What Makes it Best?

In my ethics class, we often discuss what is best. This is an intangible term and there is no one answer that applies to all cases. When we get into a debate about this word, it is a good lesson in absolute and relative values. Are there any concepts or conditions in today’s culture that can be definitively stated? I think there are, but there are limitations. Because one of my students just bought a pair of cleats to wear while playing on the school soccer team, I thought the class would take this as a test example. How can different companies claim that they have the “best” product?

It was easy to start. Everyone blames false advertising and the lack of ethics in product sales. The consumer, of course, knows that the words are written to sway them to make a purchase. They fall for it nonetheless. The words “best,” “premium,” and “superior” are loosely bandied about by clever copywriters. Well, it is up to an ethics class to make things clearer. To us, after much discussion, best means the highest rating in a given class like athletic footwear. When one opts for the best, one has great expectations.

In terms of cleats, you can talk about fabrication, style and design, durability, comfort, materials, control and performance. If one shoe is better than another, who do players buy all sorts of brands at varying prices? Good reviews from sites like Top Corner Mag can make all of the difference. Kids are taken in by their peers. Everyone, child and adult alike, wants the best for the price. They often are disappointed. It becomes an ethics shortfall and no one wants to admit that they were duped.

You could go the scientific route as opposed to our theoretical one. You could gather data by comparing players’ views or taking a poll on a Facebook page. Is the best what the majority likes? That may be a good definition. Is it what has stood the test of time? When innovations enter the picture, what was once the best is tossed out the window. Should we even use the word at all?

Everyone wants to be the best at something like the sport of soccer. But given the nature of the word—excelling all others (like “the best student in ethics class”). Because people are so different, is there one way only to arrive at the top? Webster’s says that “the best” is the most productive of good, offering or producing the greatest advantage, utility, or satisfaction. When you ask, what is the best thing to do? You are looking for this kind of answer. The best soccer cleats produce winning scores and superior team performance. There is evidence behind the positive label. The proof is in the pudding, or the outcome, so to speak.

A student in my class pointed out that money can be an issue and prevent ordinary people of modest means from availing themselves of the best. It becomes another kind of ethical issue all its own—a matter of what is right and what is wrong.