As Nietzsche differentiated there are two kinds of good: this question's focus is on the contrary of bad, not the contrary of evil.

There are quite a lot of possible ways to define the common term "good". Every person and group has its own definitions. It even gets worse if it involves concrete stuff like "what is a good question".

What are those definitions of good/bad? Where to find them? How are they built, how did they evolve? How are they reasoned?

E.g., for me, "good" is a multidimensional construct you can't calculate an absolute from. Now it depends on which "glasses" you have on if you consider it a "good" joke or an ethical offense.

  • I did some research on google, I didn't find a lot on the meta, but lots of definitions without without arguments. I also searched on here, same here. Feb 14, 2019 at 7:49
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    Not very clear... You are asking for the meaning of "good" when used outside of an ethical context ? See also Good. Feb 14, 2019 at 7:58
  • @Mauro I am trying to get a picture of the term good - in your comment you refer to ethically good, but that's only one dimension. And Thanks for the link! Feb 14, 2019 at 8:09
  • This may be too broad or primarily opinion based. Are you concerned with Nietzsche's view? If you are that would focus the question. You could ask many questions on this topic over time rather than just one by making each specific. Feb 14, 2019 at 8:44
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    Unless you focus on a specific context, what you are looking for is a figment. Outside of specialized contexts, good/bad are just vocalizations of approval/disapproval for whatever reason that can be used on anything and everything, same as right/wrong.
    – Conifold
    Feb 14, 2019 at 19:46

6 Answers 6


According to the empirical studies of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) project, GOOD is actually a semantic prime: it is a core concept of human cognition, which is believe to be present in all languages and shared by all people, and which is itself irreducible. If the NSM researchers are correct then all attempts to define "good" will be circular and more complicated than the word itself. But we don't need to define it, as it's something we all already know. Having the concept of "good" built into our minds is part of what makes us human.


That which is preferable (highly relative term) to me is what I call as good. I assume that, like me, all don't like to be slapped. Hence (w.r.t me) slapping is bad for everyone. But I learn a lot from hard times. Hence hard times (w,r,t my learning) is good. Good and bad are absolutely relative! But in general there is a common preference. It depends on dimension and preference. When all has come from one, can there be god and bad? Its better we leave it to be relative for those who cannot see the one.

  • Is the good preferable or do you prefer what is good? Feb 14, 2019 at 9:05
  • I meant, as per our desires/needs/expectations/understandings we wear a specks called attitude. This leads to preferences which decides what should be good for me. Desires and...... give the the definition of good and bad. Lets not get stuck up with play of words.
    – user36914
    Feb 14, 2019 at 9:12

As Hegel would have it, egregious selfishness is Evil itself, and the self-destruction of that egoism produces the Good.

Hegel’s Science of Logic, Chapter 3, Section C, (a), § 356

Self-subsistence pushed to the point of the one as a being-for-self is abstract, formal, and destroys itself. It is the supreme, most stubborn error, which takes itself for the highest truth, manifesting in more concrete forms as abstract freedom, pure ego and, further, as Evil. It is that freedom which so misapprehends itself as to place its essence in this abstraction, and flatters itself that in thus being with itself it possesses itself in its purity. More specifically, this self-subsistence is the error of regarding as negative that which is its own essence, and of adopting a negative attitude towards it. Thus it is the negative attitude towards itself which, in seeking to possess its own being destroys it, and this its act is only the manifestation of the futility of this act. The reconciliation is the recognition that the object of this negative attitude is rather its own essence, and is only the letting go of the negativity of its being-for-self instead of holding fast to it.


The best analysis of this type of language terms comes from the systems theory perspective.

Good and bad are our assessment of the results of systemic interaction (just interactions between systems). An interaction being good imply that the interaction was positive from a subjective point of view. Good also implies the increment of the probabilities of repetition.

Example 1: I bought an excelent apple from the new market. The apple was good.

Analysis: The buying-apple interaction I had with the market was positive for me. Therefore I could probably repeat the interaction.

Example 2: Janet is a good person. But I hate her friend Molly.

Analysis: The interactions I had with Jane are positive for me, I would tend to repeat them. On the contrary, the interactions I had with Molly are negative, she's bad for me (perhaps they are good for Janet, but that doesn't matter for me). So, I need to be far from Molly.

For more details, see my answer here:



For a novel approach to the nature of god/evil, perfect/imperfect read Spinoza's preface to the "Ethics" Part Four- Of Human Bondage. In it he explains how, 'something is not good and therefore we desire it, but rather becomes good because we desire it' CS


Here is the question:

What are those definitions of good/bad? Where to find them? How are they built, how did they evolve? How are they reasoned?

This answer will only consider a specific Judeo-Christian perspective of good and bad. Admittedly there may be other, even other Judeo-Christian perspectives, but it offers perhaps a different way of looking at the good-bad dichotomy as a holy-good-bad triple of moral obligation.

The moral law of the Jews requires them to not only be good (clean), as opposed to being bad (unclean). They are moreover obligated to be holy, consecrated rather than common: (Leviticus 20:7)

Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am Yahweh your God.

This consecration involves burnt offerings, that is, offerings which did no good, or might even be considered a waste of resources, from a consequentialist, utilitarian, or even virtue ethics perspective. What this suggests is that there is more going on in this moral law than the simple dichotomy between good and bad. Being good (clean, common) is not enough. One is expected to go beyond good and evil, to hint obliquely at an association with Nietzsche as the OP did.

Christians have a similar moral obligation to be "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 although the burnt offerings are no longer needed since Christians believe Jesus was the last such required offering.

This answer is mainly offered to expand the perspective on what is possible with moral obligation in regards to being good rather than bad and to suggest as does G. E. M. Anscombe in "Modern Moral Philosophy" that "moral obligation and moral duty" in terms of the good should be "jettisoned" in favor of some variety of Aristotelian virtue ethics unless one wants to include in that moral obligation the obligation to beyond goodness and to be holy.

Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). Modern moral philosophy. Philosophy, 33(124), 1-19.

"Leviticus 20:7" retrieved from Bible Gateway https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+20%3A7&version=HCSB

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