What is Good?

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By Clare Jarmy Head of Philosophy, Religion and Ethics

On Wednesday, Bedales was very lucky to welcome Professor Simon Blackburn to speak on the subject ‘What is Good?’ in the newly renovated Lupton Hall. Mainly aimed at the Sixth Form, Bedales PRE A Level students were joined by around 70 students from Churcher’s College, Alton College and Queen Mary’s College.

Professor Blackburn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, started with a very contemporary dilemma. On the one hand, it is hard to say that ‘good’ or ‘evil’ are part of the world in the same way that dogs, chairs and pizzas are part of the world (as GE Moore would say, this is to make something non-natural into something natural –a naturalistic fallacy), yet, don’t we also want to say that there are things that are good, and things that are evil?

Many students are faced with the dilemma that perhaps in ethics, it is all just subjective: just a matter of taste. On the other hand, we also feel passionately about ethical issues. Students want to convince others about the morality of veganism, or the immorality of factory conditions in less developed economies. No problem, Blackburn says. We can meaningfully talk ethically, even if we are dubious about ethical ‘facts’. Look to the practice, he says: what would someone with practical wisdom, someone who is good at ‘acting well’, do?

After a great talk, there were some excellent questions, and some meaningful discussion. Professor Blackburn was extremely generous with his time, staying into the evening with a smaller meeting of the Philosophy Society. In this talk, he was trying to convince us to become ‘infidels’ – something beyond atheist – we should not care about the question of God’s existence. To read more about his views on religion, see here (site-wide access at Bedales; subscription required elsewhere).