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1 In the Name of Goodness C H A R L E S E . S C O T T In short, I am full of doubts. I really don’t know why I have decided to pluck up my courage and present, as if it were authentic, the manuscript of Adso of Melk. Let us say it is an act of love. Or, if you like, a way of ridding myself of numerous, persistent obsessions. I transcribe my text with no concern for timeliness. In the years when I discovered the Abbé Vallet volume, there was a widespread conviction that one should write only out of a commitment to the present, in order to change the world. Now, after ten years or more, the man of letters (restored to his highest dignity) can happily write out of pure love of writing. And so I now feel free to tell, for sheer narrative pleasure, the story of Adso of Melk, and I am comforted and consoled in finding it immeasurably remote in time (now that the waking of reason has dispelled all the monsters that its sleep had generated), gloriously lacking in any relevance for our day, atemporally alien to our hopes and our certainties. —Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (translated from the Italian by William Weaver) All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them. —Isak Dinesen (author of Out of Africa) The word goodness, like the word nature, carries a huge burden. Both words suggest orders of highly diverse things. They can suggest the availability of systematic comprehension and articulation of those things they PAGE 11 11 ................. 16993$ $CH1 09-11-08 09:39:40 PS name, a common quality that allows at least the promise of a harmonious whole. Goodness often operates in its meaning on an axis of virtues and sustained social practices. The meaning of the word seems to intend a community that is organized by right values, that is, by goods. It would be a community that carries a sense of goodness, a community enacted in the name of goodness. Goodness means the quality of being good. Good, however, has so many senses that a sense of goodness is in jeopardy from the start. Good can mean a favorable character as well as profitable (a good deal). It means virtuous (a good person) as well as large in quantity (they won by a good margin). It can mean fertile (a good field) or conforming to a standard (good English). As a noun it can name something that conforms to a moral order or, in the plural, merchandise. It can mean proof of wrongdoing (she didn’t have the goods on them) or forever (gone for good); net gain (ten bucks to the good) or certain kinds of people (the good). Goodness, on the other hand, does not generally mean the quality of fertility, profitability, or proof of wrongdoing, and although I plan to emphasize the problems raised by variety and differentiation among goods, I would like to restrict the sense of goodness to a context of moral virtues. We will also note that goodness has an overtone of eliciting a specific result, as in the phrase ‘‘good for a laugh’’ or ‘‘good for the happiness of this group of people.’’ But on the whole we will pay attention to the quality manifest in just and commendable conduct and in tendencies to a favorable character. I also want to hold in mind that in its Sanskrit origin goodness connotes the quality of holding fast. The burden of goodness, then, is found in its naming a quality that specifies the senses or meaning of moral commonality in the midst of many diverging practices and forces. It names a qualitative identity that persists in many situations and times, a persistence that means constancy, a constancy of connections among diverse goods. Further, goodness names a discernible quality that allows for interconnected or systematic comprehension , for an intelligent design that spawns articulate rationalities based on goodness. In short, in its force of naming a quality, goodness gives a certain authoritative and positive power to goods as well as negative power or value to nongoods or antigoods. It allows for procedures of sorting things out according to their definitive qualities. It provides a stable point of reference for recognition and judgment, for ordering behaviors and attitudes , for guidance in educating and correcting. The power of a name like goodness is...


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