What is the Good Idea?June 27, 2021
Instead of suggesting a single entity like Parmenides, Plato proposes a multiplicity of entities. These beings, that is, ideas, undoubtedly have a perfect order and hierarchy among themselves. In order to comprehend this order and hierarchy, it is necessary to consider the idea of good, which is the highest idea that Plato placed above all other ideas.
Although Plato talks about many different ideas in his works, he especially underlined the idea of good. He showed his ideas as the cause of sensible things and the idea of Good as the highest cause of everything in the universe, including other ideas (State, 509b). He saw the ideas of the Good as essences (ousia) and the idea of the Good as trans-essential essence, that is, a kind of hyper-essence (hyperouisa). With this feature, the idea of Good becomes the unifying and all-inclusive principle of the order in the universe (Copleston, 1995: 50).
While all visible things in the universe try to resemble the idea they share, the ideas all turn towards the highest idea of the Good and try to resemble it as much as possible. Thus, indirectly, everything in the universe is directed towards the idea of the Good and tends to resemble it as much as possible. This is because the idea of the Good is common to all other ideas. All ideas have had their share of the good, and therefore the idea of the Good constitutes the ontological essence of everything in the universe. This high position of the idea of the Good is based on the recognition of the identity of Good and being; “Good is being and being is good” (Arslan, 2006: 233).
That is, the idea of Good is the highest being, the very essence of being. Then, according to Plato, everything that has existence necessarily carries some share of goodness. This acceptance is the basis of the Platonic understanding of knowledge, existence, morality and society, and leads to the conclusion that human beings are inherently good beings.
One of Plato’s most fundamental ontological theses is as follows; “Good is being, and being is good.”
However, this high position attributed to the idea of the Good inevitably creates a problem. It is known that Plato envisioned an ordering God called the Demiourgos. Since Demiourgos is the divine power that organizes and creates the universe, and the idea of the Good is the cause of all beings and beings, which of these is worthy of being a true God? Some commentators have argued that Demiourgos and the idea of Good are one and the same thing, based on the qualities that Plato attributes to the Good (Weber, 1993: 57).
While Demiourgos represents God’s active, moving, regulating, rational and spirited aspect, the Good idea represents God’s unchanging, fixed and serene aspect, his trans-existent existence. In Plato’s Timaeus, it is said that Demiourgos, like the Good, is eternal and from the very beginning he looked to the ideas and above all to the idea of the Good (Timaios, 28a-41a). Therefore, there has never been a single moment when God did not contemplate the idea of the Good. Demiourgos wanted the universe to be Good. In this case, the cause of God’s will is the idea of the Good, and the cause of all that is good is that God wills the good.
Some expressions in Plato’s works suggest that he does not see the ideas of Goodness, Beauty and Justice as separate things. There is no difference between Goodness, Beauty and Justice as they are the ultimate goal for humanity. These three are one idea and are the highest essence of Being. Then, according to Plato, existence is inherently both good, beautiful and just. It is certain that this view constitutes a response to Anaximandros, who argues that the replacement of one of the contradictory elements with each other, that is, its coming into existence, is an injustice that brings with it the punishment, and thus sees existence as an injustice in its essence.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook