Getting a Good(e) Look: An Annotated Bibliography

A Kentucky sunset. If you look closely, you can see the runways reflecting the sun in the background.

The name Goode is a nickname surname, meaning that it was given to someone based on their reputation, actions, or legacy. This particular surname was given to those who were known to do good deeds, recognized as generally good or well-liked people in their community, or something of a similar nature.

Therefore, he basis of my research for this whole project was to discover the meaning of what is “good,” and subsequently apply it to my own family’s story to see whether their motives behind moving or settling in new places fit the typical standard of good. I’m doing this primarily through the use of articles/books on the philosophy of good vs. evil, and the psychology that goes along hand in hand with that, as well as through the use of film, in order to incorporate familiar visual examples that relate to the topic. I mainly looked for movies that either had “good” (or another synonym) in the title, or well-known movies that have specific characters that are universally (and sometimes controvertially) associated with being “good.” I alternated films and articles/other sources, attempting to link each film to at least one of the sources, in order to provide visual examples alongside big-picture concepts.

What is the Good Life? Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, & Kant.

Jones, J. (2015, December 28). Retrieved February 28, 2017, from http://www.openculture.com/2015/12/plato-aristotle-nietzsche-kants-ideas-on-the-good-life.html

In this series of four videos, Chris Surprenant, a professor in New Orleans University’s Department of Psychology, explains the distinct views of four different philosophers’ ideas on what makes a life worth living — what determines whether you have lived a “good” life? He gives an overview to the teachings of Plato, Neitzsche, Aristotle, and Kant. Here’s a synopsis of each.

Plato stands by his famous utterance, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He explains that someone who lives every day in the same routine and never asks what he values and why does not live a life worth living. However, he explains that simply reflecting on what you do isn’t enough; one must also become a master of himself in order to control his passions and promote a stable community.

Plato explains that essentially each person must stay in the role he has, and the community will thrive. When asked about the happiness of individuals, he says that “a well-ordered society trumps individual freedom,” and so the happiness of the community is more important than individual happiness.

He also describes a person’s life as a two-horse chariot. The first horse represents Appetites or Desires, and is stubborn and must be controlled. The second horse is Spiritedness, is noble and can be used by the charioteer, here described as Reason. If Reason cannot learn how to use Spiritedness to reign in Desire, Reason will be just as misdirected as if Spiritedness was solely leading.

This example is meant to explain that the man who rationally reflects and is control of himself, as well as helps the community as a whole, has experienced a good life.

Aristotle’s explanation was to identify the highest good in the world. He says that many people think that material wealth, pursuing honor, or satisfaction of bodily pleasure was the highest good. However, he disagrees. Our capacity for reason sets us apart from animals, so therefore the highest good as a human being would be to use that reason and focus on contemplation and learning, or acquiring the intellectual virtues.

The intellectual virtues in Aristotle’s eyes encompass scientific knowledge; they are not only the laws that govern nature but the inferences we make about science as well.

Intellectual virtue, however, is not enough on its own — we must also act rightly, with the middle grounds of courage, temperance, and generosity. These virtues are the middle ground between two extremes. The example Surprenant shows us is Courage; it is between the extremes of cowardice and being overly rash.

The truly Virtuous, “good” man WANTS to do right, and DOES it. He is also left satisfied with his decision. This is who Aristotle prompts us to be.

Aristotle states that the combination of intellectual virtues (a product of study) and virtue of character (a product of habit) equal Eudaemonia, a word roughly translating to Happiness. He says that, while this is the ideal combination to achieve Eudaemonia, there’s one more ingredient needed; you must have the right circle of influence. If you grow up being taught to do what is right, it becomes habitual, and fulfills virtue of character. That raises questions of the obligations we have to those less fortunate than us.

Neitzsche prides himself in his amoralist view, as well as saying that we need a reevaluation of value and a reinvention of the conventional terms of morality. Since morality has largely been dictated by religious institutions, which Neitzsche was staunchly against, he called for new moral guidelines, if you will. He also largely criticizes Asceticism, which is the idea that self-denial is at the root of praiseworthy behavior, and that you have to deny yourself desires in order to be “good.”

He wanted to throw away compassion and self-sacrifice, saying that while they may do short-term good, they make us ignore how suffering and struggle are invaluable conditions of self-development and human excellence, and we should rather put our focus into excellence and individual development; we should focus on ourselves rather than the “greater good.”

Neitzsche calls for people to think for themselves beyond the traditional (read: religious) confines of “good” and “evil,” and focus instead on Amor Fati. This translates into the Love of one’s Fate. Neitzsche believes that a person must look back on his life, the suffering and pain included in the good, and wish nothing to be different, and that it could not be different. He says that, only when man accepts this view, that he has lived a truly meaningful life.

Lastly, Kant says the good life is lived by obtaining both virtue AND happiness at the same time. However, this gets tricky when doing what is right is not always doing what makes us happy.

He counters this by saying that virtue is someone’s strength to resist bodily inclinations and to do right, simply because it is the right thing to do. He says that our will is affected, but not determined, by bodily desires. This is what sets us apart from both animals and divine beings; animals act only on bodily inclinations, while divine entities act only on what is right, with no regard to bodily inclinations.

Kant gives us the three most important things: morality, reason, and freedom. While many argue that morality restricts our freedom, Kant says that a man is “free if his own reason generated the maxim or principle from which that action was performed.” He further complicates a simple statement, however, by saying that they have to be the “right” principles — those consistent with the moral law. If a man is coerced by something, such as hunger or lust, or does it by habit, then his actions are not free.

Therefore, Kant gives us the Categorical Imperative — something that actions can be tested against to see if they pass proper standards of morality (done by right motives) and if they can be acted on. He says that to live a good life, one must be educated and living in a civil society. If these are not present, how is someone to develop reason with which to compare decisions with the Categorical Imperative?

After laying down his beliefs, Kant qualifies his entire argument, stating that this whole concept is only possible if there’s a supreme creator who can guarantee the coexistence of virtue and happiness. If this divine being does not exist, we cannot be expected to be able to follow this path.

In examining these four philosophies, I see the merits and downsides of each. For example, Kant clearly defines his beliefs on morality and they seem reasonable. However, he qualifies his argument with the need for a supreme being in order for any of it to work. For anyone who denies the existence of a god, or is simply not religious, Kant’s philosophy is null and void.

While I may not fully agree with any of these four ideas, I think that I see the most logic or promise in Neitzsche’s idea of the good life. This may come as a surprise, seeing is how my family, me included, identifies deeply with religion, and Neitzsche is most often seen as staunchly anti-religion. Therefore, while I do not agree with Neitzsche’s call for a redefining of traditional morality, I do see merit in his idea of Amor Fati. I think that to truly accept and love your life, and have lived a “good” life, one must accept all of his experiences as a whole, and see how they have shaped him into the person he is today.

I think that principle applies to discovering the Good(e) life as well; I think that I would benefit from not only examining my family’s individual choices for routes and roots, but also discover how those choices as a whole have affected us and shaped us into who we are as Goodes today.

The Big Lebowski

Coen, J., & Coen, E. (Directors). (1998). [Video file]. USA. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
The Dude, Theodore, and Walter

As I mentioned before, the name “Goode,” pronounced as if it rhymes with “food,” is considered a “nickname” surname, or a name given for a type of person, rather than assigned by their profession or something similar. It’s traditionally given to someone who is considered to be “a good person,” whether it be in their community, circle of friends, or something else. But how is it decided that somebody is, in fact, a good person?

I watched the movie The Big Lebowski, directed by the Coen Brothers, to gain more insight on what makes someone good. In the movie, the main character (whose name is Jeff Lebowski but simply prefers to be called “The Dude”) is a loser. He’s unemployed, spends all his time drinking and bowling, and perpetually wears a bathrobe and sunglasses. He is someone who we might consider to be a bum or slob. However, when there’s a kidnapping that entangles him, The Dude springs into action, doing everything in his power to return the victim to her family, even if it is for selfish motives. While he may be a deadbeat, it is blatantly obvious that The Dude has a moral code he lives by.

The Dude becomes an endeared and lovable figure by the end of the film, but inexplicably so. This begs the question, why do we like him, why do we decide that he is the protagonist, the “good” character? I think that although his habits may not necessarily be in line with what we think is good, it’s because he put another person ahead of his own interests, defended her integrity, and did something [almost] selfless. I do believe that it is because of this moral code that he becomes a hero to us. He calls out however little or much good may be inside of us, and reminds us that, despite his rough exterior, there is some good inside him as well, something we all can hold onto and relate to.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Capra, F. (Director). (1946). [Video file]. United States: RKO. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings!”

Everyone knows the line, said by Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful life. We know the story — a man who is unhappy with his humdrum life wishes he was never born. An angel named Clarence grants his wish, and he slowly realizes that his life is, indeed, wonderful, and goes and reconciles with his family.

What if we look a little more into George Bailey’s life, and decide exactly why he decided it was wonderful?

As we see the town he lives in without him, it seems to be sunk in debauchery and sin. We see the ones whom George loves either miserable, or gone completely. George sees the thing he takes for granted in a different light, and is cuddly thankful for what life he has.

He realizes the thing he loves the most is his family. He experiences life without them, and his world is turned upside down. This draws the conclusion, then, that it is George’s family that makes his life have meaning. It is not the fact that he is gone — it is that he no longer has the ones that he loves around him. He also has a deep love for his community. The scene where he stops the run on the bank is an epic show of what he feels towards the people who surround him.

In this way, I think that It’s a Wonderful Life quietly suggests that it is not you who make your life wonderful, it is your family and friends. This aligns with what I believe is the purest form of “the good life”; it’s not what you do but who you are with that makes your life the sweetest.

Does this idea apply to my family? Do they believe that family is indeed what makes life sweetest?

Genesis Chapter 1

BibleGateway. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2017, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2B1

“ God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31 (NIV)

I was born and raised in a Christian home. I have grown up hearing the creation story over and over, and it’s almost become second nature to tune it out at this point, simply because I know it by heart.

Recently, however, my pastor reread Genesis chapter 1 in church, and a particular phrase caught my eye.

After every day, God looks at the work he has created, and the Bible says “and he saw that it was good.” At the end of the six days of creation, God looks at everything he has made, and declares that it is “very good.”

That phrase never held much meaning, until I started researching this project. I’ve become fascinated with what good means. God declares that “it was good,” but how does he define what is good? Is it the physical aspects, the fact that it was made by him?

Can we not also argue that, because God, whom Christians believe to be the supreme, almighty power, declares that something is good, He Himself sets the precident for what “good” is?

The Good Society

Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swindler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1992). . New York: Vintage Books.

“Whether we like it or not, we are formed by the opportunities and barriers, the temptations and threats that the larger world… presents to us.”

“The decisions we are making and will make about the future of our institutions will reshape us as moral beings.”

In my opinion, these two quotes sum up the ideas of how we decide what is good, and what the effects of those decisions are. While this book is primarily intended for discussion of how our lives, from society to economy to family, is shaped by defining what is good, I think there are a few distinct quotes that fulfill my purpose in researching “good.”

The first quote reminds me of Kant’s views, that good and bad cannot be morally sound if based on our habits or selfish intentions. The Good Society, however, presents the idea that that is a primary force in our development of what is good or bad in our own eyes. Could this have affected my parents’ choices for routes? How could their past experiences be related to how they made choices for our family?

The second quote recalls Neitzsche’s philosophy that we must create and redefine our own moral codes. Herem The Good Society says that the decisions that we make (along with their consequences) will simply reshape us over time.

How does this ring true with my family? How has their “moral compass” or ideas of good and evil changed over time?

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Leone, S. (Director). (1966). [Motion picture]. Italy: Produzioni Europee Associate.
Spoilers ahead: the climactic scene, where Blondie leaves Tuco his share of the money, along with his life.

I wanted to know while watching The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, what makes Blondie the “good” character in this film?

He doesn’t comply with the law, and still is money-motivated; both are qualities that are generally considered “bad” in our society today.

However, a few things stand out to me. Blondie saves the life, albeit of a criminal, multiple times. He is the “chaotic good” of the Wild West, if you will. While his actions might be inherently unlawful, he still has some good in his heart, such as when he gives a dying soldier the last of his cigar, and covers him with his coat.

While Blondie might not fit the traditional sense of “good,” he is still the most relatable and likable character, and probably the character we can empathize the most with.

At the end of the movie, Blondie also makes the choice not to kill Tuco, or “the Ugly,” as well as even leave Tuco with an equal share of the money.

Blondie stands out as the “Good” in a world full of literal and moral lawlessness. Why, though? Other than the cigar, Blondie gives us no real reason to consider him “good,” other than his given title. But somehow, we still feel bad for him and find ourselves rooting for him in every situation.

The Biological Basis of Morality.

Wilson, E. O. (2015, November 30). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/04/the-biological-basis-of-morality/377087/

This article, by Edward Wilson, discusses the ideas of morality, and how it differs based on whether you look at it through a transcendentalist viewpoint, or an empiricist viewpoint.

When broken down to its simplest forms, transcendentalists believe that morality comes from an outside source. This doesn’t necessarily mean God, but it does mean something other than our own consciousness. Empiricists, on the other hand, choose to believe that morality comes from an inner, biological place.

Both ideas and much more complex than this, but for out purposes, this bare-bones idea will work perfectly fine.

Wilson later states that there is a great void in understanding the biological basis of ethics, but that this can be remedied by paying attention to a certain four topics:

  1. The definition of moral sentiments.
  2. The genetics of moral sentiments.
  3. The development of moral sentiments as products of the interactions of genes and the environment.
  4. The deep history of moral sentiments.

He also says that understanding the biology of ethics can also be applied to religion. He likens religion to an organism with a life cycle — it’s born, it grows, peaks, declines, and dies. He says that religion not only satisfies our need for validation of morals, but also that it uses our primal instincts to grow, quoting the Roman poet Lucretius, “was the first thing on earth to make the gods.”

Wilson explains how empiricism seems “sterile and inadequate” compared to transcendentalism, especially when it is reinforced with religious faith. It is easier to turn to transcendentalism in the search for universal meaning. Still, he says, “if history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth.” He does say that scientists, seeking the path of empiricism, are not “immune” to the idea of God. Some even lean towards it. They seek, however, to discover the truths hidden in the physical world.

Lastly, he states that in his view, there is no way to reconcile the contradictions between the transcendentalist and empiricist points of view. His final thought is as follows: “The eventual result of the competition between the two world views, I believe, will be the secularization of the human epic and of religion itself. However the process plays out, it demands open discussion and unwavering intellectual rigor in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

Subjective Value.

Landauer, J., & Rowlands, J. (2001). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/Evil_SubjectiveValue.html

This article discusses subjective value, or that our values are whatever we choose to pursue, or that values, morality, “good and evil,” etc. differ from person to person and we each make our own morality.

Since there isn’t a moral objective standard, we base our morality off of emotion. This may explain why we sympathize with and root for Blondie in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” and why we seem to inexplicably like him even though his actions are not blatantly considered “good” by society.

Also, since there is no moral objectivity, we judge others based off of our own standards of morality, which has no consequence to that particular person.

If we continue down this road of thinking, who is to determine crimes to be punishable, or actions to be “wrong?”

This idea of subjective morals and values may explain why we sympathize with and root for Blondie in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” and why we seem to inexplicably like him even though his actions are not blatantly considered “good” by society.

A Few Good Men

Reiner, R. (Director), Reiner, R., Brown, D., & Scheinman, A. (Producers), & Sorkin, A. (Writer). (1992). [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.
Jack Nicholson as Colonel Jessup, uttering his famous line, “You can’t handle the truth!”

The film focuses on the trial following an accidental death of a Marine, killed by two fellow Marines in what is considered a “code red,” an under-the-radar (and illegal) hazing ritual used to “teach soldiers a lesson.”

While Downy and Dawson, the two marines in question, along with Lt. Kaffee, their lawyer, in A Few Good Men are considered “good,” it raises the question of subjective morality, and whether it is still punishable to commit a crime under the pretense of orders given by a higher ranking officer.

I feel like there’s enough gray areas on the two Marines for the audience to form their own individual opinions on whether what they did was right or wrong… They don’t seem to be particularly portrayed in one way or the other. Even the outcome of the court ruling — not guilty on all accounts except for conduct not aligned with the code of the marines, meaning they were dishonorably discharged — makes us think about what they were ordered to do/whether they should have followed through with it or not.

This also relates back to the previous entry on subjective value, as well as subjective morality. Subjective value makes us ask ourselves, who is to decide whether or not their decisions were wrong? While subjective morality makes us ponder, does the fact that Downy and Dawson were simply doing what they were told change the gravity or “wrongness” of what they did? Does their training to follow every order somehow affect their morality? Would someone who was not a Marine have followed the order given as well?

This also presents us with the idea of doing something for the “greater good” as, in the climax of the film, we see Jessup saying that, no matter how deep down the feeling may be, they need him to be there, need someone strong and willing to do whatever it takes to keep the well-oiled machine running smoothly. Jessup’s motivation was for the good of the Marines, or so he argues.

V For Vendetta

McTeigue, J. (Director). (2006). [Motion picture]. Warner Home Video.
The movie’s problematic main character, simply named “V.”

In V For Vendetta, there is a lot of obscurity for who is the objectively “good” character, or even if there is one at all. This is a little different from most of the other movies, as the audience is torn between the seemingly “good” cause that V is fighting for, and the obvious death and destruction he spreads in his acts of terrorism.

While V might consider himself doing what is best for society and doing what is right in his own eyes, it doesn’t change the fact that to the government officials, he was seen as a terrorist and a threat.

We can see Evey as the victim to V, having been subjected to his mind games. Later, she progresses into a similar (albeit less radical) version of V, initiating the final grand explosion of parliament.

The majority of the government officials, from the High Chancellor to newscasters, put a spin on the media, which we inherently see as bad. However, their motivation was to protect the people. Couldn’t that be construed to mean that they were only trying to help the greater good?

This film is a rare opportunity for us to experience the moral ambiguity involved in anarchist thinking and corrupt societies. We see, too, the difficulty in separating the good from the bad, when subjective values (see above) come into play heavily in such societies.

The real gray areas lie where we must decide how the choices are able to be construed as good or bad, and how you can relate the good vs. the evil choices to parties with opposing viewpoints.

Story and Symbol: V for Vendetta and OWS.

Dill-Shackleford, K. E., Ph.D. (2011, November 4). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-fantasy-becomes-reality/201111/story-and-symbol-v-vendetta-and-ows

How do symbols and media such as V For Vendetta influence our perception of the world around us, and how we respond to it?

In this article, Dill-Shackleford not only discusses how the movie makes us feel, and the collective musings it inspires, but also how something such as a Guy Fawkes mask can be adopted and made the face of some similarly-minded “radical” groups, such as Anonymous, or the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Stories such as this inspire us; the question is, is it for better or for worse? When stories such as this are told in a compelling way, we as humans cannot help but to empathize with and feel at least a little bit of what the characters are feeling — hence the feeling of powerful anonymity and unity that the Guy Fawkes mask provides so many people.

Is inspiration like this good? Should we take our cues and base some of our actions off of fictional stories, or is “good vs. evil” not so black and white in real life?

The Real Meaning of ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’

Ph.D., S. T. (2013, August 26). Retrieved March 11, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201308/the-real-meaning-good-and-evil

In this article, Steve Taylor says that we define “good” people as those who risk their own lives for the benefit of others, and who devote their lives to giving other people better lives. Therefore, “good” means a lack of self-centeredness. In contrast, “evil” people place their own needs or wishes at paramount importance, because they lack the ability to empathize with others. They only care about others enough to use them for his or her own benefit, and view other humans as objects available to their disposal.

We need to see good and evil, however, as a spectrum. Most of us do not fall into a strictly good or starkly evil category — we lie somewhere in between. Taylor then briefly introduces the ideas of “restorative justice,” which involves introduction to the perpetrator’s victims, as well as rehabilitation.

This view of good and evil as a spectrum interested me, especially because of the “nickname” origin of my last name. “Goode” was supposedly assigned to people or families who made a positive impact in society, were just generally well-liked, or had some form of good deed tied to them. This complies with Taylor’s thoughts that good people were those who give freely of themselves, so much so that They are given a name representing this to the world.

How has my family upheld (or tarnished) the Goode family name? Do we live up to any expectations that may come with it?