Higher and Lower Goods

Reading a bit of Aristotle this morning, I am reminded of the importance of prioritization.

There are, he says, many activities — each of which seeks its own good (or end). Medicine seeks health; generalship seeks victory; bridle-making seeks harnessing (which in turn seeks horsemanship).

As we confront all these actions and ends, what we are really presented with are choices. Specifically, we are asked to accurately discern which goods are the highest, and to prioritize those. If we seek health, for example, we had better pay attention to our dietary, physical, and medical pursuits. Sweets and treats are goods, but the pursuit of health ought to subordinate them to the goods of exercise and nutrition.

Ethics are a shorthand for the choices we make about which goods to pursue and how we prioritize them. And one of the easiest ways to go astray is to put lower things before higher.

Beautiful bridles complement good horsemanship, but a better bridle won’t make you a better rider. More often than not, you can’t trade money or minutiae for time in the saddle.