No Alien Good: The Common Good and the Truth of Love

Stephan Kampowski

1. My Good and Yours

“The whole philosophy of Hell” – the devil Screwtape instructs his apprentice Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ famous Screwtape Letters – “rests on recognition of the axiom that […] my good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses.”[1] In Dante’s Divine Comedy, we are introduced to the figure of Guido del Duca, who has been a faithful follower of this way of life throughout his years on earth. With his eyes sewn shut, he spends his time in purgatory on the terrace of the envious. When Dante and Virgil arrive, he explains to his visitors that he is merely reaping what he has sown: “So inflamed with envy was my blood that if I had seen a man make merry thou hadst seen me suffused with livid colour.”[2] He then goes on to formulate the philosophy of hell in words quite similar to those of Screwtape, but adding a note of deep regret: “O race of men, why do you set your hearts where must needs be exclusion of partnership?”[3]

Here we have, in a single sentence, the secret of envy, which Scripture tells us is the signature vice of the devil – for it was “by the envy of the devil that death entered the world” (Wis 2:24). Envy arises in our hearts when we seek goods that cannot be shared. Your good is alien to me. My good is private, and your good is, from my point of view, privative, depriving me of something: your wealth is the wealth I do not have; your honor is the honor I have not received. Hence, as Screwtape says, “To be means to be in competition.”[4] Your success is my failure, my honor your shame. It is, as Dante’s guide Virgil explains, “because your desires are fixed where the part is lessened by sharing that envy blows the bellows to your sighs.”[5]

The philosophy of heaven is certainly different, and Virgil tries to put it this way: “If the love of the highest sphere bent upward your longing, that fear would not be in your breast. For there, the more they are who say ours, the more of good does each possess and the more of charity burns in that cloister.”[6] Dante, for his part, is still puzzled. He asks his guide a question that is central to anthropology and ethics. It is a question that must be answered in order to understand the idea of the truth of love, and it will guide us for the rest of this essay: “How can it be that a good distributed among a greater number of possessors makes them richer in it than if it were possessed by few?[7]

2. To Live and to Live Well

In the tradition, the kinds of goods that meet the requirement expressed by the poet and his guide – the more “ours” they are, the richer each of its individual possessors becomes – have been given the name “common goods.” In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that the good is “that at which everything aims.”[8] Beings desire the good because the good is that which perfects their nature. Therefore, what a being desires depends on what kind of being it is, since the good fulfills its nature. The concepts of good and nature are thus closely related and mutually implicit. The question of the human good is thus a question of who and what we are as human persons. There are certainly some goods that we need to survive: food, clothing, shelter. But these alone, necessary as they are, are not enough for us to live well. Humans, like all living things, are in a tension that Aristotle expresses with the terms zēn and euzēn, living and living well.[9] We may have everything we need to survive, but we may not be living well. And that is what we really want in life: we want our lives to succeed as human lives; we want not just to live, but to thrive.

What do we need not only to survive, but to live well? Let our imaginations run wild for a moment. How about this: for food, not just bread, but Argentine beef steaks; for drink, not just water, but 30-year-old single malt Highland whisky; for shelter, not just a cave, but a 20-room mansion; for transportation, not just able-bodied limbs, but a brand-new yellow Lamborghini Revuelto; for entertainment, an 80-inch flat-screen TV with Dolby Surround audio. Does owning and using these goods mean flourishing? We may understand their desirability. But these are obviously the goods that Guido del Duca, if he were alive today, would have aspired to. These are the kinds of goods that he would have judged in purgatory as excluding partnership and thus motivating envy. I see the delicious food you eat and the precious drinks you drink that I can’t afford, and I’m envious. I see the car you drive that I don’t have sufficient means to acquire myself, and I’m jealous. I begrudge you your good fortune and am tempted to spoil it for you. The envy of the rich by the poor, the envy of the “haves” by the “have-nots,” is a historically common and psychologically understandable phenomenon. The phenomenon of envy is also the reason why the rich tend to separate themselves from the poor and everyone else, including other rich people.

Do these rich people thrive with all these toys? Their main problem seems to be the envy they engender in other people. So imagine being offered the mansion, the whiskey, the sports car (including a private racetrack), the sophisticated home theater system, and the delicious food, all to be enjoyed – free from the envy of others – on a secluded island where you would have to commit to staying all by yourself for the next ten years. The island has plenty of supplies, barrels of wine and whiskey, and fresh food is brought in by drones. And best of all, there is no other soul to fight with over the distribution of these goods, no one to begrudge the lucky resident his beef steak or scratch the Lamborghini out of envy. Would anyone like to go?

The author assumes that the readers will hesitate. While the idea of enjoying all the toys and private pleasures of modern life may be tempting, the price tag is likely to spoil the deal. After all, living ten years like Robinson Crusoe with an exclusive sports car is not much different from living ten years like Robinson Crusoe without an exclusive sports car. Something is missing, something more important than all the fun this hypothetical island of pleasure offers: someone to talk to, someone to communicate with. This was the main problem for Chuck Noland, a character played by Tom Hanks in Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away. Noland survived a plane crash into the ocean and was rescued to an island where he was alone. He managed to get by, develop a skill for hunting fish, and adapt to life on the island. Still, something was lacking, and it would have been lacking even if his life on the island had been more luxurious. In fact, he was on the verge of going crazy from loneliness. The only “interlocutor” he found was a volleyball, which he named Wilson and which became his only companion for four years.

As Aristotle saw it, in order to live well, human beings must live together with others. The polis, the city, a form of human association based on justice and law, exists not only for life, that is, for survival, but also for the good life, for flourishing: to enable us to live well as human beings.[10] By their very nature, human beings are “political animals,”[11] endowed with the logos, with language, which allows them to converse, to discuss questions about the useful and the harmful, about the good and the bad, the just and the unjust.[12] Now the kind of good that corresponds to the social or political nature of the human being is precisely the common good, which St. Thomas calls “superior to, and more god-like than, the good of an individual.”[13] But what precisely is the meaning of the common good, and what is its relation to the individual person? To answer these questions, we will first look at the notion of the common good in modernity and then seek to recover the classical idea.

3. A Modern Republic of Devils

At the beginning of modernity, the discourse of the common good underwent a profound transformation. For Immanuel Kant, the polis or city-state was no longer the place where the highest possibilities of human beings were realized, the place where they flourished in the enjoyment of the common good. Rather, for him, “The problem of organizing a nation is solvable even for a people comprised of devils (if only they possess understanding).”[14] There is no need for goodwill among human beings; it is not a prerequisite that people love each other or are just and care for the common good. Paradoxically, for Kant, there can be a republic without its citizens showing any interest in the res publica, the “public thing” that unites them. It is enough that they are interested in themselves, pursuing their individual selfish ends as the devils would. A clever legislator should be able to manipulate people so that, while each pursues only his or her own individual interests, the citizens nonetheless act in a way that is convenient for the whole.[15] For Kant, there is no need for citizens to have good intentions toward each other or to care about their community. For such an approach, the only sense of “common good” left is that of the sum of individual goods.

The need to devise laws suitable for maintaining a republic of devils arose when modernity began to view human beings as fundamentally selfish. Many see Thomas Hobbes as one of the originators of this perspective. He is credited with the famous statement homo homini lupus – “man to man is an arrant wolf.”[16] To be fair to Hobbes, this statement must be placed in context. Indeed, what Hobbes writes is: “To speak impartially, both sayings are very true: that man to man is a kind of God; and that man to man is an arrant wolf. The first is true, if we compare citizens amongst themselves; and the second, if we compare cities.” Once there is a city, created by a social contract, humans actually revere each other, according to Hobbes. They are wolves to each other, not in civil relations within the city, but in relations between cities, where there are no laws or higher legal institutions to hold cities (poleis = city-states) accountable. Also, the actual phrase homo homini lupus is not Hobbes’ own formulation. Rather it goes back to the ancient Latin playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254-184 BC).[17]

These qualifications notwithstanding, commentators are certainly right to regard Hobbes as one of the fathers of modern individualism. For him, the city, or more precisely, the state, exists to prevent people from killing each other. In a hypothetical, mythical state of nature, each individual claimed the right to use violent coercion to advance his or her interests over those of others. Fear of violent death and desire for ease eventually led people to surrender the means of violence to Leviathan, the state.[18] With Leviathan protecting them from one another, the citizens have their peace of mind and can go about their private business. Political freedom here seems to be a kind of freedom from politics, the freedom from any need to concern oneself with the public thing and to be able to pursue one’s private, individual interests.

Adam Smith goes in the same direction: the only legitimate function of government is “the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”[19] Again, this implies a view of human beings as fundamentally selfish, living in cities only for convenience, in order to live, to survive, but not to live well.[20] And yet, magically, through an “invisible hand,” markets work the same miracle for Smith as the laws of the republic do for Hobbes or Kant. All those who are engaged in promoting their personal and private interests at the same time, without caring for the common good, also promote the good of others. The market is an institution through which one pursues one’s selfish interests, seeks to increase one’s profits through exchange, and thereby incidentally enriches others as well. But the enrichment of others is not what motivates one’s market activity. All business partners are only interested in their private profit. Of course, in a certain sense it is true to say that they seek the same thing and share a common goal: economic profit. But this “common good” must again be understood as the sum of individual private goods.

4. The Common Good as Final Cause

The tradition, however, knows a kind of common good that is more than the sum of private goods, a good that is common not only by name or “predication,” as when you seek your monetary gain and I seek mine. Here, the “common” thing we seek is common by name only.[21] We both seek the same kind of thing (monetary gain), and yet it is not a truly common goal, since it is not numerically one: your gain is not mine and mine is not yours. There is a common good as conceived by the tradition that is common not only by predication but also “by causation,” per modum causae.[22] The common good in this sense is thought of as a cause that is numerically one and extends its effects to many, in a way that is analogous to how the sun produces light and heat for all beings on earth.[23] The causality of the common good is that of a final cause.[24]

A final cause “causes” by attracting, by motivating, by being a goal. We can ask why a young man is running to the train station. We learn that he is late and is making every effort to catch the train. But we really understand his action only when we learn why catching that train is so important to him. What makes this man’s journey so crucial is the final cause, for example, the person he wants to meet in the city he is going to: his fiancée. Only now we can say that we truly understand why he is running.[25] It is the love for her and for their common friendship, the love for a specific good that motivates him. The question of the love that is motivating can be raised to the level of a general principle. Thomas Aquinas claims that every agent, of whatever kind, does everything he, she, or it does for the sake of some love.[26] And Dante, for his part, speaks of the love “which moves the sun and all the other stars.”[27] To understand an activity is to understand the underlying love that drives it. Without this love, there would be no movement, which is why Thomas calls the end or final cause “the cause of causes.”[28]

Now the common good that is common as a final cause is, as good, desirable, and will move the agent to action. Inasmuch as it is common, it is a principle of union among the various agents that have it as their end. Aristotle gives the example of the child as the common good of its parents.[29] Although in custody disputes it may happen that a father or a mother regards the child as his or her private good, the simple fact is that the child does not belong to the father alone nor to the mother alone, but to both of them, since neither of them alone was able to give life to the child. They acted as a common cause in the generation of the child. Now the child, once generated, is a good for its parents: a common good that unites them in their efforts to educate it, to make it survive and flourish. In fact, when a couple lacks this common purpose because of sterility, the risk of separation is greater, as already noted by Aristotle in antiquity. The common good, the common goal, the common purpose unites, and it unites in action, in a common activity. This is why Karol Wojtyła speaks of the “bond of a common good”: it is a special bond that “does not mean merely that we both seek a common good, it also unites the persons involved internally, and so constitutes the essential core round which any love must grow. In any case, love between two people is quite unthinkable without some common good to bind them together. This good is the end which both these persons choose.”[30]

5. The Analogy of the Common Good

The common good is an analogous concept. Any true good, any suitable object of appetite that can unite two or more people in a common activity in its pursuit or actualization, is a common good. This can be a “substance” – an individual existing in itself – as in the case of a child. Parents pursue their child’s welfare as their common task; the child’s flourishing is an authentic good for the child’s parents, a good they share, a common good. But the common good can also be a relationship or an activity, and here the essence of its “commonness” becomes even more evident, as in this case the common goods do not have an existence independent of being held in common. Thus, we can think of friendship as a common good.[31] To which of the friends does their friendship belong? Friendship is either held in common or it does not exist. None of the friends can have their friendship just for him or herself. Friendship, by definition, is a specific kind of relationship between two or more people. Now friendship is a great good, and one can make it the object of one’s activities and deliberately cultivate it. Thomas calls marriage the greatest of all friendships,[32] and when spouses fight for their marriage in times of crisis, they consciously see it as a common good worth saving and preserving.

The family, too, is a relational common good. Individual family members can never claim their family as their private good. It is a good that is inherently ours. And as the family grows, as more claim it as theirs, no individual member has thereby less of it. The family, understood as a common good, would seem to be a prime example to help us see the truth of the almost paradoxical words with which we began this essay and which Dante put into Virgil’s mouth: “The more they are who say ours, the more of good does each possess.”[33] This is precisely the point that Saint John Paul II makes in his 1994 Letter to Families. When members are added to the family, the others are not the poorer, but the richer for it:

A child comes to take up room, when it seems that there is less and less room in the world. But is it really true that a child brings nothing to the family and society? Is not every child a ‘particle’ of that common good without which human communities break down and risk extinction? Could this ever really be denied? The child becomes a gift to its brothers, sisters, parents and entire family. Its life becomes a gift for the very people who were givers of life and who cannot help but feel its presence, its sharing in their life and its contribution to their common good and to that of the community of the family.[34]

The greater the number of those who say, “This is our family,” the more good each member of the family possesses.

While, as a common goal, the common good always implies that people act in view of it with a concerted, common activity, the common good can also consist in a common activity itself. A soccer game is a good for each participant. But to whom does it belong, and where exactly does it “reside”? None of the individual activities of the single players is the soccer game. The soccer game consists of all the coordinated actions of all the players together, and as such it is greater than the sum of its parts. The soccer game is an activity that can only exist as ours. The same is true of a concert with more than one performer. Imagine a choir singing with different voices. The song sung in harmony is greater and more than the individual contribution of each voice alone. Or let us think of an intelligent conversation among friends. None of the participants could have the conversation alone. It is a good that exists only as a common good.

A common good can be something present, such as the internal order of the universe,[35] or it can be a future state to be brought about, such as the victory of the army.[36] Common goods can be willed for their own sake, as in the case of a concert given by many musicians or a philosophical discussion among friends. These have their end or meaning in themselves; they are “honest” goods in that they are worthy of being chosen in themselves.[37] Common goods can also be instrumental goods,[38] such as the order of the army, which is for the sake of victory, which is for the sake of the peace and tranquility of the community, which, in contrast, is a common good that is desired for its own sake.[39]

For all these different kinds of common goods, it is true that they are shared by many, and that the number of sharers does not in itself reduce the share of each individual. There is a minimum and probably a maximum number of soldiers needed to have a functioning division. But the inclusion of the one soldier in that division does not take away from the inclusion of the other soldiers in the same ordered whole. These different kinds of common goods also have in common that they are really the good of each individual who participates in them. For each musician who participates in a concert, it is true to say that the concert is his or her own activity and therefore his or her own good, but not as an individual activity, but as a common one, as a common good. The same is true of a conversation or membership in a tranquil and peaceful commonwealth governed by just laws and composed of virtuous citizens.

In the kind of human associations in which people are united in a common good, there is no envy. The fact that all members want the same thing – victory, a beautiful concert, an intelligent conversation – does not place them in a state of competition with each other, but rather in a state of mutual interdependence. The common goal unites because it is common by causation. It generates common activity because it can only be achieved or actualized as common. On the other hand, private goods may also be “common,” but only by predication. If two people both desire fast sports cars, it is true that they desire the same kind of thing. And yet this desire will not unite them or instill in them a common activity that contributes to the same end. Strictly speaking, private goods, such as sports cars, do not unite, but rather provide numerous occasions for envy. My Porsche is not your Ferrari. Why have you been able to acquire a car of this excellent kind? Why was I not so lucky?

6. The Whole and the Parts

The idea of the common good as the proper good of the person obviously presupposes a notion to which modernity is extremely hostile: the sense that the person is part of a larger whole, which he or she is called to love more than him or herself.  As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, “the aspect [ratio = idea, notion, perspective] of the ‘common’ good differs from the aspect of the ‘individual’ good, even as the aspect of ‘whole’ differs from that of ‘part.’”[40] Especially after the experience of the totalitarian form of government in the middle of the last century, we find it disconcerting to think of the person as a part. Isn’t thinking of a person as a part the same as turning him or her into an instrument? Is it not the great achievement of the Enlightenment to have proclaimed the unconditional dignity of each individual human being, who must always be treated as an end and never as a mere means? The question is what we mean by saying that the person is a part of a whole and whether there is a way of being such a part that does not amount to reducing the person to the status of a mere instrument.

For an answer, let us begin by turning to a very instructive article in the Summa Theologiae, which is devoted to the question of whether the human person is obliged to love God more than him or herself.[41] Thomas’ answer is an unequivocal “yes,” since God is the common good of all, and “each part loves the common good of the whole more than its own particular good.”[42] He argues that “the principal inclination of each part is towards common action conducive to the good of the whole,” which “may also be seen in civic virtues, whereby citizens suffer damage even to their own property and persons for the sake of the common good.”[43] The human person is a part of the universe whose end, purpose, or goal is to reflect the glory of God and thus to praise him through its order in the concerted activities of its parts. The heavens recount the glory of God, as do all the other created realities by their very being and activity, or, in the words of John Paul II, “The glory of God is the common good of all that exists.[44] In most cases, the human person is also part of a commonwealth, which even today may sometimes call on some of its citizens to risk their lives for its sake: from firefighters to police officers to soldiers. They all love their city more than they love themselves, and following the logic of St. Thomas, they do nothing unreasonable. When a man dies for his friends, his family, his country, or his God, he dies for a common good of which he is a part, which is greater than any of his private goods and which is at the same time his most proper good. The same is true of the extreme sacrifice a woman makes for those whom she loves.

To be a part does not mean to be reduced to a mere means or instrument. The common good of which the person is a part is not an alien good, but the true good of the individual who fulfills him or herself in a common activity. Karol Wojtyła expresses the possibility of such fulfillment with the term “participation.” For him participation refers to a “property of the person in virtue of which man by being and acting together with others is nonetheless able to fulfill himself in this acting and being.”[45] For instance, to be a friend means to be part of a greater whole, namely the friendship. And yet this being a part in no way instrumentalizes the person. Participation means that the fulfillment of our friendship is my fulfillment; the fulfillment of our family is my fulfillment; the fulfillment of our city or nation is my fulfillment. The common good, as Benedict XVI puts it, is “the good of ‘all of us,’ made up of individuals, families, and intermediate groups who together constitute society.”[46] The common good cannot be understood simply as the good of many or the good of the majority, but it must be common in the fullest sense: it must be the good of “all of us,” excluding no one.

The totalitarian regimes of the last century did not allow citizens to be united in a common good. They left no room for participation, but deliberately promoted alienation, all the while speaking of the “common” nation or the “common” class, for the sake of which individuals were sacrificed, excluded from the common project, and wiped off the face of the earth. For example, the peasants whom Stalin expropriated and executed for the sake of the “progress” of Russia and the Soviet Union were certainly not allowed to participate in the “common good” of their country.

Following an analogous logic, one can imagine a police officer framing an innocent man in order to prevent violent riots over a particularly heinous crime, the true perpetrator of which has unfortunately gone undetected. By presenting an angry mob with a suitable victim to be sentenced to death, the policeman was able to calm the situation. Has he restored the peace and tranquility of civil order and thus worked for the common good of the city? The peace and tranquility of the civil order, the common good of the city, does not consist simply in the absence of riots. The common good of the city includes the presence of justice,[47] which guarantees that citizens will not be accused and convicted of crimes that everyone in authority knows they did not commit. The one man whom the police officer framed and who was excluded from the common good of the city, was in some way every man and every woman. Thus, the policeman has seriously harmed the common good of the city. For the common good to be truly common, it cannot exclude anyone; it must belong to everyone. In this regard, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points out: “The common good does not consist in the simple sum of the particular goods of each subject of a social entity. Belonging to everyone and to each person, it is and remains ‘common,’ because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it, increase it and safeguard its effectiveness, with regard also to the future.”[48]

7. New Perspectives for the Truth of Love

An appreciation of the common good opens up new perspectives on the question of what it means to love in truth. What is the kind of love that corresponds to the reality of our deepest desires and our ultimate vocation? Much of the current ethical and anthropological debate is caught up in the dialectic between egoism and altruism. Egoism, a love of self to the exclusion of all others, is often taken to be the more or less natural human condition. Altruism is thought to be a “pure” love in which a person gives up his or her interests for the sake of others, a love that, while laudable, is as exceptional as it is mysterious and inexplicable in terms of human motivation. All the while, we are told that to be altruistic, to think of the good of others at the expense of one’s own, is to be morally good, while to be egoistic, to think of one’s own good at the expense of others, is the same as to be morally evil. To hold this view, however, is to conceive of morality as something that is hostile to life,[49] and it counterfactually excludes the possibility that anyone could ever commit bad acts from altruistic motives. While we do not need to go beyond good and evil, as Friedrich Nietzsche had it,[50] we certainly need to go beyond altruism and egoism. And this is what love of the common good allows us to do. What the idea of the common good tells us is that our true interests as human beings, our proper goods, lie in common goods. As Alasdair MacIntyre puts it, “My good as a man is one and the same as the good of those others with whom I am bound up in human community. There is no way of my pursuing my good which is necessarily antagonistic to you pursuing yours because the good is neither mine peculiarly nor yours peculiarly – goods are not private property.”[51]  It is neither a matter of egoism, by which I prefer my good to yours, nor of altruism, by which I prefer your good to the detriment of mine, but of understanding that my true good lies in our good, as does yours.

Love for the common good allows us to see love of self and love of others from a completely new perspective. St. John Paul II suggests something along these lines when he writes, perhaps somewhat enigmatically: “Man is a common good: a common good of the family and of humanity, of individual groups and of different communities.”[52] Here he invites us to adopt a perspective from which we can even understand ourselves and our own lives as a common good, so that self-love takes on a whole new meaning and loses any shadow of egoism. Our lives are not our own. We can also look at them from the perspective of those with whom we are united by sharing in a common good: a friendship, a family, a city, a nation. For example, Robert Spaemann tells us how he once read a bumper sticker that said, “Think about your wife. Drive carefully.”[53] The husband can love himself from his wife’s perspective, that is, as her husband, as the one she loves and who is united to her by a special bond of friendship that involves their whole lives. In other words, he can even love his own existence from the point of view of the common good, since his own life is not simply his private good, but an essential part of the common good that is his marriage and his family.

Why should I care, not just about my driving, but about my health, my education, my career? Why should I care about continuing to live at all? When St. Thomas lists three of the strongest cases against suicide that he can find in the Christian tradition, one of them is based precisely on the common good. According to this argument, suicide is absolutely unlawful “because every part, as such, belongs to the whole. Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community, as the Philosopher declares.”[54] The wrong done to society by killing oneself is not only and not primarily about one’s “usefulness” to the community. It is about the fact that we are part of society: the society of friends, of family, of citizens, and of whatever other association in which we participate, from our amateur soccer team to our garden club. Our living and dying affect others, whether we want it or not, whether we are aware of it or not. The only reason we survived our infancy is that someone loved us. We are naturally embedded in social relationships. As the Apostle Paul puts it: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves” (Rom 14:7).

Even when I want to do good for myself, I am called to love myself from the perspective of the greater whole of which I am a part: a friendship of any kind, my marriage if I am married, my family, my city and nation, my parish and diocese, and the Church universal. And when I will a good for my friends, for my wife and children (if I have any), for my family, for my nation, and for the Church, it is not that I will an alien good. Ultimately, I am acting for the good of communion,[55] a good that “when distributed among a greater number of possessors, makes them richer in it than if it were possessed by few.”[56]

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Harper Collins, New York, NY 2001, 94.

[2] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy. 2: Purgatorio, trans. J. D. Sinclair, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1961, Canto XIV, 187. It was Gregory Froelich’s excellent article “Friendship and the Common Good,” The Aquinas Review 12 (2005), 37-58 that directed my attention to this passage from Dante.

[3] Dante, Purgatorio, cit., Canto XIV,187.

[4] Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, cit., 94.

[5] Dante, Purgatorio, cit., Canto XV, 199.

[6] Ibid. (emphasis original).

[7] Ibid. (emphasis added).

[8] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Roger Crisp, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004, I, 1, 1094a.

[9] Aristotle, De Anima, trans. C.D.C. Reeve, Hacket Publishing, Indianapolis 2017, III, 13,435b21. Cf. the comment by Robert Spaemann, Persons: The Difference between ‘Somone’ and ‘Something,’ translated by Oliver O’Donovan, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2006: “Human beings are living creatures, too, and so participate in the difference that Aristotle says is characteristic of all higher life-forms, the difference between zēn and euzēn, living and living well.”

[10] Aristotle, Politics, trans. C.D.C. Reeve, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis 1998,I, 2, 1252b30: “[The city-state] comes to be for the sake of living, but it remains in existence for the sake of living well.”

[11] Ibid, I, 2, 1253a3.

[12] Ibid., I, 2, 1253a7-18: “No animal has speech except a human being. A voice is a signifier of what is pleasant or painful, which is why it is also possessed by the other animals (for their nature goes this far: they not only perceive what is pleasant or painful but signify it to each other). But speech is for making clear what is beneficial or harmful, and hence also what is just or unjust. For it is peculiar to human beings, in comparison to the other animals, that they alone have perception of what is good or bad, just or unjust, and the rest. And it is community in these that makes a household and a city-state.”

[13] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, trans. Richard J. Regan, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis 2007, Book 1, Chapter 1, n. 2.

[14] Immanuel Kant, To Perpetual Peace. A Philosophical Sketch, trans. Ted Humphrey, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis 2003, 23.

[15] Cf. ibid.: “The problem can be stated in this way: ‘So order and organize a group of rational beings who require universal laws for their preservation – though each is secretly inclined to exempt himself from such laws – that, while their private attitudes conflict, these nonetheless so cancel one another that these beings behave publicly just as if they had no evil attitudes.’ This kind of problem must be solvable.

[16] Thomas Hobbes, Man and Citizen: De Homine and De Cive, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis 1998, 89.

[17] Plautus, Asinaria, n. 495: “Lupus est homo homini.”

[18] Cf. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan,Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, Part I, Chapter XI, 66: “Desire of ease, and sensual delight, disposeth men to obey a common power […]. Fear of death, and wounds, disposeth to the same.” Cf. also ibid., Part II, ChapterXX, 132.

[19] Adam Smith, An Inquire into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Harriman House, Hampshire 2007, Book V, Chapter 1, 465.

[20] This is indeed Aristotle’s verdict on those who think that “they should maintain their store of money or increase it without limit.” In his opinion, “they are preoccupied with living, not with living well” (Politics, cit., I, 9, 1257b40).

[21] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, On Truth, q. 7, a. 6, ad 7: “A thing is said to be common in two senses. First, it is said to be common through effect or predication; that is, it is found in many things according to one intelligible character. In this sense, that which is more common is not more noble but more imperfect, as animal is, which is more common than man.”

[22] Ibid.: “Second, a thing is said to be common after the manner of a cause; that is, it resembles a cause which, while remaining numerically one, extends to many effects. In this sense, what is more common is more noble. For example, the preservation of a city is more noble than the preservation of a family.”

Cf. Aquinas Guilbeau, “What Makes the Common Good Common? Key Points from Charles de Koninck,” in Nova et Vetera 20 (2022) 739-751.

[23] Cf. Gregory Froelich, “The Equivocal Status of Bonum Commune,” in The New Scholasticism 63 (1989), 48.

[24] Cf. ibid.: “Now the good is a cause properly as that for the sake of which, as an end or goal. But since a particular good can be the end of many, as victory is for an army, we may also speak of a good common per modum causae.”

[25] See Robert Spaemann and Reinhard Löw, Natürliche Ziele. Geschichte und Wiederentdeckung des teleologischen Denkens, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2005, 60: “The final cause holds the primacy in the Aristotelian doctrine of causes. It alone can respond to the question ‘why’ in the satisfactory sense of leading to understanding” (my own translation).

[26] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 28, 6: “Every agent acts for an end, as stated above. Now the end is the good desired and loved by each one. Wherefore it is evident that every agent, whatever it be, does every action from love of some kind.”

[27] Dante, Divine Comedy. 3: Paradiso, cit., Canto XXXIII, 492. For a closer discussion of this verse, see the article by José Granados, “Love and the Organism. A Theological Contribution to the Study of Life,” in Communio 32 (2005) 1-37, which offers a profound reflection on how the body and love are related to freedom.

[28] Thomas Aquinas, De principiis naturae, 3, 29: “Finis est causa causarum, quia est causa causalitatis in omnibus causis.”

[29] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII, 12, 1162a: “Children seem to be another bond [of husband and wife], which is why childless people separate more quickly: children are a good which is common to both, and what is common holds things together.”

Thomas Aquinas comments on this passage in a way that is even more explicit: “Children are a common good of both husband and wife whose union exists for the sake of children. But what is common continues and preserves friendship which also consists in sharing [communicatio]” (Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII,lect. 12, n. 1724).

[30] Karol Wojtyła, Love and Responsibility, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1993, 28.

[31] Cf. again Froelich, “Friendship and the Common Good,” cit.

[32] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 123: “There seems to be the greatest friendship between husband and wife, for they are united not only in the act of fleshly union, which produces a certain gentle association even among beasts, but also in the partnership of the whole range of domestic activity.”

Pope Francis, too, has underscored this notion in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, March 19, 2016, n. 123, drawing on the Angelic Doctor.

[33] Again: Dante, Purgatorio, cit., Canto XV, 199.

[34] John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, February 2, 1994, n. 11 (emphases original).

[35] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De substantiis separatis, Chapter 12, n. 65: “Now the good of order is that which is best in the universe of things, for this is the common good.” I am indebted to Gregory Froelich’s most helpful list of occurrences in the corpus thomisticus of the term “bonum commune” in its different senses: Froelich, “Equivocal Status,” cit., 42n14.

[36] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VII,Lesson 2,n. 1303: “The military art attains the victory of the whole army, which is a certain common good.”

[37] Thomas speaks here of “bonum honestum,” which is “sought after as the last thing absolutely terminating the movement of the appetite, as a thing towards which for its own sake the appetite tends” (Summa Theologiae, I, 5, 6).

[38] Thomas speaks here of the “bonum utile,” which “terminates the movement of the appetite relatively, as a means by which something tends towards another” (Summa Theologiae, I, 5, 6). In the same article, the Angelic Doctor also discusses the “bonum delectabile,” the pleasant good.

[39] Cf. the way in which Greogry Froelich summarizes Aquinas’ teachings in “The Equivocal Status,” cit., 53: “The political order, then, is a good for each citizen belonging to it. It is an intrinsic common good. This is the end of law, the first concern of the just ruler, the good to which all citizens order their virtuous actions – a good in the class of bonum honestum, choiceworthy for its own sake. Just as all the soldiers of an army seek to promote its order, as a common end, so the citizenry seeks to promote the order proper to the political community. But the difference is that, whereas victory is a means to attain peace, the political order is an end in itself.”

[40] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, 58, 7, ad 2.

[41] Ibid.II-II, 26, 3.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, n. 11 (emphases original). For a development of this idea, see Michael Waldstein, Glory of the Logos in the Flesh. Saint John Paul’s Theology of the Body, Sapientia Press, Ave Maria, Florida 2021.

[45] Karol Wojtyła, Person and Act and Related Essays, trans. Grzegorz Ignatik, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, DC 2021, 489.

[46] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, June 29, 2009,n. 7.

[47] In Summa Theologiae I-II, 19, 10, Aquinas goes so far as to identify the social or political common good with justice, when he speaks of the judge who “has care of the common good, which is justice.”

[48] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 164 (emphases original).

[49] Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil / The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Adrian Del Caro, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche vol. 8, Stanford University Press, Stanford 2014.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana 1984, 228-229.

[52] John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, n. 11 (emphases original).

[53] Robert Spaemann, Happiness and Benevolence, trans. Jeremiah Alberg, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana 2000, 94.

[54] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, 64, 5.

[55] Cf. Livio Melina, “Acting for the Good of Communion,” in The Epiphany of Love. Toward a Theological Understanding of Christian Action, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI 2010, 25-45.

[56] Dante, Purgatorio, cit., Canto XV, 199.

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Stephan Kampowski

Stephan Kampowski is a full professor of Philosophical Anthropology at the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II in Rome. Since 2012, he has also been a visiting professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome.

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