Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume , number ,
La plurivocidad de 'bueno'
Augusto Salazar Bondy
Universidad de San Marcos

Abstract: 1. The multiple variation of meaning of evaluative words in common evaluating usage is a fact of our linguistic experience. I wish to call attention here to three main classes of variations of ‘good’:
i] There is what is good or the good of each object with reference to each genus or species of object. It is not the same to speak of a good book as of a good automobile.
ii] One speaks also of good in an absolute sense as opposed to the relatively good, and of intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic good, and likewise of good as an end and as a means, as primary and derived, etc. There is also what is good in a comparative sense, and the degrees of good.
iii] Thirdly, there is what is good according to the orders of the esthetic, the moral, the economic, the theoretical, etc.
Does not this multiplicity of meaning conspire against the semantic unity of good? It is not a matter of an ordinary case of a homonym, of unusual usage, of alteration or loss of meaning. Far from affecting the unity of its use and function, its multivocal character seems to constitute an essential feature of the meaning of ‘good’, and to open the way to the understanding of its nature.
In a first approximation, ‘good’ has the character of a formal term, which means that, as such, it does not communicate any ontic content but can adapt itself to diverse contents and, with them, specify their signification. It qualifies the respective objective complexes, without its meaning becoming fixed by this commerce with such contents.
The fact that stands out is that the unity of the semantic behavior of the term ‘good’ is given by lived experiences which manifest the same essential structure in all cases. Those who pronounce or hear the word ‘good’ behave in basically the same manner with respect to the object, that is, with an attitude that is favorable or pro.
In what follows, the connection between the invariable aspect and the variations of the meaning of ‘good’ is examined from a general point of view. As a semantic hypothesis, the following is proposed: ‘good’ communicates the demand of a favorable attitude, referred to an element or a determined objective complex that is incorporated in the meaning of the word in each particular case. This demand bears within it a moment of universal and unconditional imperativeness of a nonfactical order that remains unchanged in all cases, giving to ‘good’ a unitary meaning. Since the common element which is communicated is not an ontic content but a demand, it is impossible to know once and for all what it is that is demanded and to what object or characteristic we ought to hold.
On the other hand, the plurality is explained by the variation of the elements or objective complexes that are estimated in each case, and by the character and the degree of the favorable attitudes, these being variable in accordance with the wide range of human behaviour.
On a second level of analysis, and taking into account the three factors of the evaluative phenomenon that are reflected in the semantic hypothesis proposed here, namely: the object, the attitude or lived experience, and the demand, in what follows an attempt is made to explain the differences corresponding to each type and case of variation.
2. With respect to the value proper to each genus of object, the relation of difference that there is in ‘good’ between the descriptive content and the properly evaluative moment is pronounced. ‘Good’ in each case has to do with certain properties of the estimated object, but in using this term we do not simply describe these properties, for they rather figure as signs of a special condition of the object, the condition of possessing value.
As support for this thesis, reference is made, in the first place, to the impossibility in the language of value of reducing the evaluative meaning to the descriptive content; and, in the second place, to the difference between the learning of ‘good’ and that of other words like ‘blue’, ‘left’.
To sum up, in each usage of “good” applied to each species of things, there is a variable element, namely, that corresponding to the characteristics of that object; and there is a constant element, the demand of a favorable attitude with respect to the mentioned objective complex.
3. With respect to the difference between absolute and relative value and the rest of the variations mentioned in (ii), it may be observed that when one formulates a judgement of absolute or intrinsic value, one takes into account only the intrinsic properties of the object. In the translation of ‘good’ according to the hypothesis, in saying that something is intrinsically good, one communicates that there is an unconditional demand to adopt an attitude pro or favorable to the object, to the exclusion of other injunctions that may be present.
In ordinary sentences that express relative value, the objective semantic nucleus is constituted by terms of the type ‘good for’ or ‘good in relation with’. The main case is that of the relation of means to end; in this case an object is valued in so far as it is presented as an injunction directed to the realization of an end. Nevertheless, the analysis in terms of demand does not have to be substantially changed. The demand of ought continues to be as full and unconditional as in the case of the intrinsically good, although the object itself is not considered unconditionally.
Examining next comparative evaluative judgements, it may be noted that in all these there is, as a semantic nucleus, an intentional ingredient of ‘good in relation to’, which brings this case close to the preceding one.
With respect to statements that formulate an evaluative judgement of degree, two possible interpretations are studied: a] what varies is the demand —or the ought; b] what varies is the attitude or lived experience. The second alternative is adopted, in view that the first threatens to psychologize the evaluative demand. On the other hand, variation can be perfectly acceptable in the case of the attitude, that is, of a lived experience. According to this, to say that X is best would amount to saying that one must have with respect to X the maximum degree of propensity or the most favorable attitude.
4. Next are studied the variations of ‘good’ corresponding to the following orders of value: the esthetic, moral, economic, religious, vital-hedonistic, socio-juridical and theoretical. In each of these cases, the evaluative differentiation is explained, whether by reference to the object or to the type of lived experience or to both, in such a way that the formula X is good will mean something distinct depending upon how X is understood and upon the lived experience that is demanded. Very briefly, the differences indicated are: a] X as a purely apparent or unreal injunction, given in an imaginative lived experience, characterizes the esthetic usage of ‘good’; b] X corresponding to actions of the will and to a demand of deliberately realizable actions is what is characteristic of the moral usage of ‘good’; c] the ability of X to serve for the obtaining of the maximum of products with the minimum of effort, the determination of which requires a calculation of real possibilities and effects, is what differentiates the economic meaning of ‘good’. d] the vinculum with the absolute and the promotion of this vinculum, usually supported in an affective-conative lived experience, is what is central in the religious meaning of ‘good’; e] the vital-hedonistic good bears within it a determination of X as agreeable or inducing of satisfaction; f] the socio-juridical good is linked with the function of X as a promoter of interindividual connections and as adequate for the conveniences and interests of the group; g] finally, the theoretical or cognitive usage of ‘good’ rests on the positive function of X in knowledge.
5. By way of recapitulation, attention is called to the following points: a] Depending on the function of the object and of the lived experience, diverse types of value that correspond to the respective meanings of the word ‘good’ are distinguished. b] The three classes of variations of the meaning of ‘good’ ought not necessarily be taken as the only ones. c] The unity and multivocal character of ‘good’ are explained without contradiction by the essential double moment of the meaning of this word: the unitary nonfactical moment of the demand, and the psychological, subjective, variable and multiple moment. d] Nothing obliges us to appeal to the existence of sui generis properties or entities nor to reduce evaluative statements merely to information about or expressions of facts of lived experiences. e] No theory that identifies value with a determined ontic injunction would be able to take account of the multivocal character of the word ‘good’. f] No theory that embraces both value and fact would be able to take account of the transcendence with respect to existential data that is typical of statements of value; hence the necessity of having recourse to a normative term like ‘ought’ in the analysis of the meaning of evaluative sentences and in the explanation of their unity. g] The hypothesis proposed here ought to be tested in the analysis of more refined variations.

[Traducción de J. Schönberg]

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