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The Good Of The Whole: Leibniz, Whitehead, And Spinoza

If the good is somehow objective, one will want to inquire as to the elements or proper analysis of this object. Even G. E. Moore (1873–1958), who argued that goodness was a simple, indefinable property (see below), held that we could say something about the nature of the good as a kind of "organic unity." In this vein, one finds something of a consensus among those philosophers who have addressed this particular concern (including even the diverse pair of metaphysicians Gottfried Leibniz [1646–1716], the seventeenth-century German rationalist, and Alfred North Whitehead [1861–1941], the twentieth-century British mathematician): that the good must involve a kind of maximum of both complexity and organic unity. Such a conception has an important bearing both on questions of environmental or ecological value and on the traditional theological problem of evil.

Environmentalists (especially of the more radical variety) are concerned to uphold the intrinsic (or noninstrumental) value of nature, but this raises important questions of whether or how everything in nature (for example, a solitary gnat) has such value. Here the Leibniz-Whitehead vision of unity in complexity can be helpful in understanding the value, for instance, of living organisms—indeed, of nature as a whole. Theologically, such a conception may be employed to justify apparent evil as part of a desirable ordered complex unity. In Whitehead's theodicy, all evil is the result of a lack of unity (yielding disharmony and ultimately pain) or a lack of complexity (ultimately yielding boredom).

Quite a different metaphysical vision is offered by Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), the seventeenth-century Dutch thinker. For Spinoza, such an ordered complexity is strictly neither good nor bad; thus, since he identifies this whole with God, God is beyond such attributes. Still, according to Spinoza, in the contemplation and especially in the understanding of this whole there lies a kind of supreme good for humankind.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Glucagon to HabitatGood - Moral Versus Nonmoral Good, Intrinsic And Merely Instrumental Good, Teleological Versus Consequentialist Views Of The Good