BONUM (ἀγαθός, Good).—(1) The agreeable or desirable in the widest sense, all
that pleasurably affects sensitive organism; (2) in an ethical sense, the right,
as in contrast with the wrong, in which case the adjective applies to actions
required by moral law. The ancient ethical philosophy was largely moulded in
forms suggested by "The Good," as desirable, or the end towards which action is
directed; (3) "The Good,"—the Absolute Good,—or perfect Being,—God,—The
Platonic use. For the German use of the word, specially the distinction between
das Gute and das Wohl, see Kant's Ethics, Abbot, p. 150.
Bonum Summum, the chief good,—The phrase employed by ancient ethical
philosophers to denote that in the pursuit and attainment of which the progress,
perfection, and happiness of human beings consist.
Aristotle, in his Ethics, discusses the whole subject from the standpoint of the
chief good, working towards an understanding of happiness, which results in its
interpretation as the activity of a perfect human life. The Aristotelic
treatment of ethics thus affords illustration of the form and order of reasoning
in favour in ancient ethical systems. For illustration of the same tendency, as
popular during the Roman period, see Cicero's De Finibus.
Modern Ethical Philosophy has passed over to a search for an objective standard
of right, contemplating first the qualities of action, and only thereafter the
true end or chief good. But the Happiness Theory keeps in closer relation with
ancient form,—taking Happiness as the one thing desirable (Mill's
Utilitarianism; Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics, where see specially, bk.
XIV., "The Summum Bonum;" specially does this direction belong to the Ethics of
Evolution, Spencer's Data of Ethics; Leslie Stephen's Science of Ethics; Simcox,
Natural Law, an
Essay in Ethics). For a general view of this course of thought, see Sorley's
Ethics of Naturalism. Martenson (Christian Ethics) discusses his subject from
the standpoint of the highest good.
From the standpoint of the modern Rational School, it is admitted that Ethics
may be regarded as a system of ends; and "the relation of end to duty may be
cogitated in a twofold manner,—either beginning with the end to assign the
maxim, ...or beginning with the maxim to determine the end...
Jurisprudence advances by the first method... But Moral
Philosophy strikes into an opposite march: here we cannot commence with the
ends he may design, and from them determine and formulate the maxims he has to
take, i.e., the duty he has to follow, for, in the latter event, the grounds of
his maxim would be experiential, which we know beget no obligation, the idea of
duty and its categorical imperative taking their rise in pure reason only"
(Kant's Metaphysics of Ethics, Semple, 3rd ed., p. 197). See Kant's Dialectic of
Pure Reason, defining the conception of the "Summum Bonum," Abbot's transl.,
Kant's Ethical Theory, Practical Reason, pt. I. bk. II. ch. I. and II. p. 202.
"The conception of the summum itself contains an ambiguity,... the
mean either the supreme (supremum) or the perfect (consummatum). The former is
that condition which is itself unconditioned, i.e., is not subordinate to any
other (originarium); the second is that which is not a
part of a greater whole of the same kind (perfectissimum)...
Virtue (as worthiness to be happy) is the supreme condition of all that can
appear to us desirable, and consequently of all our personal happiness, and is
therefore the supreme good. But it does not follow that it is the whole and
perfect good as the object of the desires of rational finite beings; for this
requires happiness also, and that not merely in the partial eyes of the person
who makes himself an end, but even in the judgment of an impartial reason, which
regards persons in general as ends in themselves" (Kant's Ethics, Abbot, 3rd
ed., p. 206).