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How Do We Determine What's Good?

Where does 'good' and 'bad' come from, and what method do we use to make these determinations.

Now, when we have these conversations, we tend to try to quickly edge out some sophisticated position based on some expert or organization or appeal to authority.

These aren't explanatory.

Meaning, none of these explain where 'good' and 'bad' come from.

So, let's use simple examples, and try not to give every remote possibility the same weight of evidence.


Now, we can come to a robust understanding of the concepts of 'good' and 'bad' with only 2 ideas:

  1. That science and objective reality exist

  2. That the rules that define 'good' and 'bad' with big decisions are the same as with small decision

Put another way, the way we decide matters of law and justice at the highest level, follow the same rules as when we decide what to eat for lunch, and whether it was a 'good' or 'bad' meal.

We each make hundreds or thousands of small decisions every day... what to wear, what to eat, who to talk to, what to say, how to best solve a problem at work, etc.

This makes us very familiar with decision making, which is the root of how 'good' and 'bad' work.

Let's take your last meal... how was it? Good? Bad? Something else?

Now, you don't need to understand any large philosophical or theological moral concepts to understand and make this decision for yourself. Maybe it was overall good, but you didn't like a part.

Generally speaking, these judgments only 6 simple options, which can then be combined into multiple parts.

These 6 options come from 2 variables: Side and Size.

The 2 sides are: for me (good) and against me (bad)

The 3 sizes are: Small (a little), Medium (a normal amount), and Large (a lot)

So, all of our simple options for judgment are:

  • A large amount of Good (for me)

  • A normal amount of Good (for me)

  • A small amount of Good (for me)

  • A small amount of Bad (against me)

  • A normal amount of Bad (against me)

  • A large amount of Bad (against me)

Every judgment ever made uses 6 options, based on these 2 variables.

If we believe in science and evolution, these evolved long long before humans. And have been used by biology primarily to understand and make decisions about their competitive place in their environment.

They're also the same basic biology used by your dog, or cat.

So, 100 Million years ago, when our mammalian ancestors were building their homes and foraging for food, they already had these 6 judgment options, the same ones we have today, to help them sense, understand, and respond to their environmental conditions, allowing them to make choices that they either survived or didn't.

Thus, choice is a product of evolution, and defined by it.

If we understand 'good' and 'bad' through this lens, judgment / choice only exists to help us:

  • Differentiate ourselves from everything else

  • Understand our environmental conditions

  • Make choices that help us improve our fitness in our environments, with 'good' being the result and experience of improving our environmental fitness and achieving environmental dominance, and 'bad' is the result of loss in environmental fitness and a lack of environmental dominance.

So, how does this look practically?

All 'good' things are those that either:

  • Improve your fitness in a physical or imagined environment, or

  • Maintain your dominance in a physical or imagined environment

All 'bad' things are those that either:

  • Decrease your fitness in a physical or imagined environment, or

  • Maintain your lack of dominance in a physical or imagined environment

Some examples:

When you eat a piece of fruit and it tastes sweet, your body is having a positive / good experience of the sugars and energy your body is receiving through that event. So, we call the event 'good'.

If however, that same apple was poisoned, and you ended up dying later from having eaten it, even though the original experience may have felt good, and been genuinely pleasant, the end result of you dying brings your environmental competitiveness / fitness to zero, and is therefore 'bad'.

If you played basketball with a few friends who are above your skill level, and lost, you'd feel 'bad' for losing, but not 'too bad' because they are better players, and you'd expect to lose to them.

However, if you played a bunch of 8 yr olds in basketball, and dominated them, you would feel 'good', because you were dominant in that environment, but if you ended up losing to them, you'd feel 'very bad' since you should be so much better and lost.

If of course, you were letting them win, to help THEM feel good, since you are a better player and letting them win allowed the to imagine / make believe that they were better players than you, then you'd feel 'good' because you helped them feel 'good' by being environmentally dominant.

Pick a things, the math is all the same.

Good = Our environmental improvement / dominance

Bad = Our environmental diminishment / non-dominance

It's rooted in biology, and or behavior is based on what we 'imagine' ourselves and our environments to be.

So, if you imagine the apple to be poisoned, it doesn't matter to your behavior whether it's true or not. Because you act based on your imagination.

If we simplify this by just calling it 'well-being' and use this method to define and measure it, we can measure the well-being of every individual in real-time, while also being able to predict and ensure that each person lives good lives.

Doing so takes a little work, but it's not terrible difficult to understand or implement.


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