I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I previously called the problem of good. Those who believe there is an ultimate goodness central to the universe face the problem of the universe’s imperfection and badness. The most obvious form of this problem is the Abrahamic problem of suffering; it’s also a problem for Advaita Vedānta, in which it’s hard to explain how ignorance can be possible. But for those who don’t believe in that ultimate goodness – which includes Theravāda Buddhists as well as naturalistically minded scientists – there is an alternate problem, of how we explain the existence of value in the first place.
This problem is not quite the opposite of the problem of suffering. Those who don’t believe in an ultimate value of this sort – I am here going to call them “atheists” as a shorthand, though I think that runs the risk of oversimplifying the matter – have no problem explaining the existence of particular good things, the way that theists have a problem explaining the existence of hurricanes or ALS. The problem they face, rather, is in the basic question of how things can be good (or bad) at all, of how the very ideas of goodness or badness can mean anything. Continue reading