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Right and good

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L087-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

‘Right’ and ‘good’ are the two basic terms of moral evaluation. In general, something is ‘right’ if it is morally obligatory, whereas it is morally ‘good’ if it is worth having or doing and enhances the life of those who possess it.

Acts are often held to be morally right or wrong in respect of the action performed, but morally good or bad in virtue of their motive: it is right to help a person in distress, but good to do so from a sense of duty or sympathy, since no one can supposedly be obliged to do something (such as acting with a certain motive) which cannot be done at will.

Henry Sidgwick distinguished between two basic conceptions of morality. The ‘attractive’ conception, favoured by the ancient Greeks, views the good as fundamental, and grounds the claims of morality in the self-perfection to which we naturally aspire. The ‘imperative’ conception, preferred in the modern era, views the right as fundamental, and holds that we are subject to certain obligations whatever our wants or desires.

Citing this article:
Larmore, Charles. Right and good, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L087-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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