Discussion Philosophy Common Good

March 8, 2022
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Discussion Philosophy Common Good

Discussion Philosophy Common Good

1. Is there an obligation to promote the common good? Contrast the views of Bentham, Kant, and Ross on that question. Whose view do you think is best? Why?
2. What does it mean to claim that ethics is an a priori discipline? Who agrees with that view? What is Bentham’s view of the nature of ethics (hint: empirical science)? How does Ross combine those views?
3. Both Kant and Ross are nonconsequentialists, yet they disagree about the role of consequences in determining the morally right act. Compare and contrast their views regarding the role of consequences. which view is preferable? Why?

In philosophy, economics, and political science, the common good (also commonwealth, general welfare, or public benefit) refers to either what is shared and beneficial for all or most members of a given community, or alternatively, what is achieved by citizenship, collective action, and active participation in the realm of politics and public service. The concept of the common good differs significantly among philosophical doctrines.[1] Early conceptions of the common good were set out by Ancient Greek philosophers, including Aristotle and Plato. One understanding of the common good rooted in Aristotle’s philosophy remains in common usage today, referring to what one contemporary scholar calls the “good proper to, and attainable only by, the community, yet individually shared by its members.”[2]

The concept of common good developed through the work of political theorists, moral philosophers, and public economists, including Thomas Aquinas, Niccolò Machiavelli, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, James Madison, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, John Maynard Keynes, John Rawls, and many other thinkers. In contemporary economic theory, a common good is any good which is rivalrous yet non-excludable, while the common good, by contrast, arises in the subfield of welfare economics and refers to the outcome of a social welfare function. Such a social welfare function, in turn, would be rooted in a moral theory of the good (such as utilitarianism). Social choice theory aims to understand processes by which the common good may or may not be realized in societies through the study of collective decision rules. And public choice theory applies microeconomic methodology to the study of political science in order to explain how private interests affect political activities and outcomes.

The term “common good” has been used in many disparate ways and escapes a single definition. Most philosophical conceptions of the common good fall into one of two families: substantive and procedural. According to substantive conceptions, the common good is that which is shared by and beneficial to all or most members of a given community: particular substantive conceptions will specify precisely what factors or values are beneficial and shared. According to procedural formulations, by contrast, the common good consists of the outcome that is achieved through collective participation in the formation of a shared will. It is when one another respects others dignity and rights.

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In the history of moral and political thought
Historical overview
Under one name or another, the common good has been a recurring theme throughout the history of political philosophy.[3] As one contemporary scholar observes, Aristotle used the idea of “the common interest” (to koinei sympheron, in Greek) as the basis for his distinction between “right” constitutions, which are in the common interest, and “wrong” constitutions, which are in the interest of rulers;[4] Saint Thomas Aquinas held “the common good” (bonum commune, in Latin) to be the goal of law and government;[5] John Locke declared that “the peace, safety, and public good of the people” are the goals of political society, and further argued that “the well being of the people shall be the supreme law”;[6] David Hume contended that “social conventions” are adopted and given moral support in virtue of the fact that they serve the “public” or “common” interest;[7] James Madison wrote of the “public,” “common,” or “general” good as closely tied with justice and declared that justice is the end of government and civil society;[8] and Jean-Jacques Rousseau understood “the common good” (le bien commun, in French) to be the object of a society’s general will and the highest end pursued by government.[9][10]

Though these thinkers differed significantly in their views of what the common good consists in, as well as over what the state should do to promote it, they nonetheless agreed that the common good is the end of government, that it is a good of all the citizens, and that no government should become the “perverted servant of special interests,”[10] whether these special interests be understood as Aristotle’s “interest of the rulers,” Locke’s “private good,” Hume’s and Madison’s “interested factions,” or Rousseau’s “particular wills.

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