Common Good - History

Common Good - History

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Five Ways To Shape Ethical Decisions: Common Good Approach

The fourth of the five theories is the Common Good Approach. When debriefing an ethical dilemma, the Common Good Approach can be useful when the issue involves, or should involve, the overall picture or environment.

The Common Good Approach regards all individuals as part of a larger community. As such, we share certain common conditions and institutions upon which our welfare depends. For society to thrive, we need to safeguard the sustainability of our community for the good of all, including our weakest and most vulnerable members. Some things that nurture a healthy, functioning community are: stable family life good schools affordable nourishment and health care effective public safety a just legal system fair trade and commerce a safe, well-managed ecosystem an accessible technological environment a well-maintained infrastructure and a peaceful society.

The utilitarian principle weighs the net balance of goodness and harm produced by a certain action on a group of individuals, while this approach tests whether an action benefits or erodes a specific element of the common good. It weighs the effect on the fabric of the community. It encourages us to recognize how the freedoms and support we enjoy as individuals in pursuit of our own happiness are made possible by the sustained welfare of our community life. It invites us to ask what kind of society we are and want to become, and what actions we need to take to achieve that end.

Common Good - History

The Common Good

By Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez

Commenting on the many economic and social problems that American society now confronts, Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote: "We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits." Newsweek is not the only voice calling for a recognition of and commitment to the "common good." Daniel Callahan, an expert on bioethics, argues that solving the current crisis in our health care system — rapidly rising costs and dwindling access — requires replacing the current "ethic of individual rights" with an "ethic of the common good."

Appeals to the common good have also surfaced in discussions of business' social responsibilities, discussions of environmental pollution, discussions of our lack of investment in education, and discussions of the problems of crime and poverty. Everywhere, it seems, social commentators are claiming that our most fundamental social problems grow out of a widespread lack of commitment to the common good, coupled with an equally widespread pursuit of individual interests.

What exactly is "the common good," and why has it come to have such a critical place in current discussions of problems in our society? The common good is a notion that originated over two thousand years ago in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. More recently, the contemporary ethicist, John Rawls, defined the common good as "certain general conditions that are . . . equally to everyone's advantage." The Catholic religious tradition, which has a long history of struggling to define and promote the common good, defines it as "the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment." The common good, then, consists primarily of having the social systems, institutions, and environments on which we all depend work in a manner that benefits all people. Examples of particular common goods or parts of the common good include an accessible and affordable public health care system, an effective system of public safety and security, peace among the nations of the world, a just legal and political system, an unpolluted natural environment, and a flourishing economic system. Because such systems, institutions, and environments have such a powerful impact on the well-being of members of, society, it is no surprise that virtually every social problem in one way or another is linked to how well tines systems and institutions are functioning.

As these examples suggest, the common good doe not just happen. Establishing and maintaining the common good requires the cooperative efforts of some, often of many, people. Just as keeping a park free of litter depends on each user picking up after himself, so also maintaining the social conditions from which we all benefit requires the cooperative efforts of citizens. But these efforts pay off, for the common good is a good to which all members of society have access, and from whose enjoyment no one can be easily excluded. All persons for example, enjoy the benefits of clean air or an unpolluted environment, or any of our society's other common goods. In fact, something counts as a common good only to the extent that it is a good to which all have access.

It might seem that since all citizens benefit from the common good, we would all willingly respond to urgings that we each cooperate to establish and maintain the common good. But numerous observers have identified a number of obstacles that hinder us, as a society, from successfully doing so.

First, according to some philosophers, the very idea of a common good is inconsistent with a pluralistic society like ours. Different people have different ideas abut what is worthwhile or what constitutes "the good life for human beings," differences that have increased during the last few decades as the voices of more and more previously silenced groups, such as women and minorities have been heard. Given these differences, some people urge, it will be impossible for us to agree on what particular kind of social systems, institutions, and environment we will all pitch in to support. And even if we agree upon what we all valued, we would certainly disagree about the relative values things have for us. While a may agree, for example, that an affordable health system a healthy educational system, and a clean environment are all parts of the common good, some will say the, more should be invested in health than in education, while others will favor directing resources to the environment over both health and education. Such disagreements are bound to undercut our ability to evoke a sustained and widespread commitment to the common good. In the face of such pluralism, efforts to bring about the common good can only lead to adopting or promoting the views of some, while excluding others, violating the principle of treating people equally. Moreover, such efforts would force everyone to support some specific notion of the common good, violating the freedom of those who do not share in that goal, and inevitably leading to paternalism (imposing one group's preference on others), tyranny, and oppression.

A second problem encountered by proponents of the common good is what is sometimes called the "freerider problem." The benefits that a common good provides are, as we noted, available to everyone, including those who choose not to do their part to maintain the common good. Individuals can become "free riders" by taking the benefits the common good provides while refusing to do their part to support the common good. An adequate water supply, for example, is a common good from which all people benefit. But to maintain an adequate supply of water during a drought, people must conserve water, which entails sacrifices. Some individuals may be reluctant to do their share, however, since they know that so long as enough other people conserve, they can enjoy the benefits without reducing their own consumption. If enough people become free riders in this way, the common good which depends on their support will be destroyed. Many observers believe that this is exactly what has happened to many of our common goods, such as the environment or education, where the reluctance of all persons to support efforts to maintain the health of these systems has led to their virtual collapse.

The third problem encountered by attempts to promote the common good is that of individualism. Our historical traditions place a high value on individual freedom, on personal rights, and on allowing each person to "do her own thing." Our culture views society as comprised of separate independent individuals who are free to pursue their own individual goals and interests without interference from others. In this individualistic culture it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to convince people that they should sacrifice some of their freedom, some of their personal goals, and some of their self-interest, for the sake of the "common good." Our cultural traditions, in fact, reinforce the individual who thinks that she should not have to contribute to the community's common good, but should be left free to pursue her own personal ends.

Finally, appeals to the common good are confronted by the problem of an unequal sharing of burdens. Maintaining a common good often requires that particular individuals or particular groups bear costs that are much greater than those borne by others. Maintaining an unpolluted environment, for example, may require that particular firms that pollute install costly pollution control devices, undercutting profits. Making employment opportunities more equal may require that some groups, such as white males, sacrifice their own employment chances. Making the health system affordable and accessible to all may require that insurers accept lower premiums, that physicians accept lower salaries, or that those with particularly costly diseases or conditions forego the medical treatment on which their lives depend. Forcing particular groups or individuals to carry such unequal burdens "for the sake of the common good," is, at least arguably, unjust. Moreover, the prospect of having to carry such heavy and unequal burdens leads such groups and individuals to resist any attempts to secure common goods.

All of these problems pose considerable obstacles to those who call for an ethic of the common good. Still, appeals to the common good ought not to be dismissed. For they urge us to reflect on broad questions concerning the kind of society we want to become and how we are to achieve that society. They also challenge us to view ourselves as members of the same community and, while respecting and valuing the freedom of individuals to pursue their own goals, to recognize and further those goals we share in common.

"The common good is the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment."
--Vatican Council II

Bellah, R., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985.

Douglass, B. "The common good and the public interest." Political Theory, February 1980, 8 (1), pp. 103-117.

Edney, J. "Free riders en route to disaster." Psychology Today, August 1979, pp. 80-85 lO2.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface. A Sociocultural Perspective on History Education. Participatory Democracy and Democratic Humanism. The Identification Stance. The Analytic Stance. The Moral Response Stance. The Exhibition Stance. Narrative Structure and History Education. Narratives of Individual Achievement and Motivation. The Story of National Freedom and Progress. Inquiry. Historical Empathy as Perspective Recognition. Empathy as Caring. Teacher Education and the Purposes of History.

At the foundation of Catholic Social Teaching is the concept of the “common good.”

Here is a definition drawn from Pope St. John XXIII and quoted in the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes: the common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”

By common we mean all people. To pursue the common good is to work towards the greatest good for all persons, not the greatest good for the greatest number and certainly not the greatest good for only a specific group of people. There is a difference between the good for a majority of people and the good for all people.

One example that is sometimes used to illustrate the common good is a sports team. The common good of a team is to win, or maybe to protect the integrity of the game. Certainly, a team wants individual players to perform well and to improve, but ultimately the common good of the team is to win. This sometimes requires star players to make sacrifices in order for the team to work together to win.

Then, of course, there is the role of the coach in a sports team. The coach must protect the common good of the team (that goal of winning) not just the individual players and their individual goods.

Likewise, it is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society and its citizens.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes three essential elements of the common good:

  1. Rights: The common good presupposes respect for the person as such. The public authories (government) must respect and protect the rights of the human person. In other words: respect people.
  2. Needs (Prosperity): The common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Public authorities should make accessible what is needed to lead a truly human life, for example: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, information, and the right to establish a family. In other words: help people.
  3. Peace: The common good requires peace. Public authority should ensure a morally acceptable means of security and defense of its people. In other words: protect people.

In addition, however, we also pursue a Universal Common Good.

The world today is increasingly interderpendent, meaning, we all rely on other countries for our own well-being. Though we may live in different parts of the world, we are all a part of one human family and, therefore, we seek a universal common good.

This means that nations must also help humans who are not from their country. This is why the Church works toward assisting refugees and migrants who are displaced from their homes.

Jesus taught the Golden Rule to his disciples: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12).

From this law is drawn the great wisdom of the common good. To seek the common good is to seek to fulfill Jesus’ command to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

The Common Good

"It ought always to be remembered, that literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. 

It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society."

At Bowdoin, that commitment is something that we're serious about: in our classes, in our community, and in our free time. Through the McKeen Center for the Common Good, students are encouraged to think critically about the common good, and then act via a number of channels, including coursework, internships, research, and community service.

The common good also guides how we find applicants who are a good fit for Bowdoin: it's a mindset that doesn't necessarily lead to nonprofit work, teaching, or public service (though it can).

It's a larger view of the world, and an understanding that no matter what fields we pursue, we can make them more accessible and ethical by making space for empathy, understanding, context, and history.

Who’s Afraid of the Common Good?

C. Bradley Thompson, Clemson University’s BB&T-funded “libertarian in denial,” has once again come out swinging in these digital pages (and has since come out far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far more in these digital pages’ related Substack).

Thompson, a scholar at a major research institution who claims to have studiously considered, and have earnestly concluded, that America’s Founding was not in any way rooted in “authority, order, stability, community, social cohesion, continuity, solidarity, sacrifice, duty, law, orthodoxy, virtue, goodness, and God,” has most recently directed his liberalized ire at my friend Adrian Vermeule, Harvard Law School professor and provocative public intellectual. In his recent response to Vermeule’s widely read March 2020 jurisprudential salvo, “Beyond Originalism,” Thompson excoriates both Vermeule himself and the broader concepts of a legal and political regime oriented toward the common good.

Vermeule is fully capable of defending himself against Thompson’s colorful denunciation of him as a “dyspeptic enfant terrible.” Moreover, I have a difference of opinion with Vermeule as to the precise contours of the proper path forward for a genuinely conservative constitutional jurisprudence, as he and I have begun to hash out (and much more to come on that front).

But I object—as two other friends, Sohrab Ahmari and David Azerrad, have similarly done—to Thompson’s cartoonish, Ayn Rand-ian view of the American Founding. Thompson, impressive bona fides notwithstanding, misunderstands the nature of republican self-governance in the classical tradition—and he misunderstands the nature of our specific constitutional order. Most germanely, he misunderstands the conceptual intersection thereof: namely, the overarching nature of a legal and political regime oriented toward the common good. In truth, Thompson has needlessly frenzied himself over a rather anodyne and unthreatening phraseology. Indeed, if nothing else, I hope to aid my individual autonomy-fetishizing professorial interlocutor to sleep just a bit better at night.

Our libertarian friends tend to fret over the notion that government might have any positive, assertive role beyond an obsessive fixation with securing negative liberty at any and all costs. For those of this ilk, the idea that our actual political inheritance might entail “wielding ‘regime-level’ power in the service of good political order,” let alone “wielding the levers of state power…to reward friends and punish enemies (within the confines of the rule of law),” is anathema. This is not exactly a new debate, of course. But it has unfolded prolifically these past couple of years on the Right on issues as wide-ranging as “drag queen reading hour,” pornography regulation, and Big Tech corporate malfeasance (and everything in between). It will not end any time soon.

Thompson’s Map of Misreadings

Thompson’s view of the American Founding is predicated on elevating the Declaration of Independence—and interpreting it as dogmatic Lockean language about how “Governments are instituted among Men” to “secure” “certain unalienable Rights”—in such a way as to crowd out almost all other interpretations and sources.

Now, I agree with Justice Clarence Thomas—contra his late longtime senior colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia—that the Declaration has a real and meaningful role to play in constitutional interpretation. I was even born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and, as the Claremont Institute and its late founder, Harry Jaffa, have collectively dedicated more ink to explaining than anyone in modern American political life, it was Lincoln for whom the Declaration was the “apple of gold” around which the Constitution was but a “picture of silver”—and for whom the Declaration serves as an “electric cord” that “links…patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

In short: no Declaration skeptic, I. But the story is quite a bit more complicated than what Thompson depicts.

“Electric cord” status notwithstanding, one cannot escape the rudimentary fact that the Constitution of 1787 was written under circumstances tangibly different than those surrounding the drafting of the Declaration in 1776. For one, Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s penman, was missing in action in 1787—ever the Francophile, he was gallivanting in pre-Revolutionary France—a perhaps-serendipitous absence that the late Gertrude Himmelfarb apparently once described as “the clearest sign of Providence intervening in American history.” Accordingly, James Madison, Jefferson’s once and future protégé, fell under the interstitial influence of the men who came to be the Federalist Party, led by Anglophilic, common good-oriented statesmen such as Alexander Hamilton.

In fact, those who would ultimately emerge as Federalists dominated the 1787 Constitutional Convention, something which we clearly see in the common good-centric language of the Constitution’s Preamble, drafted by the Convention’s Committee in Style, headed by the common good/nationalist-oriented Gouverneur Morris. The Preamble is the closest we might come to an express enunciation of the charter’s intent and purpose:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The careful reader will note that this language does not entail individual liberty as an end unto itself at all. Rather, the closest we come is the enumerated purpose of “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty,” wherein “Liberty” is an instrumental means toward the narrower end of “Blessings.” As Harry Jaffa once said:

…reflection teaches us that the possession of health, wealth, and freedom are not the ultimate measure of human well-being. We know that there have been human beings who, being in the full possession of health, wealth, and freedom, have yet committed suicide. Health, wealth, and freedom must be combined with something else before they become ingredients of the human good, before they become blessings, properly so called.

The idea of liberty—or the liberty which is a blessing—being an emancipation of the passions from moral restraint had no place in the constitutional doctrine of the novus ordo seclorum. The liberty which is a blessing must be good for the one who possesses it. It must therefore be a good in the sight of God, who is the source of blessings. Such a good must point to felicity, whether in this world or the next, as its consummation. By calling the advantages of liberty “blessings,” the Constitution, which in certain respects makes perhaps the most radical break in all human history with all that has gone before it, nonetheless, in its understanding of the connection between happiness and virtue, aligns itself decisively with traditional moral philosophy and moral theology.

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As I have argued numerous times here, the Preamble, like the Declaration itself, ought to imbue the words of the Constitution with meaning and thereby help guide its interpretation. Thompson does something closely approximating the precise opposite he not only tendentiously downplays the extent to which references to the “public good” abound in Madison’s Federalist #10, as Tony Woodlief explains, but he also seems to outright ignore Madison’s framing, in Federalist #57, of the “aim of every political constitution” as being “first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society.”

And that’s Madison, who, if he did not attain Jeffersonian levels of unyielding devotion to rationalist abstraction, was at least certainly more individual liberty-maximizing than those who would become Federalist Party leaders. Indeed, one must presume Thompson would outright blench at the balancing act between prudence and dogma evinced by Hamilton’s 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures.

Thompson may claim with a straight face that American society was simply conceived as an “aggregation of individuals with rights,” but this is belied by historical reality. George Washington himself, for instance, cautioned in 1783 that “arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of Liberty abused to licentiousness.” Founding Father Edmund Randolph similarly warned that “licentiousness has…contributed as much (if not more) as any other cause whatsoever, to the loss of…liberties.” The common law of defamation, at least up until the erroneously decided 1964 Supreme Court case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, was quite robust: blasphemy and obscenity were, until then, often jailable offenses. It is borderline dishonest to view the American Founding as a pure exercise in classical liberal doctrine—as an unblemished exercise of rationalist abstraction in unipolar governmental form. That is simply not true.

Hostility to Religion

It is also not unreasonable to suspect whether there might be some deeply personal, distasteful motives at work here. One cannot help but wonder, after reading Thompson’s recent Substack essay series, whether Thompson has a peculiar, dark obsession with the Catholic Church, specifically. In his fifth essay, he lets this overtly anti-Catholic cat out of the bag: “I will not…under any circumstances, permit individuals whose own moral lives are organized around an institution defined by systemic pedophilia to lecture me on the need for personal or public morality. Such people have no moral authority from which to lecture anyone on the higher or common good.”

That is, in a word, grotesque. Similarly, in his second essay, Thompson advances the deceitful claim that America has a “de jure…practice of separation of church and State.” This is a manifestly ahistorical distortion of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as Philip Hamburger has persuasively demonstrated, and no well-read individual possessing a modicum of familiarity with America’s Founding ought to bestow it legitimacy. But to speak of a “separation of church and state” is not merely to dabble in rank ahistorical dishonesty—it is also to employ a term, whether wittingly or unwittingly, with a uniquely anti-Catholic linguistic provenance.

Query what Thompson makes, then, of this specific critique coming from a very publicly Jewish essayist (yours truly). For that matter, query what Thompson might make of the fact that numerous highly prominent religious Jews are quite comfortable speaking in the rhetorical language of the common good.

Fear of the Common Good

This, then, takes us back to Thompson’s histrionic distress that Vermeule had the temerity to couch his criticism of foundering Originalism, Inc. in the phraseology of the common good. Setting aside Thompson’s ahistorical misunderstanding of the American Founding, he also badly misunderstands and dramatically embellishes the purported dangers of a political and legal regime oriented not toward the maximalization of individual liberty, but toward the common good of its citizenry.

Thompson is unduly fearful of the prospect that common-good governing might be employed as a fig leaf for majoritarianism run amok, and the tyranny of might over right. To be sure, majoritarian trampling of one group over another is a reasonable fear, in the abstract—it cuts to the core of Lincoln’s objections to Stephen Douglas’s morally denuded, proceduralist pleas for “popular sovereignty” in the Western territories, and it tugs at the heartstrings of earnest pro-lifers everywhere we can be found. But this, let alone melodramatic lamentations about “dog-eat-dog competition[s] for power,” makes a farcical straw man out of common good-oriented conservatism.

Rather, what we common good-oriented conservatives believe is very simple. We believe that individual liberty, let alone licentiousness or hedonism, is not the be-all/end-all of why governments are instituted among men. We believe that although individual liberty—especially religious liberty—might be an intrinsic end to a limited extent, it is more comfortably conceptualized as a means toward realizing the classical aims of politics qua politics: societal justice, human flourishing, and the common good of nation-state, communities, private institutions, and families alike. We believe, as Aristotle put it in his Politics, that “a state exists for the sake of a good life, and not for the sake of life only.” Elected statesmen and constitutional interpreters who take a common good-centric approach, therefore, prioritize the institutional and communitarian health that, contra the individual autonomy fetishists and laissez-faire fundamentalists, alone can lead to true human flourishing.

This is all that is meant. It does not mean that individual rights or freedom are unimportant, or ought to be wholly negated. Far from it. It is simply a different, non-dogmatic analytical prism—far more communitarian, far less individualistic—through which to view the roles, duties, and normative preferences of our public decisionmakers and legal expositors. It just so happens, as Chief Justice John Marshall showed us in the epochal 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland, that this is also our true inheritance—our true political economy, our true legal regime, and our true constitutional order.

There is nothing scary about this way of viewing the world, this way of viewing the rights of citizenry, and this way of viewing the duties incumbent upon the sundry constitutional actors in our system of governance. Thompson’s palpable fears about this anodyne, non-controversial set of political principles evinces either an extraordinarily doctrinaire, rigid form of libertarianism or a genuine ignorance as to the beliefs held by the majority of conservative-leaning thought leaders over the past few centuries who prioritize health of nation, family, home, and hearth over the maximalization at all costs of individual liberty.

Thompson can try his hardest to depict the American Founding as a libertarian revolution, but there is simply no plausible reading of men such as Tocqueville that would indicate the Founding-era creed as anything other than religious, family-centric, common good communitarianism.

Ours, then, is a much more traditional way of viewing the relationship between man and republican self-governance. Indeed, it is possible that there has never been a truly serious political thinker who has gone quite as far as Thompson has gone in making the claim that unvarnished maximalization of individual liberty is the singular end of a just and proper politics (and be it noted, Ayn Rand does not count as a truly serious political thinker).

Thompson is venturing into relatively unexplored terrain. To the extent he merely wishes to elevate the role played by the Declaration of Independence in our public political life, I genuinely wish him all the best. We would all do well to emulate Lincoln in that noble respect. But to the extent Thompson would condemn those of us who support any role for public officials whatsoever beyond merely the incremental expansion of negative liberty as inconsistent with either good political order or the principles of the American Founding, I would encourage him perhaps to write another book.

Institute on the Common Good

Since 1998, the Institute on the Common Good at Regis University has dedicated itself to programs aimed at changing the world one dialogue at a time. We operate under the simple theory that through dialogue and trust building, major social change can occur. For almost 15 years, ICG has been serving communities and organizations dedicated to the common good by providing a safe and effective space for dialogue, communal discernment and public deliberation.

Facilitated Dialogues

The Institute on the Common Good has helped facilitated dialogues that resulted in understanding and change on homelessness in the Capitol Hills Neighborhood of Denver, health care, immigration issues in the city and peer mediation programs in the Denver Public Schools. One of our first successes came in 1999, when the Institute facilitated a private forum on criminal justice for the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on Domestic Policy, the results of which were included in the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice.

Distinguished Speakers

Perhaps our most visible work comes from the internationally known speakers we invite to the Regis University campus, most notably Nobel Peace Prize recipients. One of the first guests of the Institute was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in November 1998, following in the footsteps of Betty Williams of Northern Ireland, who became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to speak on the Regis University campus, and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

St. Ignatius wrote that the work of the members of the Society should not be for their own benefit, but always be done for the greater good of the community of God and for the greater glory of the Creator. This framework allows ICG facilitators and staff to place themselves in a mindset that enables them to see the group and issues before them with greater openness and awareness. The hallmarks of this philosophy can be summarized in three key points: finding God in all things right intentions, or the assumption that each person operates from a place of good purpose and holy indifference, that we are willing to change or be transformed by others.

The Institute also is heavily influenced by following the tradition of Catholic social teaching. Within Catholic social teaching are four key concepts that mark this particular approach. These provide the core rationale for why we do the work that we do.

The inherent belief in the dignity of the human person. Each person is recognized as being made in the image of God.

Society can only function if the fullest level of human rights are recognized and members recognize their rights and well as their responsibilities to their own welfare and the welfare of others.

Individuals have a right to fully participate in decisions made on issues relevant to them, and giving a voice to the most vulnerable members of society is a key moral duty.

The human person is both sacred and social, growing and achieving fulfillment only in community.

Through it all, we promote the concept of the common good. We serve as a public resource on community dialogue, promote academic discourse on topics related to dialogue and encourage communal discernment in the traditions of Quaker and Ignatian Spirituality. Unlike institutes that focus solely on research and analysis, the Institute is unique in that it actively partners with groups engaged in community life. We assert the dignity and social nature of the human person. Therefore, every voice is welcome around.

Contact the Institute

If you or your organization have questions and would like to contact the Institute, please get in touch!

Teaching History for the Common Good

In Teaching History for the Common Good, Barton and Levstik present a clear overview of competing ideas among educators, historians, politicians, and the public about the nature and purpose of teaching history, and they evaluate these debates in light of current research on students&apos historical thinking. In many cases, disagreements about what should be taught to the nati In Teaching History for the Common Good, Barton and Levstik present a clear overview of competing ideas among educators, historians, politicians, and the public about the nature and purpose of teaching history, and they evaluate these debates in light of current research on students' historical thinking. In many cases, disagreements about what should be taught to the nation's children and how it should be presented reflect fundamental differences that will not easily be resolved. A central premise of this book, though, is that systematic theory and research can play an important role in such debates by providing evidence of how students think, how their ideas interact with the information they encounter both in school and out, and how these ideas differ across contexts. Such evidence is needed as an alternative to the untested assumptions that plague so many discussions of history education.

The authors review research on students' historical thinking and set it in the theoretical context of mediated action--an approach that calls attention to the concrete actions that people undertake, the human agents responsible for such actions, the cultural tools that aid and constrain them, their purposes, and their social contexts. They explain how this theory allows educators to address the breadth of practices, settings, purposes, and tools that influence students' developing understanding of the past, as well as how it provides an alternative to the academic discipline of history as a way of making decisions about teaching and learning the subject in schools.

Beyond simply describing the factors that influence students' thinking, Barton and Levstik evaluate their implications for historical understanding and civic engagement. They base these evaluations not on the disciplinary study of history, but on the purpose of social education--preparing students for participation in a pluralist democracy. Their ultimate concern is how history can help citizens engage in collaboration toward the common good.

In Teaching History for the Common Good, Barton and Levstik:
*discuss the contribution of theory and research, explain the theory of mediated action and how it guides their analysis, and describe research on children's (and adults') knowledge of and interest in history
*lay out a vision of pluralist, participatory democracy and its relationship to the humanistic study of history as a basis for evaluating the perspectives on the past that influence students' learning
*explore four principal "stances" toward history (identification, analysis, moral response, and exhibition), review research on the extent to which children and adolescents understand and accept each of these, and examine how the stances might contribute to--or detract from--participation in a pluralist democracy
*address six of the principal "tools" of history (narrative structure, stories of individual achievement and motivation, national narratives, inquiry, empathy as perspective-taking, and empathy as caring) and
*review research and conventional wisdom on teachers' knowledge and practice, and argue that for teachers to embrace investigative, multi-perspectival approaches to history they need more than knowledge of content and pedagogy, they need a guiding purpose that can be fulfilled only by these approaches--and preparation for participatory democracy provides such purpose.

Teaching History for the Common Good is essential reading for history and social studies professionals, researchers, teacher educators, and students, as well as for policymakers, parents, and members of the general public who are interested in history education or in students' thinking and learning about the subject.
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Opus Dei

Continuing his catechesis on the Church's social teaching, Pope Francis explains the meaning of the "common good" in his 9 September general audience.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

The crisis we are living due to the pandemic is affecting everyone we will emerge from it for the better if we all seek the common good together the contrary is we will emerge for the worse. Unfortunately, we see partisan interests emerging. For example, some would like to appropriate possible solutions for themselves, as in the case of vaccines, to then sell them to others. Some are taking advantage of the situation to instigate divisions: by seeking economic or political advantages, generating or exacerbating conflicts. Others simply are not interesting themselves in the suffering of others, they pass by and go their own way (see Lk 10:30-32. They are the devotees of Pontius Pilate, washing their hands of others’ suffering.

The Christian response to the pandemic and to the consequent socio-economic crisis is based on love, above all, love of God who always precedes us (see 1 Jn 4:19). He loves us first, He always precedes us in love and in solutions. He loves us unconditionally and when we welcome this divine love, then we can respond similarly. I love not only those who love me – my family, my friends, my group – but I also love those who do not love me, I also love those who do not know me or who are strangers, and even those who make me suffer or whom I consider enemies (see Mt 5:44). This is Christian wisdom, this is how Jesus acted. And the highest point of holiness, let’s put it that way, is to love one’s enemies which is not easy, it is not easy. Certainly, to love everyone, including enemies, is difficult – I would say it is even an art! But an art that can be learned and improved. True love that makes us fruitful and free is always expansive, and true love is not only expansive, it is inclusive. This love cares, heals and does good. How many times a caress does more good than many arguments, a caress, we can think, of pardon instead of many arguments to defend oneself. It is inclusive love that heals.

So, love is not limited to the relationship between two or three people, or to friends or to family, it goes beyond. It comprises civil and political relationships (see Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 1907-1912), including a relationship with nature (see Encyclical Laudato Si’ [LS], 231). Love is inclusive, everything. Since we are social and political beings, one of the highest expressions of love is specifically social and political which is decisive to human development and in order to face any type of crisis (ibid., 231). We know that love makes families and friendships flourish but it is good to remember that it also makes social, cultural, economic and political relationships flourish, allowing us to construct a “civilisation of love”, as Saint Paul VI used to love to say[1] and, in turn, Saint John Paul II. Without this inspiration the egotistical, indifferent, throw-away culture prevails – that is to discard anything I do not like, whom I cannot love or those who seem to me to not to be useful in society. Today at the entrance, a married couple said to us: “Pray for me (us) because we have a disabled son.” I asked: “How old is he?” “He is pretty old.” “And what do you do?” “We accompany him, help him.” All of their lives as parents for that disabled son. This is love. And the enemies, the adversarial politicians, according to our opinion, seem to be “disabled” politicians, socially, but they seem to be that way. Only God knows if they are truly thus or not. But we must love them, we must dialogue, we must build this civilisation of love, this political and social civilisation of the unity of all humanity. Otherwise, wars, divisions, envy, even wars in families: because inclusive love is social, it is familial, it is political…love pervades everything.

The coronavirus is showing us that each person’s true good is a common good, not only individual, and, vice versa, the common good is a true good for the person. (see CCC, 1905-1906). If a person only seeks his or her own good, that person is egotistical. Instead, the person is kinder, nobler, when his or her own good is open to everyone, when it is shared. Health, in addition to being an individual good, is also a public good. A healthy society is one that takes care of everyone’s health, of all.

A virus that does not recognise barriers, borders, or cultural or political distinctions must be faced with a love without barriers, borders or distinctions. This love can generate social structures that encourage us to share rather than to compete, that allow us to include the most vulnerable and not to cast them aside, that help us to express the best in our human nature and not the worst. True love does not know the throw-away culture, it does not know what it is. In fact, when we love and generate creativity, when we generate trust and solidarity, it is then that concrete initiatives emerge for the common good.[2] And this is valid at both the level of the smallest and largest communities, as well as at the international level. What is done in the family, what is done in the neighbourhood, what is done in the village, what is done in the large cities and internationally is the same, it is the same seed that grows, grows, grows and bears fruit. If you in your family, in your neighbourhood start out with envy, with battles, there will be war in the end. Instead, if you start out with love, to share love, forgiveness, there will be love and forgiveness for everyone.

Conversely, if the solutions for the pandemic bear the imprint of egoism, whether it be by persons, businesses or nations, we may perhaps emerge from the coronavirus crisis, but certainly not from the human and social crisis that the virus has brought to light and accentuated. Therefore, be careful not to build on sand (see Mt 7:21-27)! To build a healthy, inclusive, just and peaceful society we must do so on the rock of the common good.[3] The common good is a rock. And this is everyone’s task, not only that of a few specialists. Saint Thomas Aquinas used to say that the promotion of the common good is a duty of justice that falls on each citizen. Every citizen is responsible for the common good. And for Christians, it is also a mission. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught, to direct our daily efforts toward the common good is a way of receiving and spreading God’s glory.

Unfortunately, politics does not often have a good reputation, and we know why. This is not to say that all politicians are bad, no, I do not want to say this. I am only saying that unfortunately, politics do not often have a good reputation. Why? But it does not have to resign itself to this negative vision, but instead react to it by showing in deeds that good politics is possible, or rather that politics[4] that puts the human person and the common good at the center is a duty. If you read history of humanity you will find many holy politicians who trod this path. It is possible insofar as every citizen, and especially those who assume social and political commitments and positions, roots what they do in ethical principles and nurtures it with social and political love. Christians, in a particular way the laity, are called to give good example of this and can do it thanks to the virtue of charity, cultivating its intrinsic social dimension.

It is therefore time to improve our social love – I want to highlight this: our social love – with everyone’s contribution, starting from our littleness. The common good requires everyone’s participation. If everyone contributes his or her part, and if no one is left out, we can regenerate good relationships on the communitarian, national and international level and even in harmony with the environment (see LS, 236). Thus, through our gestures, even the most humble ones, something of the image of God we bear within us will be made visible, because God is the Trinity, God is love, God is love. This is the most beautiful definition of God that is in the Bible. The Apostle John, who loved Jesus so much, gives it to us. With His help, we can heal the world working, yes, all together for the common good, for everyone’s common good. Thank you.

[1] Message for the X World Day of Peace, 1 January 1977: AAS 68 (1976), 709.

[2] See Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, 38.

[4] See Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2019 (8 December 2018).

Watch the video: What exactly is the Common Good?


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  3. Torio

    Agree, very useful thought

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    Thanks for the information.

  5. Shijo

    the magnificent phrase

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