I want the Goods

At the very beginning of Book II of Plato's Republic, Glaucon, one of Socrates interlocutors, lists three different types of goods: 1. Some things are good purely for their own sake, and not because of anything in particular that comes from them. Joy and 'harmless pleasures' are the two examples Glaucon cites.

2. Other things are good both for their own sake and for the sake of things that come from it. Knowing, seeing, and being healthy are Glaucon's examples here.

3. The third kind of good are things that aren't particularly good in and of themselves, but are nonetheless desirable because of good results that they produce. Examples include exercising, medical treatment, medicine itself, and making money. (357b-c)

This three part typology (which Socrates responds to quite agreeably, if you were wondering) is fascinating to me, because I think our culture has no comparably nuanced language for the good. For us, what is good is just what is desirable. We participate in other activities, we call them "necessary evils", but we do so because they give us things that we do desire. But at bottom we're always only driven by desire. And my hunch is that our desires are more arbitrary and disorganized than we think they are. They have to be in order for capitalism to work.

Plato surely had his own problems (and ends up taking the Republic in a surprisingly totalitarian-esque direction), but nonetheless I think Glaucon's three different kinds of good are helpful, if for nothing else than to help develop for us the vocabulary of the good beyond the language of "I want..." or "I feel like..." For these exercise their own more clandestine form of totalitarianism, deeply and violently sinister, but in ways that kill quietly, with a smile and a helping of the finest delicacy.