Therefore when being better is logically consequent upon being smoother the comparative value-attribute is not vague either. It seems to be largely true to say that speaking of instrumental goodness the absolutes ‘good’ and ‘poor’ are vague whereas the comparatives ‘better’ and ‘poorer’ are not vague. But this it should be noted depends upon the nature of some ‘underlying’ naturalistic attribute—such as ‘smooth’ or ‘sharp’ or ‘rough’ or ‘blunt’—and not directly upon the nature of instrumental goodness. To think that the meaning of ‘good’ is intrinsically vague would seem to me to be a mistake.

Second case. Someone says of one knife that it is better than another. When asked why he judges thus he says that it cuts more smoothly and that smoothness is what he wants. Here is no mention of a better-making property. Perhaps the user is not aware of one. The two knives are equally sharp the one just cuts more smoothly than the other. There may exist some explanation for this some better-making property but it is not known—at least not to the user.

The absence of reference to a better-making property from the value-judgment does not alter its status with regard to ‘objectivity’. What is being judged in the judgment that this is the better knife is simply that this knife cuts more smoothly than the other. (It is again presupposed in the judgment that a smoother-cutting knife ipso facto is a better knife.) The judgment can be true or false.

It may be noted in passing that judgments of instrumental goodness usually even if not necessarily contain a conjectural element. This refers to future uses of the instrument. We would hardly say that this knife is better than that other knife if we happened to be speaking exclusively of its performances in the past. Saying that the knife is better involves some expectations about its future performances. In these expectations we may become disappointed. Should this happen we may also wish to say that we were mistaken in thinking this the better knife.

Third case. Someone again says of a knife that it is better than another. As a reason for judging thus he gives that the first knife suits him better for the purpose for which he is using the knife. He has let us assume relatively small hands and the knife which he thinks better has a smaller handle than the other knife. Another person whose hands are bigger may be better served by the other knife for exactly the same purpose. The value-judgment now contains an implicit reference to the user of the instrument.

The implicit reference to user can be and often is made explicit by means of inserting the phrase ‘for me’ or ‘for so-and-so’ into the formulation of the value-judgment. ‘Better for me’ ‘better for him’ ‘better for children’ are phrases which make sense when instrumental goodness is concerned. It should be observed however that the sense of the sentence ‘this knife is better for me’ which we are now discussing is not that this knife serves my purposes better than say some other man's but that it serves me but not necessarily another man better for this very purpose.

The fact that a judgment of instrumental goodness contains reference explicit or implicit to a user does not alter its character of an ‘objectively’ true or false judgment. That my hands are relatively small may be an objective fact about my bodily constitution. Therefore it may also be an objective fact that this knife with the smaller handle is better for me than the one with the bigger handle. In judging that the knife with the smaller handle is better for me I may however be mistaken.

Fourth case. A man judges one knife better than another. When asked for reasons he says that he just likes it better just prefers its use to that of the other knife. Even in this case our man may be able to give further reasons why he likes the use of the one knife better than the use of the other. But these further reasons if there are any and there need not be make no reference to the efficiency with which the instruments serve their purpose. He prefers the one knife not because it cuts better but say because it looks nicer or he has some special attachment to it. (Perhaps the knife belonged to his grandfather.)

In the case now under discussion I shall call the judgment of value subjective. Our man does not judge anything about which he can be mistaken. We could also say that he is not judging anything at all but merely giving verbal expression to his preference or to his liking.

This case however when the judgment is subjective is not a case of instrumental goodness at all. For that X is a better K than Y should mean according to the explanation we gave earlier that X serves some K-purpose better than Y. But here it was assumed that the so-called betterness of the one instrument had nothing at all to do with its superiority in serving a purpose. Hence betterness which is grounded on sheer preference or liking is not instrumental betterness.

The reason why I nevertheless mention this fourth case is that although it is in principle distinct from the three first and is not a case of instrumental goodness at all it may in practice be difficult to know whether a value-judgment is of the fourth type or of one of the three first. Consider a man who says of one knife that it is better than another on the ground that it has a pleasanter feel at least in his hands. The pleasanter feel could be a better-making property in the sense that it causally affects his results in cutting. He cuts say more smoothly with the knife of pleasanter feel—perhaps even with the knife of pleasanter (nicer more attractive) look. This is not an altogether unrealistic possibility. If it should be true the case belongs to one of the three first which we discussed. Then the judgment of betterness is objectively true or false. But the pleasanter feel need not causally affect the result in cutting at all. Then the judgment of betterness is as we have said subjective but also no judgment of instrumental betterness.

Our conclusion is thus that genuine judgments of instrumental goodness are always objectively true or false judgments. This ‘objectivity’ of theirs is not contradicted or voided by the facts that in such judgments a subjective setting of the purpose is necessarily presupposed that they may be vague and that they may contain reference to a user.

The question may be raised to what extent is it possible to make and uphold general statements about good-making properties? Is e.g. the sharper knife always the better knife? Certainly not already for the reason that we are not always using knives for purposes to which the smoothness of the cut is intrinsically relevant. But even when we do use knives for such purposes is it always the case that other things being equal we are better served by the sharper knife? Whether we are may depend upon the material to be cut. But if it is true to say that knives are mostly used for purposes to the subjective settings of which smoothness of cut is intrinsically relevant and that sharper knives cut more smoothly through most materials then it is also true to say that sharpness or being sharper is on the whole a good-or better-making property of knives. It is with such rough empirical generalizations that we shall have to be content in matters of instrumental and many other forms of goodness.

6. Since judgments of instrumental goodness are true or false shall we say that sentences expressing such judgments are descriptive sentences? The term ‘descriptive’ when applied to a sentence strongly suggests a certain use of the sentence under consideration viz. for purposes of describing. Now it would not be correct to say that instrumental value-judgments are ordinarily made for the sake of describing or conveying information. Therefore it seems to me misleading to make the ‘objectivity’ of judgments of instrumental goodness a ground for calling sentences expressing such judgments ‘descriptive’.

But even if instrumental value-judgments were never made for the sake of describing it would be correct to say that they have a descriptive content (or force or import)—and that this descriptive content is essential to the use of the corresponding value-sentences. Their descriptive content is the possible fact which if actually there makes the judgment true. To call this descriptive content the sense (or why not ‘meaning’?) of the sentences expressing the judgment seems to me unobjectionable.

Thus for example the descriptive content of the judgment ‘the sharper knife is better’ might be that the sharper knife gives the smoother cut. If it is asked what so-and-so meant by calling the sharper knife better the answer could very well be that he meant that it cut more smoothly.

The account of the sense of value-sentences should in my opinion be separated from the account of the use of such sentences. The idea that to give an account of the meaning is to give an account of the use in combination with the important observation that instrumental and other value-sentences are not ordinarily used for purposes of describing has encouraged an one-sided view of the semantics and logic of evaluative discourse—one-sided chiefly because it underrates the role of truth in connexion with valuations.

7. One of the most important uses of ‘good’ we are told by many recent philosophers is for commending. One commends the use of a thing for a certain purpose. This is not the only but I think the most common case of commending. One would therefore think that there is a specially close connexion between commending and instrumental goodness. This I believe is true. When ‘good’ is used for commending it is very frequently instrumental goodness that is in question.

What is the force or role of the word ‘good’ or ‘better’ when we commend things which are thought to possess some instrumental excellence? One could answer that this role would not exist unless the person who commends a thing by calling it ‘good’ or ‘better’ states a reason why the person whom he addresses should use the commended thing for some purpose of his. But how can the Instrumental goodness or betterness of a thing constitute a reason for using it? In the assumption that it constitutes such a reason two presuppositions may be said to be involved. The first is that the person to whom we commend the thing is actually in pursuit of an end or purpose which the commended thing on account of its goodness is supposed to serve well or at least better than some other thing. The second is that if a person is in pursuit of an end or purpose which the use of any one of a number of things will serve then he will be more inclined to use a thing which serves this purpose better than one which serves it less well. Or to put it otherwise: in commending it is presupposed that relative to a given purpose we prefer the use of the better instrument and therefore shall when presented with a choice choose it. The use of the word ‘good’ for purposes of commending thus hinges upon a connexion between goodness and preferential choice. The nature of this connexion we shall now briefly discuss for the special case of instrumental goodness.

8. Is it always and necessarily the case that we prefer the use of the better instrument to the use of the less good one granting that there is a choice and that we pursue the ends which the instruments in question serve?

It is easy to think of exceptions. For example: We admit that X is a better K than Y. But we prefer Y because it is less expensive. Does this not mean that we prefer—indeed very often have to prefer—the less good to the better? One could answer as follows: What we prefer here is not the use of Y to that of X for the purpose essentially associated with K's. We prefer the use of Y to that of X within a larger setting of purposes. We do not only want to do that for which a K is needed but also things for which a L and a M and a N are needed. If we used the best possible K within our choice for its purpose we could afford the use either of no instruments at all or only of exceedingly poor ones for those other purposes. So the K which we choose is after all the one which we think on the whole best serves our ends. By admitting that it is less good than another K we are in fact saying that we should of course have preferred the second one to the one we actually chose had considerations relating to those other ends and purposes been immaterial.

I think that the lesson taught by this example can be generalized as follows: Whenever we prefer the use of a K which we judge poorer to the use of a K which we judge better there is only an apparent exception to the rule that we always prefer for its proper purpose the instrumentally better thing. For the purpose for which we prefer the poorer K is not the K-purpose relative to which this K is judged less good than some other K. It is some other purpose or complex of purposes which the poorer K actually is thought to serve better than the better K. Thus of the two K's we in fact chose the better viz. for present purposes though not the better K. Generally speaking: It is not logically possible to choose with a view to a purpose the use of an instrument which is judged less good for that purpose than another instrument.

This in no way contradicts the fact that it is possible to choose with a view to a purpose something which is for that very purpose less good than another thing. We are here confronted with an instance of the distinction between the real and the apparent good. A man can be mistaken about the goodness of an instrument for some purpose of his. He judges (considers thinks) X better than Y and chooses X. But Y is better.

We can now command a clearer view of the relation between commending and instrumental goodness. Commending on grounds of goodness we said would be pointless if there did not exist a relation between instrumental goodness and preferential choice. This connexion we have suggested is not that we necessarily prefer the better. It is that we necessarily prefer that which we judge to be better—assuming that the preferential choice is with a view to the purpose involved in the judgment of instrumental betterness.

9. Let us now turn to ‘technical goodness’. What is here understood by that name could also be called the goodness of ability or capacity or skill. I do not wish to say that the last three substantives are always perfect synonyms. But the man who is a technically good so-and-so is commonly also said to be an able or capable or skilful so-and-so. And here the three last adjectives could be replaced by ‘good’ without alteration of meaning.

When technical goodness is concerned the judgment that X is a good K or a better K than Y attributes to the things in question in excellence—higher and lower in the case of the comparative judgment—of their kind. To be a technically good (or better) K is to be a K and good (or better) as such. The technically like the instrumentally good K is a good-as-a-K K.

When members of a kind K are classified as technically good or not good better or inferior K's it is presupposed in the value-judgments that membership of the kind is essentially tied to ability to perform a certain activity. That the tie is essential means that any individual in order to qualify as a member of the kind must be able to perform must master this activity. The good K is a K who is good at the proper activity of K's. (The logic of technical goodness one could therefore also say is the logical grammar of the phrase ‘good at’.)

It follows from what has been said that an attribution of technical goodness of its kind to some being is a secondary valuation. Its basis the primary valuation is a judgment to the effect that this being is good at something.

Examples of uses of the phrase ‘a good K’ in the sense now under discussion are provided by what is ordinarily meant when we speak of a good chess-player runner car-driver orator carpenter general business-man teacher scientist etc. The thing which the good K is as a K good at doing is sometimes a fairly simple and well-defined activity which is named by one word in language. A good chess-player is good at playing chess a good orator good it public speaking. What is a good general good at? To say that he is good at conducting armies would be to take a somewhat oversimplified view of the variegated tasks which generals are supposed to handle. Yet a good general would not be a good general (‘a good-as-a-general general’) unless he were good at just those activities (or some of them) the skilful performing of which constitutes the excellence of generals.

People are by nature more or less talented for the art or activity which is essentially connected with a kind K of agents. Some of these activities for example running or speaking are such that practically every man learns to perform them. Others are typically such in which not all men share—for example playing chess or conducting an orchestra. But irrespective of whether the activity belongs to the one category or to the other it seems to be generally true that a man whom we call a K must not only be able to perform this activity but must have undergone some special training to acquire and develop the skill or take a special interest in exercising it. Not everybody who can run is a runner nor is everybody who can speak an orator—not even a poor one. Is everybody who can play chess to be termed a chess-player? There are no fixed rules for the use of the word. But by calling a person a chess-player we would normally indicate more than merely that he knows how to play chess; say that he is keen on the game or that he has taken pains to develop his skill at playing it.

It follows from what has been said that in order to qualify as a K one must at least in many cases not only master the appropriate art or activity but master it with some degree of distinction or excellence. One cannot become a singer unless one learns to sing rather well—or an orator unless one learns to talk eloquently. A good singer is therefore a person who sings well in two respects: first as compared to how people in general sing and second as compared to how singers sing.

There is at this point an analogy between kinds of men who may be good at something and kinds of instrument who may serve a purpose well. Just as nothing is say a knife merely on the ground that it can be used to serve some of a knife's proper purposes similarly nobody qualifies say as a singer merely because he can sing. When we are concerned with kinds the members of which may excel in instrumental goodness the additional criteria which the thing has to satisfy are it would seem typically morphological criteria—such as the characteristic shape of a certain tool. When again the question is of kinds the members of which may excel (as members of their kind) in technical goodness the additional criteria have to do with skill above the average or with social status such as profession or office—for which special training is often prescribed.

10. In the realm of instrumental goodness we said the opposite of a good K is a poor K. An instrument is sometimes also said to be a bad instrument. It seems to be the case however that we call instruments bad chiefly on account of some detrimental or otherwise unwanted ‘side-effects’ of their use—and not on account of a deficiency in the way they serve their proper purposes. This observation can be made a ground for saying that there is no such thing as instrumental badness. (Cf. sect. 3.)

It is easily noticed that the opposite of a technically good K is sometimes called ‘poor’ and sometimes ‘bad’. The question may now be raised whether we can make a distinction here between ‘poor’ and ‘bad’ which would correspond to the distinction between the two terms in the sphere of instrumental excellence. The answer seems to be that there are no strong reasons for making such a distinction in the sphere of technical excellence. This is so because although the practising of activities may have unwanted ‘side-effects’ (e.g. on the health of the persons who practise them) we do not make the badness of such effects a ground for calling the agents themselves bad members of their kind. This seems to me a noteworthy difference in the way we attribute badness to instruments and to people.

In the realm of technical excellence both ‘poor’ and ‘bad’ are thus used as genuine opposites of ‘good’ and may be regarded as synonyms.

Do ‘good’ on the one hand ‘poor’ and ‘bad’ on the other hand connote contraries or contradictories in the realm of technical goodness? I would answer the question in the same way as the corresponding question about ‘good’ and ‘poor’ in the realm of instrumental goodness. The relation between the opposites is one of contradictoriness rather than one of contrariness. The technically not-good K is the technically poor or bad K and conversely. But as in the case of instrumental goodness the border between the good and the not-good is vague.

To be a bad or poor K in the technical sense is to suffer a privation. A man is a poor chess-player a bad runner a poor craftsman if his performance as chess-player runner or craftsman is not up to certain standards of excellence. He is not bad or poor by virtue of having some ‘excellence in the negative direction’. Only in jest do we say of the unskilful craftsman that he excels in performing his art badly.

11. For measuring excellence in some activity i.e. technical goodness certain tests are sometimes available. One may distinguish two main types of test: competitive tests and achievement tests.

Who for example is the better chess-player of two? Playing chess like many other games is essentially a competitive activity. Success in competition is therefore here a primary sign of goodness. If X invariably or usually beats Y he is better at the game. If Y usually beats Z it is likely but by no means certain that X will usually beat Z and thus be better than Z too. The beating-relation is not necessarily transitive; and to think that the relation of betterness is or must be transitive for all forms of goodness would be a distorting rationalization.

Consider next the question who is the better runner of two. Here we have in addition to competitive tests also achievement tests for measuring the goodness of the performance. These latter consist in recording the time which it takes a man to run a certain distance. The two types of test are both used and both useful for the same purpose viz. for the purpose of determining the relative excellence of two or more runners. They are furthermore independent tests. By this I mean that they need not give concordant results. Assume that a man beats the record when he runs alone but is regularly beaten in competition. Maybe his nerves fail him. Is he then a good runner? We could say that he is a good solo-runner but a bad competition-runner and make the discordance of the results in testing a ground for regarding solo-running and competition-running as two distinct activities.

Whenever there are two or more independent tests for measuring excellence in something it is possible to regard the tests as measuring excellence in two or more (logically) independent activities. When the tests give concordant results it is usually not urgent to distinguish the activities. When they give discordant results it may become urgent to distinguish them—or else we shall have to say that one and the same man is both good and not good at the same thing. But sometimes we prefer to express ourselves thus.

The results of testing can be either causally or logically related to excellence in the activity. We perform certain measurements on a man and watch him go through certain movements and say: he must be good at long distance running. We then regard certain features and capacities of a man as good-making with a view to some activity. It is clear that judgments of goodness which are based on such tests can always be mistaken.

Tests of technical goodness which rely on good-making properties I shall call symptom-tests or tests by symptoms. Such competitive and achievement tests the results of which bear logically on goodness in the activity might be called criteria-tests or tests by criteria.

Be it mentioned in passing that it is sometimes debatable whether a given test should be regarded as a test by symptoms or by criteria. A well-known case in point are intelligence-tests. Is the one who scores more points in the test than another ipso facto more intelligent or is his achievement only symptomatic of greater intelligence? When it is said as has often been done that intelligence is what the intelligence-tests measure then the results of the tests are regarded as logically connected with the measured ability. The methodological problems connected with intelligence-tests we shall not discuss here however. Goodness of intelligence is not of the variety which I call technical goodness but of a related variety.

Judgments of technical goodness are objectively true or false in all cases in which there are criteria-tests i.e. tests the results of which are related logically to excellence in the activity. As already noted there are such tests in many cases: in competitive games for example and in athletic activities whether competitive or not. But are there in all cases?

Consider for example the various skilled professions: soldiers teachers doctors etc. Which tests will decide whether a doctor is good or not or better than another?

Various so-called tests which a man has to undergo in the course of his training—university examinations and similar things—are primarily tests for measuring whether he has acquired the art in question and is henceforth qualified as being a K: a doctor teacher etc. For measuring goodness in the art they may have a secondary value viz. as symptom-tests. The results in these tests do not bear logically on excellence in the activity. ‘He must be a good doctor considering his brilliant records from the medical school’ is no logically conclusive argument.

The existence of the various professions answers to various needs of society. Doctors teachers etc. serve the ends and purposes of men and institutions. Their goodness as doctors teachers etc. depends to a large extent upon how well they do this. But the question how well they do this is a question of instrumental goodness. This I believe is an important point. To be a technically good K we have said requires that there is an activity essentially associated with membership of the kind K. But this activity may in its turn be essentially connected with some end or purpose which members of K can serve thanks to the fact that they master the art of K-ing. Doctors are ‘essentially’ needed to cure the sick. If they were not our idea of a good doctor would be quite different from what it is now—the medical profession would in fact be a different profession.

When there is this essential tie between activity and purpose then technical goodness is ultimately measured in the terms of instrumental goodness. This is the case with goodness in most so-called professions. It is appropriate to say that technical goodness is here secondary to instrumental goodness since the first is logically dependent upon the second. But in the case of the good chess-player or the good athlete technical goodness is not secondary to instrumental or to any other form of goodness. Goodness at doing something which is not assessed ultimately in the terms of some other form of goodness we may call pure technical goodness.

Since judgments of instrumental goodness are objectively true or false the same will hold good of such judgments of technical goodness which are in the sense explained secondary to judgments of instrumental goodness.

Is it always the case that technical goodness either has criteria-tests of its own or criteria-tests which are derived from standards of instrumental goodness? Consider for example excellence in science or in philosophy or arts in the aesthetic sense of the term.

Of those activities in which excellence has no tests of its own or is not secondary to instrumental goodness certain features seem to be common and characteristic. One is that they exhibit a creative aspect which makes them differently related to teaching and training in comparison with other arts and activities. One can be taught to paint or to compose music but one cannot be taught to become an artist and it is the painter or composer as artist whom we valuate when we speak of a good painter or musician.

Highest excellence in the creative arts is called genius. It is noteworthy that we call him who has it ‘great’ rather than ‘good’.

The question to which extent excellence in the creative arts can be ‘objectively’ assessed I shall not here discuss.

The observations which we have made in this section may be thought to indicate that the notion of being good at covers not one but several forms of goodness. There is first the excellence of which skill in a game or game-like activity is the standard example. It can be measured by tests of its own. There is secondly the excellence of the skilled professional. It is mainly at least assessed in terms of instrumental goodness. Thirdly there is excellence in the creative arts. This seems to defy assessment by means of tests and in terms of instrumental (or utilitarian) goodness.

It is not very important whether we wish to speak of the three types of excellence mentioned as three forms of goodness or as three sub-forms of one form viz. technical goodness. But it is important to be aware that the corresponding three types of activity are in a manifold of ways related to one another. The professional skill e.g. of a doctor or a teacher may rise to the level of creative genius. And the creative activity e.g. of an artist or a philosopher has an element of play and can therefore sometimes rightly be called game-like.

12. Is there a connexion between technical goodness and commendation? One recommends the good teacher the good craftsman the good scientist for a job. This is done because teachers craftsmen scientists have a use may be put to serve the purposes of individual men or social institutions. If the association between a kind K of man and a purpose for which men of this kind may be used is essential is an intrinsic tie then the standards whereby the technical goodness and those whereby the instrumental goodness of a K are judged are bound necessarily to give concordant results. And then judgments of technical goodness have a use for commending too.

When however the excellence of a man as member of a kind K is not also an instrumental excellence for some purpose judgments of technical goodness have no direct and obvious use for commending. But ‘good’ in the sense of pure technical goodness can be said to have a laudatory or praising function.

Technical goodness which is not also instrumental bears no intrinsic relationship to preferential choice. This is so because there is then no such thing as wanting the better K for a given purpose. But there is an analogue to preferential choice also for pure technical goodness. What this analogue is I shall try briefly to explain.

A man who is a K will normally want to be a good K or want to become a better K. Why should there be this desire for perfection? The possible reasons fall in two groups. Either a man wants this because being a good or better K serves some ulterior end or purpose of his. This case does not interest us here. Its discussion belongs in the context of instrumental and other forms of goodness. Or a man who is a K is craving for perfection because he is keen on the activity proper to K's or as we could also put it is keen on K-ing.

Being keen on the activity corresponds in the sphere of technical goodness to being in the pursuit of an end or purpose in the realm of instrumental goodness. Within the subjective setting of a purpose a man will we have said necessarily prefer the use of an instrument which he considers better to the use of one which he considers less good for his purpose. Similarly he will necessarily want to be as good as possible aim at perfecting himself in the activity on which he is keen. Otherwise he simply is not keen. Like the man who cannot afford to buy the best instruments he may not be able to afford the time or money to train himself to become as good as he might otherwise become. But this does not show that he does not want to become as good as possible. It only shows that other circumstances beside his innate resources of self-development may put a limit to his possibilities of perfecting himself in this or that respect.

One can for some purpose want to be a poor K. For example: to be a poor cricketer in order not to become selected for the team. But there is no such thing as wanting to be a poor K for its own sake. For this would mean the same as being keen on doing K poorly and this as I have tried to explain is a contradiction in terms.

  • 1. I am indebted for this observation to Professor Norman Malcolm.
  • 2. Adopting Hate's distinction between meaning and criterion, we could say that being smoother-cutting is here a criterion of being better, but that nevertheless the meaning of ‘smoother-cutting’ is different from the meaning of ‘better’. Cf. Hare, The Language of Morals (1952), Ch. 7. As Hare himself observes (pp. cit., p. 110), we commonly call ‘meaning’ that which he calls ‘criterion’, when rating the excellence of something. See also above, Ch. I, Sect. 3.
  • 3. Writers, who have employed the term ‘good-making property’, have in general not distinguished between such properties, which are causally, and such which are logically related to the goodness of a thing. Once the distinction has been noted, the question may be raised, to which kind of property the term ‘good-making’ should apply. This question is here answered by calling the causally relevant properties good-making. We could equally well have decided to call the logically relevant properties by that name, or even let the term cover both kinds of properties. The important thing is not, how we understand the philosopher's term ‘good-making’, but that we should be aware of the two different ways, the causal and the logical, in which a ‘naturalistic’ property can be relevant to the goodness of something.