Do we desire what is good, or do we call good what we desire?

Socrates and Aristotle both say that we desire what is (or what we perceive to be) good. Spinoza and Nietzsche both believe that we call good what is it that we (already) desire. Who is right?

David Wiggins suggests that we do not have to choose. Parsing Aristotle, he writes, ‘The good is the sort of thing we wish for because we think it good, not something we think good because it is what we wish for’ (‘Deliberation and Practical Reason,’ 231). In the endnote, he helpfully remarks,

It is the beginning of philosophical wisdom on this matter, both as an issue of interpretation and as a philosophical issue, to see that we do not have to choose between Aristotle’s proposition [‘We desire it because it is good for us’] and its apparent opposite [Spinoza’s]. We can desire it because it seems good and it seems good because we desire it. (239)

I believe for any rationalist that the first is easier to see than the second (which appears unapologetically voluntarist). I may desire love because it seems good to me, but why it also true that love seems good to me because I desire it? Could I not be in error?

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