1. Finnis’ identification of seven basic goods is his appeal to philosophical wisdom. Finnis sees the identification of those goods as ‘basic’ in that they should be the common denominators of pro-eudaimonic truth. Finnis insists on three things:
- They are self-evident.
- They are not overlapping or a part of another basic good.
- They are all equally important and there is no inherent hierarchy.
However, as it is in life, depending upon one’s focus, one basic good may be nearer at hand or more in focus than another basic good; however, this does not reflect priority or significance overall, it merely reflects that we are shifting from one situation to another, as Finnis puts it so aptly, ‘one-by-one right round the circle of basic values that constitute the horizon of our opportunities’. Conversely, when one particular basic good is more in focus this does not imply that the others are mere frivolity or superficial; they still retain their implicit value by the very nature of being a potential focus elsewhere.
In conclusion Finnis writes:
‘Each is fundamental. None is more fundamental than any of the others, for each can reasonably be focused upon, and each, when focused upon, claims a priority of value. Hence there is no objective priority of value amongst them.’
Finnis lists his seven basic goods as:
- Aesthetic experience
- Practical reasonableness
Finnis admits that beyond his seven basic goods there are other ‘countless objectives and forms of good’ and also ‘combinations of ways of pursuing… and realising… one of the seven basic forms of good, or some combination of them’. In other words, there are many aspects of the basic goods such as courage, generosity, moderation, gentleness but that these qualities, in themselves, are not identical with the basic goods but simply aspects of these goods by different people and at different times and in different places.
(taken from Ethics and Religion, Illuminate Publishing, 2018 by Peter Cole, Richard Gray and Mark Lambe)
2. There are seven of these basic goods. They are: (1) life, (2) knowledge, (3) sociability or friendship, (4) play, (5) aesthetic experience, (6) practical reasonableness, and (7) religion. Finnis argues that the list of basic goods is exhaustive in that “other objectives and forms of good will be found . . . to be ways or combinations of ways of pursuing . . . and realising . . . one of the seven basic forms of good, or some combination of them.”
There is also no hierarchy within the list, and thus, the basic goods are considered incommensurable. Finnis argues that the basic goods are “equally self-evidently a form of good.” None of the basic goods “can be analytically reduced to being merely an aspect of any of the others, or to being merely instrumental in the pursuit of any of the others,” and “each one, when we focus on it, can reasonably be regarded as the most important.” These goods are also pre-moral, in that they do not “presuppose any moral judgment.”
After laying out his list of pre-moral basic goods, Finnis then must explain those “methodological requirements of practical reasonableness” that he claims allow one to make actual decisions. The methodology will be enacted through the understanding of basic practical principles, and the basic good of practical reasonableness is the good that structures our pursuit of the other basic goods.
(extract from Campbell Law Review, Vol 35 2012 John Finnis’s Natural Law Theory and a Critique of the Incommensurable Nature of Basic Goods by Alex E. Wallin)
3. Finnis is a legal philosopher and author of Natural Law and Natural Rights (1980, 2011), a seminal contribution to the philosophy of law and a restatement of natural law doctrine. For Finnis, there are seven basic goods; life, knowledge, sociability of friendship, play, aesthetic experience, practical reasonableness and religion.
Life involves all aspects of vitality that enable a person to gain strong willpower. The second aspect of well-being is knowledge and is described as the pure desire to know, simply out of curiosity, as well as a concerning interest and desire for truth. The third aspect, play, is regarded as self-evident as there is no real point of performing such activities, only for pure enjoyment. Aesthetic experience is the fourth aspect and is considered similarly to play however; it does not essentially need an action to occur. The fifth aspect for Finnis is sociability where it is realised through the creation of friendships, that these relationships are fundamental goods. Practical reasonableness is the sixth basic good where it is one’s ability to use their intellect in deciding choices that ultimately shape one’s nature. The final basic good is religion; it encompasses the acknowledgment of a concern for a simplified distinct form of order, where an individual’s sense of responsibility is addressed; it is "all those beliefs that can be called matters of ultimate concern; questions about the point of human existence".
After discussing the basic goods it is argued that within the list there is no hierarchal order, as the basic goods are considered impossible to compare or measure. Finnis believes the goods are equally self-evident. Each of the basic goods can be considered the most important, as none of them can be reduced to simply a mechanism of achieving another. While technically the goods can be treated as superior to one another Finnis provides that each good is still fundamental where no priority value exists.
(extract from John Finnis, Wikipedia)