Is it useful to call God “good” if he’s the standard for “goodness?”

I have been particularly interested in the Moral Argument recently, but have stumbled upon something I find perplexing. What is the meaning of calling God “good”? If God is the standard for goodness, it seems to me that the reasoning must be circular. The phrase is only meaningful if you refer to something outside God, with which you then define God. We seem to be saying very little more than “God is what is defined by His nature.” How can we, in any meaningful way, say God is good, or God is love if He is the ultimate standard of goodness and love?

In other words, how do we break the circular reasoning for defining these things? Hopefully, this question makes sense, and I would appreciate it if you might help me with this question here.


There are a couple of ways we can respond to this. First, we can note that things are identical only if they share all of the same properties. When we talk about God, he isn’t identical to goodness because God has other properties (such as omnipotence). When we call God “good,” we are picking out God’s properties related to morality.

Second, notice in your e-mail, you recognize what it means to call God “good.” We understand what it is to be good, and we understand that God is maximally good. Recognizing God as the standard for goodness doesn’t harm this understanding.

Third, the issue you are raising relates to the semantic usefulness of the term “good” when applied to God. The problem doesn’t object to God’s goodness or God’s position as the standard for goodness. It calls into question how useful it is in our language to call God “good.” Even if one thinks that is not particularly useful semantically to call God “good,” the moral argument can go through anyway. That argument doesn’t hinge on the usefulness of the term “good” when applied to God.