What Is The Highest Good?

Volume 2, Issue 13

As a philosophy major I learned to say “The Highest Good” in Latin: Summum Bonum. I had begun philosophizing as a toddler about the same subject, vaguely noting that my inarticulate intuition could not accept anything I was told as an absolute, even from those two beloved gods Ned and Sandy (my parents). Without innate acceptance of authority as absolute I was required to develop my own ideas, which uncorked a lifelong case of idearrhea. (Just kidding.)

What is the “singular and most ultimate end human beings ought to pursue”? The word “ought” is a marker that indicates one is being slipped an assumption of necessary morality, rendering the question a loaded one. Kant believed that the universe “ought” to contain God to reward the Good. Christian thought is that one “ought” to live in communion with God and according to God’s precepts. In such schools of thought, one assumes the intuition of the elders to be the last word when it comes to interpreting God’s precepts. Other schools “believe” that one is required to be one’s own interpreter of the Will of God.

Before receiving my degree I had developed my own “philosophy”. The ideas had jumbled natively in my mind before formal study enabled scholastic order if not rigor. I decided to choose aesthetics as my touchstone to the Summum Bonum, to allow my own aesthetic preferences to determine what for me would be The Highest Good. With or without God, what did I decide/intuit/feel to be the most beautiful way to handle each moment? And of God, which would be a more beautiful universe — the one with or without God? In that way I decided which hypotheses I would base my life upon. This was my rational mind, ever forgetting that the intuition is the boss of the rational mind, which dutifully articulates whatever the intuition has already decided. In EOP the robot masquerades as the intuition so convincingly that our mind is hijacked, to use Dan Goleman’s term.

My own definition of intuition is the ability to sense what is going on, to make connections and put things together, leaping across the intervening logical steps that remain to be identified by the rational mind in its quest to rationalize what the intuition already told us. Sometimes someone asks me why I did something and it takes a while to provide an adequate answer. This makes me an intuitionist in the Jungian scheme of four functions of consciousness, identified as the rational mind (thinking), intuition (cognitive feeling), feelings (bodily emotion), and perception.

Being many “-ists”, including a pragmatist, The Highest Good to me is the best conscious approach to any situation, which I see as love — omnidirectional, unconditional, and nonattached love. Such love creates the greatest long-term happiness for the greatest number, which I find aesthetically pleasing.

“Why nonattached?” one might ask. Nonattached would seem to neuter love and to make it bland and vapid. Not our intended meaning. I was using (as I usually do) the word “attached” in the Buddhist sense, which is the same as the Greek Stoic sense as in the Enchiridion of Epictetus. Where it means the losability of the things one is fond of, and thus freedom from addictive dependence upon the objects of our affection. There is utility in losability because the things that shove us down into EOP are our attachments — the ones our gut does not consider losable.

The intuition is not immune to learning from the rational mind — the intuition evolves and is not simply a static animal instinct (we have those too). But the intuition is not the part that becomes addictively attached; it’s the robot, aka ego. The ego is not our true self because our true self is the totality of everything we are and the ego is just a part of that.

What is The Highest Good to you?

Best to all,


3 thoughts on “What Is The Highest Good?

  1. Linda McIsaac

    Thought provoking as usual. In some folks their intuition is first, then comes logic when approaching a situation. For others it is the reverse.

  2. Razool

    One of your best…

    You know I love the words you invent

    I had forgotten idearrhea, also one of your best…

  3. Pingback: Probability of Winning Is Proportional to Acceptance of Losing | Bill Harvey Blog

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