What exactly is the Common Good?

What exactly is the Common Good?


(VOICEOVER):
The common good has historical roots that stretch back to ancient philosophy and early
Christianity. But it’s also an idea that has contemporary
relevance. So what exactly is the common good? The common good can be helpfully understood
as an ideal and a moral measure. As an ideal, the common good points to a state
of affairs; a world in which all the conditions are in place that would allow everyone to
reach their full potential as persons and communities. Conditions such as access to good education
and health care, safe housing, fair wages, and the ability to participate in political
and cultural life. In this sense the common good won’t ever be
fully realized, but it does provide us with a goal to work toward. The common good is also a moral measure. A tool we can use to evaluate whether our
choices, policies and institutions align with this ideal. For example, do my purchasing decisions reflect
merely self-interested concern for my own well-being and status? Or do I try to spend my money in ways that
align with environmental sustainability. Do I live simply so that more of my resources
can be dedicated to meeting the basic needs of others? There are a few key assumptions built into
the concept of the common good. First, it assumes that human beings are fundamentally
social creatures; we are built to be in relationships and not live in isolation. Second, because we are made for community
our individual well-being is mutually interdependent, my good includes yours, and vice versa. Finally, the idea of the common good rests
on a pretty robust optimism about human beings. It doesn’t deny that social conflict will
happen, but it does assume that since we are built for community, we are willing to treat
each other with goodwill and to collaborate in building the common good. Now the idea of the common good does have
some problems. The assumed optimism about human beings can
be hard to sustain when there’s so much evidence of ill-will and such widespread forms of violence
and inequality. Moreover, anytime anyone claims to know exactly
what is good for all persons there is a chance that their moral vision can be mistaken or
limited by their own experience, prejudice or self-interest. A vision of the common good can be used to
silence those who protest or disagree. In short, attempts to specify the common good
can fall short of being truly common or truly good. Because of these dangers, it’s important to
imagine and interpret the common good in relation to other moral commitments and principles. For example, a commitment to prioritizing
the well-being of the most vulnerable members of society, what Catholics call a preferential
option for the poor and vulnerable, means listening to what they have to say about how
the status quo benefits and harms, includes and excludes them, and what they think a mutually
beneficial community might look like. As an ideal state of affairs and a moral measure,
the common good needs to be critically examined and revised again and again. The unfinished character of the common good
is part of its power. As a tool for moral imagination and decision-making,
it continually calls us to see, judge, and act. To build a world in which all persons can
thrive as individuals and together.

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