How You Know It’s a Good Thing

I’m teaching students how to review something. It seems simple, right? It seems obvious, natural, and everyday to evaluate something. Films, restaurants, art, clothing, technology. . .

It’s harder than we thought.

Determining whether or not an activity, a product, an experience, or a work of art is “good” or “bad” taps deeply inside of philosophy, psychology, religion, and sociology.

We don’t even know where to begin because even our evaluation criteria needs evaluation criteria.

Students, for example, might evaluate something by the pleasure it gives, but who says that’s a good standard? Or what about usefulness or efficiency? Who says these matter more than complexity or honesty? We ask certain questions like:

Is it noble?
Is it excellent?
It is complex?
Does it contribute to human thriving?
Does it harm?
It is rare?
It is authentic?
Does it inspire love?

Even these words need definition. What is noble? What is “thriving?” Teaching in the humanities feels like I’m netting the air. Students feel this way, too. What or whom are we to love? What are we to value? Who says? What is this product / film / food / experience doing to me, and is that OK?

It’s a good time to reconsider the good, the beautiful, and the right. It’s a good time to talk to my family about the good, the beautiful, and the right. Does this thing bring me closer to God? Does this thing help me become a better citizen? Does this thing help me love better? Does this thing help me worship?

How will we know if it’s a good thing if we forget our criteria?

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