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Aristotle on the Conditions for and Limits of the Common Good.

Contemporary debates over liberal political theory should encourage renewed investigation of the common good, and it is appropriate to begin by interrogating Aristotle's account. Aristotle argues that injustice stands in the way of the common good. Injustice is motivated by both overgrasping for scarce external goods, such as money, honor, and power, and by excessive desires. Aristotle argues that the common good requires a reorientation away from external goods to satisfying activities that do not diminish in the sharing. He sketches an analogical account of familial and political relationships that leads us to wonder what the political conditions are for the common good. Reflecting on these conditions not only points to the strict limits of the common good but also speaks to both sides in debates over liberal theory.

The common good was once a central problem in political theory because it provided a framework for thinking about the relationship between individual interests and the interests of the community. While the term has been used in many ways, it is generally acknowledged to have Aristotelian roots and to refer to "a good proper to, and attainable only by, the community, yet individually shared by its members" (Dupr[acute{e}] 1993, 687). Yet, talk about the common good has been all but abandoned. In the twentieth century, only Catholic social and political theory still clings to the concept (DeKonnick 1943; Finnis 1980, 168; Flannery 1996, 191-2, 195, 256-61; Goerner 1966; Keys 1995; Novak 1989; Rourke 1996).

The ascendence of liberal theory led to the decline of interest in the common good. For a variety of reasons liberal theorists suspect that the common good cannot be sustained politically because the "common" good is always someone's bad. Some liberal theorists argue that since no one is a better judge of what is ultimately good for us than we are ourselves, neither moral or religious elites nor any community have the right to enforce their conception of ends on us (Ackerman 1980, 10-11; Mill [1859] 1947). Other liberal thinkers are antiteleological, insisting that no summum bonum exists which could provide a nonarbitrary, nondespotic foundation for a common good (Hobbes [1668] 1994, 57-8). Still others insist that science cannot reveal any uniquely human function which could provide a universally attractive image of human flourishing (Locke [1690] 1959, 350-1). In a different vein, Rawls argues that the diversity of opinions about what is good entails that the liberal community must be based on overlapping consensus rather than the kind of deep agreement that the common good would seem to require. Contested comprehensive doctrines should remain private, partly because they are unable to provide reasonable public claims to the community's allegiance (Rawls 1971, 395-407, 1993, 252, 215, 243-4).

Leaving the common good behind, liberal theorists articulated a constellation of concepts to manage the tension between the individual and the community. Liberal theory generally requires political neutrality so as to provide for universal means that allow equality in pursuit of individual ends (Lowi 1995, 15, chap. 6; Rawls 1993, 191-4). This neutrality flows from the community's social contract, which enables individuals to pursue their preferred good free from coercion. Thus, the basis for political authority and legitimacy in liberal theory is not the common good but, rather, the free contract among rational individuals for the protection of their natural rights.

Such concepts as political neutrality, social contracts, and natural rights have come under sustained attack in debates over liberal theory. Not surprisingly, these debates have led to a renewed interest in the common good (Maclntyre 1990). Communitarians blame the liberal tradition for undermining community by producing atomistic individuals. They also argue that liberalism's focus on individual rights obscures the ways people's identities are constituted by participation in community and political life (Bellah 1985; Etzioni 1998; Maclntyre 1984; Sandel 1982; Taylor 1989; Walzer 1983). Strains of postmodernism criticize claims about the self-evidence of natural rights (Pangle 1992). Political neutrality has been criticized as a myth at least since Marx argued that liberal rhetoric obscures the ways its political order promotes the interests of one group over others. More recently, MacIntyre (1988, 326-69) has argued that the liberal order is just another tradition among many. Within the liberal tradition it self, some argue that liberalism has substantive conceptions of the good that should be promoted over the alternatives (Macedo 1992, 1998).

For these reasons, political theory needs to raise anew questions about the relationship between individual and community interests. Among other things, this requires thinking through the concept of the common good to see whether it can be sustained. It is helpful to do so with someone like Aristotle for several reasons. First, while he is often identified as a proponent of community (Maclntyre 1984), I will argue that his articulation of the conditions for the common good force his readers to be more thoughtful about its strict limits. Second, since his account is neither communitarian nor liberal, reading him gives us a new perspective on the relation between community and individual interests. Third, since Aristotle does not base his arguments on contested religious doctrines, his account of the conditions for community help foster a common ground for the discussion.

Aristotle is not optimistic about the possibility of the common good. While it requires participants in the community to be just, he emphasizes the persistence of injustice. [1] He thinks that most human beings are not good because we have been formed by the mores of more or less unjust regimes (NE 1179b15-6, 1150a15-6, 1179b16-20). [2] Indeed, most of us identify political rule with the kind of rule masters exercise over slaves (P 1252a7-9; 1324b32-3). Moreover, neither political regimes nor households pay adequate attention to the kind of character formation the common good requires (NE 1180a24-9; cf. NE 1103b25 and P 1337a11). So, for an Aristotelian, perhaps it is best to begin thinking about the common good by exploring the injustice that stands in its way.


Many liberal theorists argue that people possess prepolitical rights they can hold as trumps against individuals, groups, or power structures that would force them to act contrary to their conception of the good. From this perspective, the origin of injustice is the inability or unwillingness to be other-regarding. That is, the motive for injustice is a lack of sensitivity to other people's notions of the good. Often, the cure for this is some form of sensitivity training, wherein the offender is told not to violate another's right to self-respect. [3]

Aristotle has strikingly different accounts of the motives for injustice. In one, he both sketches what particular injustice concerns and explores the motivations of people who practice it. According to him, the unjust person is guilty of "graspingness" or "overreaching" (pleonexia; literally "having more"). Such a man takes more than his fair share of the external goods involved in "good and bad fortune" (NE 1129b4-6). Aristotle identifies these goods as material wealth, honor, security, and any other thing people in the regime have to share. He does not have a single term that encompasses them all and indicates that he is struggling for one (NE 1130b3-4). Since it is clear from the context that Aristotle is concerned above all with the scarcity of these goods, I will use "scarce resources" to describe them.

It is clear why these scarce resources have to do with fortune. Human life is plagued by instability. We depend on a range of contexts we do not create and over which we have little control. Subject to bodily limits, disease, natural disasters, and unjust treatment by our fellows, human beings strive in various ways to manage our dependence on the vagaries of fortune. The external goods Aristotle identifies as the subject of injustice apparently enable us to maximize our potential for good luck and minimize our potential for bad (or at least soften its blows). For instance, a multimillionaire has many more options if her loved one comes down with malignant cancer than does a poor person. A universally honored person has many more options if she is sued by a rival than does a universally reviled person. A knowledgeable person with powerful connections has many more options in resisting a new tax law that would devastate her business than does a poor person. Aware of our own insecurity, and longing to protect our lives in the face of it, people tend to overgrasp for these scarce resources in order to be free from a terrifying dependence on fate. [4]

The scarcity of these resources makes them the subject of intense competition and conflict, and it often prompts the desire for mastery. For this reason, Aristotle consistently calls them the "goods people fight about" (NE 1169a21-2; EE 1248b27; R 1368b12-4). Material possessions are obviously scarce. This was especially true in ancient economies, where (in contrast to modern economies of growth) wealth was fixed. Economic scarcity led to strife and domination in the ancient city. Factional conflict usually occurred between the rich and poor. Moreover, the difficulty of providing for material resources led ancient Greek communities to see hierarchy and domination as central to their life (P 1278a10-1, 1329a1-3, 1334a19; Booth 1993, 72-6). That is, citizens exercised mastery over slaves and women, whose time was spent providing for their material needs so they could have leisure for politics and culture.

Honor is also a limited resource. Honor is comparative due to the finitude of human memory. Being honored requires that people actually recall and celebrate one's excellent deeds. Yet, honor is scarce because human beings can remember and celebrate only a few individuals. The scarcity of honor made it the subject of intense conflict in ancient Greece. Sensing themselves to be bound up with the struggle for honor, citizens were led to be suspicious of their fellows and to take precautions against them. In this sense, the emphasis on freedom in Athenian political institutions can be understood as motivated in part by fear of domination. Freedom of speech in the Assembly and democratic institutions, such as the lottery and direct voting on law, protected the masses from honor-loving elites (Ober 1989). Private prosecution protected citizens from ambitious prosecutors, and popular juries protected them from the power held by experts in law. Law courts generally served as mechanisms for competition rather than th e neutral adjudication of disputes (Cohen 1995). Thus, in the public struggle for honor and its consequences, we discover part of the psychic root of the civil strife (stasis) and domination endemic to ancient Greek life. In line with a long tradition emphasizing success in agonal struggles as the criterion for humanity, political elites in classical Athens competed for political influence, often in savage ways (Ober 1989, 84-5; Salkever 1991, 165-90). In such a context, the temptation was strong to seek mastery both to extend the range of one's activities and to make preemptive strikes against those who might take away one's freedom and security in their pursuit of honor. In foreign affairs as well, Thucydides points out that the Athenian empire was motivated largely by insecurity and lust for mastery, which was seen as not merely natural but divinely sanctioned. [5]

Finally, what conduces to people's security and preservation is also scarce, insofar as power and prestige are scarce. Clearly, power and prestige seem to protect us from fortune, and so political elites compete vigorously for them. In short, overgrasping for more than one's fair share of these scarce resources creates a host of political problems.


Aristotle provides another account of the origin of injustice, however. For him, human beings are unjust because we desire far more than we strictly need. He sketches the problem in his account of acquisition. Aristotle identifies the true art of business expertise with household management. This aims at the limited goal of self-sufficiency in the household with a view to the good life (P 1256b31-2). The art of trade initially arose as a way of making mutually beneficial exchanges for an adequate supply of necessary goods in the household. Because necessary goods are not always portable, money was invented as a medium of exchange. For Aristotle, trade involving money is according to nature. Yet, over time and with the benefit of experience, trade degenerated into the sham technique of making the largest profit (P 1256b40-1257b10). On this view, business has no limit, and unlimited acquisition of wealth and property is good (P 1257a1-2).

Aristotle differentiates the true art of business from its sham counterpart by articulating the limit (peras) that the goal of household management imposes on acquisition. While the goal of household management is the self-sufficiency that makes flourishing family life possible, moneymaking strives for wealth and possessions without limit. The maximization of profit appears to be a true art, because the goal of any art is without limit, in a sense (P 1257a28ff). Yet, if arts are not directed by practical wisdom, which grasps the shape of a flourishing human life, then in practice their ordering principle will be the practitioner's own desires. In other words, Aristotle argues that if we treat sham arts as architectonic, then we paradoxically destroy the goods we sought through the sham art in the first place. For example, he argues that household management guides the use of the goods that business expertise makes or acquires. Since business exists to create the material conditions for a flourishing househol d, it makes no sense to seek unlimited wealth. If a businessperson seeks unlimited wealth, she is treating moneymaking as architectonic and thus subordinates all the activities of her household to moneymaking (P 1257b30-3). But this might preclude the possibility of a flourishing household. For an Aristotelian, it makes no sense to destroy one's household in pursuit of unlimited wealth and possessions, for these goods exist as a means to a happy home, not the other way around. In this way, the goal of household management sets limits on acquisition. When people forget such limits, at the same time they forget the purpose of the household, and the sham art of trade takes over their lives (P 1257b30-5). In this way, excessive desire for accumulation impedes flourishing.

Aristotle says that people seek wealth without limit because they are eager for life (to zen) but not for living well (to eu zen, P 1258b40-1258a2). Since their desire for life is without limit, they also desire what produces unlimited things. Moreover, for most of us, living well is equated with bodily pleasure, and this also leads people to pursue unlimited acquisition, because pleasure seems to be available in and through external possessions. Since their enjoyment is found in excess, they seek what produces excess. Aristotle concludes this discussion with the sobering observation that if people cannot acquire what they want through the art of moneymaking, then they will try some other way (P 1258a9-10; cf. NE 1095b19-22).

Aristotle makes a similar point in his examination of Phaleas of Chalcedon's proposal to equalize property as a way of minimizing factional strife. In general Aristotle criticizes the proposal by arguing that such strife stems not merely from unequal distribution of property but also from the strength of human desires (P 1267a2). People desire far more than they need, and often they will do wrong to meet those desires (P 1267a5). Indeed, Aristotle says that the nature of desire is to be without limit (apeiros), and so people are always demanding more and more (P 1267b1-5). In fact, the "greatest injustices" are done because of such excess (P 1267a12-3).


In sum, Aristotle thinks that the motivation for particular injustice is personal misorientation. The vicious person misunderstands his own best interest, and this intrapersonal problem has disastrous interpersonal consequences. [6] If the unjust person were not excessively devoted to goods like honor, money, or power, the community would be better off, for such overgrasping inevitably leads to social disorder and mastery (NE 1169a21-2; EE 1248b27; R 1368b12-4). Conversely, from an Aristotelian perspective justice will not mean merely a sensitivity to other people's rights and conceptions of the good but, rather, the disposition to engage in cooperative ventures that foster the nonzerosum, shareable goods at the heart of a satisfying common life. The Aristotelian insistence on the connection between friendship and justice stems from his assumption that there is no divergence between such intrapersonal virtues as temperance and courage and such interpersonal virtues as justice and friendship.

For Aristotle, the cure for injustice is personal reorientation. That is, if the common good is to come about, each citizen must undergo a radical conversion. According to Aristotle, moderation is the cure for some excessive desires (P 1267a10). This cure entails forming reasonable people (epiekeis) so that they will not want to overreach for external goods (P 1267b6- 8). [7] That is, moderation involves not merely limiting, but reorienting desire. The question is whether citizens can somehow transform themselves from individualistic competitors fighting over scarce resources to partners in a flourishing community. If such a community were possible, overgrasping would not be in one's interest, because it would destroy the conditions of one's own satisfaction.

Part of the goal of the discussion of friendship in the Ethics is to show why such a reorientation is in our interest. This entails meeting two conditions that address the supply and demand aspects of injustice. First, the community would have to be able to attain nonzero-sum goods, which do not necessarily lead to competition and mastery because they do not diminish in the sharing. Second, a common life devoted to such goods would have to be more satisfying than overreaching individualistically for power and profit. [8]

The problems are obvious. Aristotle thinks that most of us are unjust, and the sources of injustice--the scarcity of the world's resources and the strength and problematic character of human desires--are more or less intractable. So it seems unreasonable to think that people will actually reorient their lives. Moreover, since the common good requires a shared life devoted to cooperative activities, it would necessitate surrendering control of our lives to other people in the community. Yet, given the way Aristotle says most of us behave, we have little reason to trust that we would be treated fairly if we did. Rather, any sacrifice for the community exposes us to exploitation and domination. Given Aristotle's account of the motivations for injustice, how is it possible to argue for, much less actually bring about, a common good and the reorientation it would require?


Among other things, Aristotle's account of friendship (philia [9]) addresses this question. Often, Aristotle's discussion of friendship is read as a didactic treatise that is addressed to an indeterminate audience and lays out an abstract account of the three kinds of philia and their relationship (Cooper 1980; Price 1989; Walker 1979). Yet, Aristotle is emphatic that the discussion has a pedagogical intent. At the beginning of the inquiry he sketches a series of disagreements and questions about philia (NE 1155b21-2). He then states that the answers to these questions will become clear only if we know what is worthy to be loved (ton phileton; NE 1155a33ff). The goal of the inquiry is to investigate what is most worthy of our love, and the discussion of philia is an argument for a reorientation based on an account of what goods we need to love in order to flourish (cf. NE 1094b11, 1103b27, 1179b1-4). In sketching the attractiveness of a new mode of being, the discussion invites us into that new life by giving us a motive for its pursuit.

For Aristotle most people have an ethics of having, because most equate happiness with the possession of tangible external goods, such as pleasure, wealth, or honor (NE 1095a22-3). His investigation of philia is meant to move us away from the excessive devotion to such scarce resources. In keeping with his dialectical method (NE 1095a30-2, 1145a15; T 155b11-17), he begins with the way philia initially appears. Aristotle says that in such relationships, equality is the overriding concern for most people because of their attachment to external goods. That is, most of us value our relationships as ways of acquiring and protecting contestable zero-sum goods, like material advantage (NE 1158b3). When the relationship involves such goods, the partners insist on equality to protect their interests. If they give more than they take from the relationship, then they feel themselves exploited and dominated. In this way, insisting on equality seems to guarantee freedom. Yet, Aristotle says that this view implicitly redu ces all relationships to business partnerships in which the goal is narrow self-interest. [10] By contrast, Aristotle asks whether the goods to which most relationships are devoted are most lovable.

Aristotle's account of philia is analogical. Analogical terms resist both definition and the application of a single account that does not vary from one context to another, yet still demand employment in diverse contexts in spite of acknowledged differences in meaning (Burrell 1973). In other words, analogical language is necessary for realities that are both different and alike. The central case of philia is friendship based on the mutual love of two excellent human beings, and the lesser kinds are both like and unlike this (NE 1158b5-7, 1157a1, 1157a30-2). So, for example, people say that friendship based on pleasure and usefulness is real friendship, just as cities do when they speak of alliances for mutual advantage (sumpherontos) (NE 1157a28).

The relationships discussed up to this point are about pleasure and utility and are based on equality, but Aristotle identifies other kinds of philia that involve a superiority of one of the partners (NE 1158b11). Included in this group are both familial and political relationships. While we may be tempted to read this as a justification for patriarchy, the goal of the discussion is to explore whether it is possible to conceive of familial and political relationships not on the usual paradigm of equality versus despotism but on that of complementarity and mutual concern for flourishing.

Aristotle says that in friendships based on equality the goods exchanged are the same or commensurable, but in unequal relationships, such as the family or politics, the partners do not receive the same things from each other and should not seek to do so (NE 1158a20-1). For instance, parents bestow life on children and give them everything that is due to them. In return for the gift of life, people say, children ought to give affection. In fact, in common opinion, affection seems to be a kind of currency that guarantees equality in such relationships. Yet, Aristotle is aware of the problems with this notion of affection as currency for equality. He says that children cannot return any gift commensurate with what their parents have given them. In giving their children life, parents give them literally everything, for contained in the gift of life is every experience, joy, sorrow, or love that a person ever has, and affection can never cover that debt (NE 1163b13-7). So filial relationships cannot be based on equality because the character of the goods involved renders it impossible to conceive of their exchange in terms of a balance sheet listing a just correlation of affection given and favors bestowed. To conceive of the family in this way is to invite disaster, as King Lear learns. This is why Aristotle winds up explicitly contradicting the common account of the relationship of equality to affection.

Throughout Book VIII of the Ethics, Aristotle articulates again and again the common opinion that unequal friendships must be based on equality. Yet, when he takes up the motive for unequal friendships he argues that the opposite is true: Benefactors love the recipients of their favors more than vice versa. Since this seems unreasonable, people try to explain it. Many analogize the situation to usury: The lender likes being owed, and the debtor hates owing. Aristotle dismisses this analogy, insisting that the real answer lies "more in the nature of things" (phusikoteron). [11] The analogy to usury is not applicable because there is no real affection between the creditor and debtor. In contrast, Aristotle insists that benefactors love the recipients of their favors even if they are not useful to them at the moment. He says that such a relationship is more analogous to the love craftsmen have for their work, the love poets have for their poems, or the love parents have for children. "The cause of this is that being is choiceworthy and lovable to all. We all exist in activity for [we exist] by living and doing. Now in a way, the work is the maker in act. So [the benefactor] loves the work [i.e., the recipient] since he loves being. And that is natural, for that which is potentially the work discloses in activity (NE 1168a5-9).

For Aristotle, the human mode of being is being in certain kinds of activity; being and act are in a sense the same for us. So humans become happy when we bring our potential into act; we discover who we are by becoming what we are. We long for existence, and this longing manifests itself in the need to actualize whatever activity we can in the world. This overflow of good activity in deeds apart from ourselves allows us to be more fully, to be more in act, and this abundant, active existence satisfies our thirst for being.

Aristotle's is an ethics of being not having. For him the appropriate question for human life is not "which goods should I instantiate in a rational life-plan?" [12] Rather, the appropriate focus is the search for activities that will satisfy because they allow us to pursue what is lovable. Aristotle wants to move beyond the notion that relationships must be conceived as a choice between equality and despotism. He gives a motive for the reorientation the common good requires by arguing that our happiness depends in part on the community we need to actualize our potential. Since we depend on various communities to actualize our human potential (Salkever 1990a, 19ff), we must decide whether we are going to be responsible with our dependencies. If we decide against responsibility, we only hurt ourselves, because our neglect erodes the conditions for our own flourishing.

Aristotle gives several examples of the ways our flourishing depends on surrounding communities. In one case he argues that happiness can be pursued with good friends who make possible and reciprocally contemplate the activities of one another (NE 1170a5-7). For him, the guiding case of human life is awakeness (noein) to or perception of (to aisthanesthai) one's own specifically human modes of activity (NE 1170b1-5, 1170a18). [13] Yet, since this kind of activity is only possible with the help of good friends, we must include our friends in our awareness, for living with friends makes possible the mutual sharing of thoughts and words (NE 1170b9-13). This is why friends (not honor, as was originally thought) are the greatest external good (NE 1169b10). The benefits such friends bestow are not the zero-sum kind that diminish in the sharing and thus cause strife and envy. Rather, the best kinds of friends make possible deeply satisfying moral and intellectual excellences such as generosity, evenhandedness, prac tical wisdom, a persistent willingness to render what is due, and an unwillingness to push one's claims so as to avoid social disorder (NE 1137b34- 1138a2).

Aristotle also emphasizes the need for community to actualize our potential by appealing to examples from nature. He says that Euripides speaks of the parched earth as loving the rain and of the majestic heavens loving to rain upon the earth. In a like way, Heraclitus says that opposites help each other and that different elements produce the most beautiful harmony (NE 1155b1-2, 7-10). These examples illuminate philia not by emphasizing equality between partners and commensurability in what is given and what is received. Rather, they point to diversity and complementarity as the condition for human flourishing. For Aristotle, it is "more profound" to think of philia as the mutual meeting of need by providing what the partner lacks. These examples mean that for an Aristotelian, far from being the source of contention and distrust, diversity is the condition for flourishing.


While we might agree that a common good is possible in loving families or in private friendships between rare excellent people who mutually complete each other through diverse talents, how does Aristotle argue for a substantive common good in politics? He does so by employing the concept of philia as both a diagnostic and a normative tool of analysis. Aristotle uses "community" (koinonia) as a generic term for all social groups. Thus the term comprises families, business partnerships, trade organizations, and the different kinds of political communities (Yack 1993, 28-33). Aristotle differentiates political communities by describing the kind of philia that predominates in them (NE 1159b30-2). The final chapters of Ethics VIII are a kind of miniature Politics in which Aristotle uses the concept he has developed to differentiate and rank regimes (Voegelin 1978). Here he consistently compares relationships within the city to relationships within the household (Schollmeier 1994). Since philia is an analogical con cept, illuminating one of these communities partly illuminates the others. Aristotle's pedagogical strategy is to begin with our experience of affection in our friendships and homes and then to point to the conditions for and limits of political reform in the analogous community of the city.

He begins by repeating his claim that justice and friendship are about the same things and the same people (NE 1155a18-22, 1159b25-6). People engage in communities for some common advantage (koine sumpheron), and the political community is no different (NE 1160a10-1). Aristotle calls homonoia the political form of philia. Homonoia implies a certain unity of vision about what is advantageous for the community (NE 1167a26-9) and means agreement on anything from how to elect officials to what a typical citizen ought to value. In such a union the partners will see no advantage in overgrasping for more than their fair share, for this would destroy the web of community that renders possible the cooperation for mutual benefit in the first place. Indeed, people in such communities who are aware of what their common life is about will see no profit in accumulating more than their fair share of scarce resources, since they are oriented to what is lovable. In sum, citizens in such a regime have an incentive to act just ly toward one another, because just actions guarantee the relationships that make possible the striving for common advantage.

For Aristotle, the partners in every community are united by some common agreement on the objects of their love. The quality of the community's homonoia thus fluctuates with the quality of what it loves or strives to attain. In each political community justice and philia mirror each other and fluctuate together, for both depend on the vision of the good the community shares (NE 1159b6-7, 1159b30). In tyranny, the worst of all regimes, there is almost no philia, since the ruler and ruled have nothing in common (NE 1161a31-3). As citizens strive to make their regimes more just, their homonoia improves in quality (NE 1167b2ff). Just as problems of justice diminish on private levels as we become friends with people, problems of justice diminish on public levels as citizens become "friendlier." Political community is for the sake of mutual advantage, and thus the specifically political form of friendship is an advantage friendship. Clearly, this political form of friendship cannot be transformed into virtue frien dship for Aristotle, and it may even be dangerous to try (Yack 1993, 110-4). Yet, by asking what the political community finds lovable, Aristotle asks what it finds advantageous. And part of his point is that flourishing becomes much more difficult in a community of people who find overgrasping to be advantageous because of their excessive devotion to zero-sum external goods. The question is whether he thinks it is possible to reorient citizens to a more flourishing conception of what is advantageous for the political community.

A large part of Aristotle's treatment of the different regimes is devoted to showing the similarities between political regimes and relationships within the household. Kingship, for instance, is like the paternal rule fathers exercise over sons, although in Persia, where there is tyranny, paternal rule is tyrannical. In democratic families everyone is on an equal footing, and so on. Why does Aristotle go into detail about the similarities between households and regimes? Clearly, part of the story is that Aristotle is presenting what we would call a sociological analysis of how relationships within the household are affected by the larger regime. A guiding assumption of Aristotelian social and political theory is the formative power of contexts. The inability of the household to be self-sufficient entails that the regime it inhabits will decisively form it, but Aristotle emphasizes that most cities do not think about the problem of formation (NE 1180a24-9). Only in Sparta and a few other cities do legislators attend to the way their activities affect the formation of their citizens. Aristotle's famous reservations about Sparta in the Politics (II.9) force us to realize that for him, in the only places where formation is fostered, it is done so badly. By implication, he thinks that most households are deformed more or less by the regimes they inhabit. Moreover, Aristotle thinks that human socialization requires the force of law, since we are motivated more by fear of punishment than anything else (NE 1179b1-17). So even where paternal rule possesses the intelligence and order required to form character properly, it lacks the strength necessary to form human beings. In short, Aristotle thinks that both regimes and homes are more or less defective substantively and in their lack of care for formation. In fact, most fathers live as the Cyclopes do, laying down laws for their spouses and children (NE 1180a24-9). [14]

It is important to emphasize Aristotle's sociological account of the household because it prevents us from jumping to conclusions about his examples from the family. I will argue that Aristotle employs these examples to illustrate the conditions for a common good in politics. Yet, in doing so he is not making abstract normative statements about which family structure is best. Since regimes differ, Aristotelian recommendation for reforming household life would always have to take into consideration how this particular family with its unique needs and strengths could improve, given its dependence on this particular regime, which tends to (de)form its households in these particular ways. For Aristotle, there are different kinds of good households because of the uniqueness of the individuals comprising them and the uniqueness of the regimes on which they depend.

In contrast to those in our time who extol "family values," Aristotelians would insist both on the variety of good households and on the fact that good households are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the proper formation of human beings. Since the household depends on the larger economic and political structures of the regime, an Aristotelian could never speak about "family values" in the abstract. Thus, rather than see Aristotle's discussion of familial relationships as intended to make potentially oppressive recommendations, one must interpret his examples in light of their pedagogical intent. In keeping with his goal to make us good (NE 1094b11, 1103b27, 1179b1-4), the account of philia is an inquiry into what is most lovable. Once the guiding purpose of the discussion is brought to light, the examples he employs from family life can be seen as part of a pedagogical strategy that draws on our experiences of affection between parents and children to investigate whether analogous affections coul d inform analogous communions between friends or fellow-citizens.


In line with his analogical treatment of philia, Aristotle draws our attention to the similarities between familial and political relationships. As we have seen, these are similar because the goods the partners exchange are not commensurable. For example, sexual differences between men and women make procreation possible. In politics, the goods exchanged are also different, fox the interdependence of the political community is based on recognition of different talents and abilities (NE 1161a10-5, VIII.11 generally).

Right after the sketch of regimes and households, Aristotle says that children are the good common (koinon agathon) to parents (NE 1162a28-9). This example reinforces what he previously said about how individual happiness depends on heterogeneous community, and it is important to draw out the implications. Sexual differentiation is not merely a source of difference for human beings. It is at the same time a manifestation of our radical need and dependency. In our sexuality, we discover that we are incomplete and stand in need of the other. One of the many possible ways this difference can be transformed from a wound dividing us from ourselves and each other to an opportunity for flourishing is through loving procreation. Healthy sexual partnerships are not characterized by the individualistic pursuit of contestable zerosum goodies but by mutual love and respect. The dominant concern between loving partners is not equality in what is given and taken. Rather, it is complementary self-giving. And when such part ners procreate, they aim for the creation of a mutually beloved good. In procreation the partners' differences can become the means by which they complete each other by bringing forth a new life that provides an occasion for increased joint activity.

The new life is both a mutual gift and a common work. In thinking about how to rear the child, parents are forced to step back and evaluate anew what is true and good and beautiful and what is not. The child thus presents parents with opportunities to grow in seriousness, wisdom, and goodness. Furthermore, in a sense the parents' activity is present in whatever good the child accomplishes through her life. The gift and work of having and rearing children becomes a way for people within a family to achieve mutual completion. In this sense, it is not merely that the parents give to the child in return for affection. In loving families, children give back a host of different and intangible gifts, often without being aware of it. Differences and mutual dependence are the basis for the common good in a household. In this way, the household can become a loving, disciplined, mutually perfecting school for virtue in which each partner is valued because each contributes through individual differences to the common go od. The particular example of parental love draws our attention to the general fact that diversity is the necessary condition for mutual completion (Yack 1993, 29-30, 55, 98).

Aristotle immediately draws the analogy between the common good in the family and politics. After identifying the child as a common good of the parents, he says: "How a man is supposed to direct his life toward his wife and his love toward his friend, appears no different from inquiring how to act in a just way (posdikaion)" (NE 1162a29-30). For Aristotle, justice is an essentially political term (NE 1129a35-1129b1). In comparing familial relationships to the political problem of justice, Aristotle points to the political implications of his discussion of common good in the family. [15]

The common good requires politically active people to pursue practical wisdom (phronesis) rather than reputation and power. For Aristotle, practical wisdom is a single virtue with several manifestations; the personal disposition that makes phronesis possible is the same for the familial and political communities (NE 114b31-5). Yet, the goals the practically wise person has for her family must be different than those she has for her political community, since these communities are analogous rather than identical. So Aristotle says household management is phronesis directed to matters affecting the entire family. When directed to politics, it is called political wisdom (NE 1141b23-4, 1141b29- 35).

In the family, the common good arises when each person is valued because each contributes through individual differences to the common good. In a like way, political wisdom involves the capacity to arrange the parts of a political community into a beautiful and proportionate whole. That is, political wisdom involves weaving the different talents of each citizen into the fabric of a community that provides the context for the flourishing of each member. Since this work requires a familiarity with and concrete care for the participants, such a community would be necessarily small. For this reason, Aristotle would insist on the principle of subsidiarity and emphasize that if the common good is possible politically, it can only happen in local communities. Thus, one of the most pressing problems for a contemporary Aristotelian is whether it is possible to pursue policies that respect and foster local common goods on the national level.

Due to the Connection between interpersonal and interpersonal virtues, the common good in a political community also requires the cultivation of a certain kind of self-love. Self-love is often used in the pejorative sense because those so named want a larger portion of nonshareable external goods, such as material things, honors, and bodily pleasures (NE 1168b17). Yet, for Aristotle, there is another sense of the term. The real self-lover would gratify only the most authoritative part of herself. The good or equitable person's (epieikes) self-love is radically different from the common notion of it. [16] If everyone were to compete not for external goods but for noble-beautiful actions, "all the needs of the community would be met and each individual would have the greatest of goods, since that is what virtue is" (NE 1169a11). [17]

Aristotle says that the mature person will freely give away all the zero-sum external goods over which people usually fight in order to gain a much better prize (NE 1169a20-2). This reorientation of perspective reflects the shift that would be required in individual citizens to reform political life. Advantage communities would have to redefine what they take to be advantageous. Furthermore, since the common good would depend on cultivating this self-love, a political community would have to attend to the problem of formation of its citizens. To take one obvious example, since Aristotle thinks that injustice stems from a defective self-love that overgrasps for external goods, he might urge contemporary citizens to think about how to protect themselves from an economy that depends in large part on reducing human beings to consumers with artificially inflated desires for external goods.

Finally, the common good requires equity. Yack (1993) has argued forcefully that in Aristotle's view the partiality of all actual conceptions of justice and of law entails that political community is as much the site of competition and conflict as of harmony. Since this is so, the common good demands the cultivation of equity, which Aristotle says is the most comprehensive political virtue. Equity is justice plus an awareness of when more or less unjust laws require straightening out, and thus when they should be followed strictly or not. This noncompetitive virtue inclines people to take less external goods for themselves, even when they have the law and its partial justice on their side (NE 113Th34-1138a2).

Since all regimes have only a partial sense of justice, the common good requires that individuals refuse to push their "just" claims too far. It is not enough for people to render joyfully what is due. They must refuse to push their advantage at the cost of another, even when in the "right" (P 1301a38). Because Aristotle thinks there are very few such people (P 1302a1), he seems quite pessimistic about the possibility of a genuine common good. Yet, the alternative to striving for it is frightening. In contrast to equitable people, bad people aim at more than their fair share when it is profitable and fall short in situations calling for sacrifice (NE 1167b9-12). Such narrow individualistic people foster a community rife with mistrust, which will undermine the possibility of their own flourishing. In a society full of such people, civil strife (stasis) will become prevalent (NE 1167b12-6).

In sum, Aristotle's pedagogical strategy is to ask whether it is possible to address the problem of over-grasping for scarce resources by satisfying our demand for noetic goods and activities that do not diminish in the sharing (P 1323b10-29). He seeks to moderate the pursuit of scarce resources and the concomitant temptations to competition and mastery by reorienting human desire toward goods that do not necessitate mastery because they are nonzero-sum and thus shareable (e.g., NE 1170b10-3, 1178b34-1179a10; P 1267a8-13). Thus, for example, Aristotle argues that friendship rather than honor is the most important external good (NE VII.7, IX.9). He provides a variety of political recommendations intended to preserve states by moderating the excessively partisan stance of their rulers (P V). Finally, he argues that the best kind of regime will not seek domination of its neighbors in foreign affairs (P VII.14 (see Thompson 1994, 117-8). In other words, Aristotle argues that his audience will become happier if o nly they can redirect their desires for money, status, and power. The common good flowing from this reorientation would lessen factional strife because the community would be seen as collaborative and convivial rather than competitive and exploitative.


What might this mean in today's politics? What would modern political communities look like if they were infused with the kind of affection present in analogical relationships like friendship or marriage? Furthermore, since I have argued that Aristotle is relatively pessimistic about the common good, what criteria would he offer to help us discern when a political community should strive for the common good and when it should not?

I want this article to provoke precisely these questions. Yet, insofar as I agree with Aristotle's characterization of the way theory informs practice, I cannot answer them in an abstract, universal way. A common good would have to be made present in some irreducibly unique political community. There is no common good in the abstract. There are only common goods present in particular contingent regimes. Since each community is unique, addressing these questions requires not theoretical prescriptions but thoughtful deliberation (NE 1140a25-1140b4). That is, knowledge of "ultimate and particular things" (NE 1143a25-1143b5) is required to discern whether and how to bring about the common good. The common good in an American inner city neighborhood would look vastly different from that in a farming community in Tibet because of different economies, cultures, citizens, problems, and opportunities. Just as there are a variety of good households for Aristotle, there can be a variety of common goods, depending on th e community in question. For an Aristotelian, since it is disastrous for different regimes to follow the same path, abstract prescriptions for the common good cannot be put forward. Indeed, Aristotle says that virtue is extremely hard precisely because the variability of human affairs renders it difficult to find the mean in particular situations (NE 1109a24-32).

Aristotelian theory can improve political practice, however, by cultivating the thoughtfulness required to address these questions. Aristotle does not set out to answer a set of specific political problems systematically in the Ethics and Politics. Still less is he interested in supplying the theoretical ground for a set of universally applicable rules. Rather, he wants to make people good (NE 1094b11, 1103b27, 1179b1-4). Specifically, he uses theory to question the most respected opinions (endoxa, see T 100b2lff) of a given human community to foster the habits of critical reflection needed to deliberate well about politics (Salkever 1998; Smith 1994). Since endoxa set the terms of political debate in a given regime, questioning them clears the ground for new ways of speaking and acting.

Aristotle's political theory aims to supply us with a set of questions and revisable standards for examining our lives and the political regimes we inhabit. The critical awareness of our presuppositions and blind spots shocks us out of the self-satisfied complacency that stifles thought. In this article, for example, I argue that Aristotle brings to light our overgrasping for external goods and the way that undermines political community. This encourages thoughtfulness insofar as it makes us aware of our lack of justice. In doing so it provides the conceptual tools we need to explore better ways of acting in particular situations. In short, theory helps us raise and interrogate political questions so that we can deliberate about them well in the concrete. For instance, deliberation about whether and how to achieve the common good is improved once theory makes us aware of its conditions and limits.


Reading Aristotle also drives us to raise questions about the debates over liberal political theory. Specifically, his articulation of the conditions for the common good speaks to both liberals and communitarians. Liberal theorists often seek to avoid coercion by insisting on neutrality among competing accounts of the best life, but this means they often resist arguing straightforwardly that the liberal way of life is itself best. When this strategy is followed, however, the question of the best life is posed only rhetorically: Most typical people would rather have comfortable self-preservation than virtue, or righteousness or holiness, right? That is, much liberal theory rests not on an argument about the best life but proceeds from the assumption that, if given the choice, most people prefer comfortable self-preservation to any viable alternative (Salkever 1990b). In some cases, liberal theory rests on a brilliant, often convincing pitch: If you want the kind of life most typical people in liberal societies want, here are the institutions and practices that you need to get it. Yet, this means that the moment the answer to its rhetorical question is no longer self-evident to most, liberal theory has a problem. Because its "neutrality" has been exposed as a partisan way of life that its defenders will not justify rationally, the liberal order will be criticized as partial and oppressive (Goerner and Thompson 1996).

In this vein, it is possible that the current criticism of liberal theory is a sign that the question of the good life is no longer understood as straightforwardly rhetorical in liberal societies. Such criticism bespeaks a profound sense that something is missing from the way of life liberal regimes have fostered. For all their excesses, and all the ways they overlook or minimize the positive aspects of liberalism (Holmes 1993), antiliberals speak to the palpable sense that something has been lost in our pursuit of wealth and physical comfort and freedom not guided by a deliberate reflection on what satisfies the human heart. We are led to ask whether, having lived through liberalism, we have learned the Aristotelian lesson that overgrasping for the external goods related to fortune inhibits individual and social flourishing. Ironically, Aristotle is sometimes vilified as hostile to liberalism, but liberal practice may require the kind of resources Aristotelian theory provides. Aristotle's account of the dif ficult conditions for community encourages the kind of thoughtful assessment of human goods that might rescue liberal practice from its own worst tendencies.

Yet, Aristotle would also raise questions about antiliberal communitarian political theory. I have pointed out that he refrains from issuing any abstract political suggestions to achieve the common good. This means that his articulation of its conditions may cut both ways. On the one hand, one can read his account of the conditions for the common good as a warning to be more responsible with one's dependence on the political community or suffer the consequences in one s own life. On the other hand, given his strict conditions for the common good, it is clear that Aristotle is extraordinarily sober about the possibility of actually having it. Thus, his emphasis on the strenuous conditions for the common good can be read as a warning to deliberate carefully in specific situations about the conditions for the common good and the dangers in seeking it before trying to achieve it (see Yack 1993, 118-20, 220-3).

In addition, Aristotle thinks that the common good is inseparable from the reorientation of individual citizens. Therefore, the Ethics teaches that community cannot be imposed from above by well-meaning politicians or bureaucrats who try to force individualistic and self-interested citizens to be good communitarians. In a similar vein, those who argue that Aristotle's goal is to form statesmen so they can grab power and effect reform (Bod[acute{e}][ddot{u}]s 1993) overlook his conviction that reforms often produce more harm than good. Such accounts seriously underestimate Aristotle's criticism of actual political practice. Aristotle's own response to the tension between individual and community interest is not to try to grab power, or to articulate specific demands for political reform. Rather, he tries to reorient people through semipublic acts of persuasion. That is, he addresses injustice by writing his Ethics and Politics.

Yet, it is clear that Aristotle is quite pessimistic about the possibility that his arguments will effect the change he desires (NE 1179b4-19, X.9 generally). Perhaps for this reason his political recommendations often have less to do with cultivating virtue than with ensuring stability and prosperity (Nadon 1996). Aristotle thus might emphasize that communitarian critics of liberalism must be careful not to destroy what is good in weeding out what is bad. For a modern Aristotelian, criticism of liberalism should not proceed without constant reminders of the greatness of that tradition and the ways it fosters the common advantage through its stability and prosperity. Furthermore, for an Aristotelian realist, criticisms of liberalism that long for its end and demand the cultivation of community or the common good would always raise the questions: Whose community? Which "common" good? [18]

Aristotle's account of the conditions for common good does not foster despotic homogeneity. If I must depend on human differences to flourish, it is not in my interest for everyone to be like me. Indeed, Aristotle argues that human beings find individual happiness and social harmony only when difference is understood to be the condition for mutual completion. [19] Furthermore, Aristotle is not a teleologist in the sense expounded by Kantians such as Rawls, for he does not justify oppression by arguing for the maximization of some state of affairs teleologically justified as best. [20] He does not seek to "maximize the good" independently of the right but to foster satisfying common activities (Cooper 1986, 87-8). Yet, what Aristotle's account successfully avoids is far less interesting than what it fosters. It leads us to wonder whether political life in particular times and places can be invigorated by thoughtful deliberation on the conditions for and limits of the common good.

Thomas W. Smith is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Villanova University, 800 Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA 19085.

I am grateful to V. Bradley Lewis, John Schrems, Colleen Sheehan, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments, as well as to E. A. Goerner, Stephen Salkever, and Walter Thompson for conversations that helped me think through the issues contained in this article.

(1.) This point bears emphasis since some scholars who overlook Aristotle's critiques of politicians' motives wind up seriously underestimating his criticism of political practice (Casey 1990, 208; Hauer-was and Pinches 1997, 46; Millbank 1990, 352; for an excellent corrective to this tendency, see Mara 1995). This neglect leads some to argue that Aristotle's goal is to train students who could grab the reigns of power to effect the kinds of political reforms he has in mind (Bod[acute{e}][ddot{u}]s 1993). By contrast, I will argue that Aristotle's sober assessment of the reality of injustice and his strict requirements for the common good should lead his readers to be more pessimistic about the possibility of political reforms for the sake of community.

(2.) References to Aristotle's works will be incorporated into the text, with the Bekker pagination preceded by an abbreviated reference to the work according to the following scheme: Eudemian Ethics (EE), Nicomachean Ethics (NE), Politics (P), Posterior Analytics (PA), Rhetoric (R), Topics (T).

(3.) For example, Philippa Foote states in Virtues and Vices: "Virtues such as justice do not correspond to any particular desire or tendency that has to be kept in check [as do such virtues as temperance and courage] but rather to a deficiency of motivation; and it is this that they must make good. If people were as much attached to the good of others as they are to their own good there would no more be a general virtue of benevolence than there is a general virtue of self-love. And if people cared about the rights of others as they care about their own rights no virtue of justice would be needed to look after the matter" (quoted in O'Connor 1988, 419). Perhaps this is why Rawls (1971, 440) calls self-respect the "most important primary good."

(4.) Nussbaum (1986) has explored the problem of luck in ancient thought, but she does not focus extensively on the social and political problems created by people's tendency to overgrasp for scarce social resources so as to insulate themselves from fate. She emphasizes instead the different ways philosophy tries through reason to manage dependence on fate.

(5.) In the Melian dialogue, the Athenians admit that their imperialism is driven by fear and insecurity (Thucydides 1983, 402-3). And when the Melians say they will trust the gods to protect them against aggression, the Athenians reply that the gods favor the strong (Thucydides 1983, 404).

(6.) "Aristotle does not think of justice and other interpersonal virtues (such as philia) as having a different aetiological basis from the particular virtues concerned with pleasure and pain. He does not see two realms of virtue, but one fundamental kind of human excellence viewed from two perspectives. Injustice and other breaches of community are not caused by a special incapacity linked to egoism (such as a poorly developed sense of justice). They are the 'political' or interpersonal symptom of psychic or intrapersonal misorientation. Someone with an insatiable desire for money or honors will necessarily find himself at odds with others. Thus for Aristotle the self-indulgent man is at least potentially the unjust man, and the cure for his self-indulgence would also be the cure for injustice. The only guarantee of good citizenship is the proper psychic disposition toward the pleasures and pains that motivate human action" (O'Connor 1991, 163-4).

(7.) Moderation also involves structuring things so that base people will be unable to overreach. Aristotle's silence about the possibility of transforming the desires of the base implies fundamental limits on the possibility of the common good. This recalls his pessimism about the possibility of educating people in virtue in the last chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics (Simpson 1998, 103).

(8.) Here I must point out the limits of my account. In the Politics, Aristotle sketches what I have called the demand side of the problem by articulating three sources of injustice: necessity, wanting more than one needs, and the desire for pleasure without pain (P 1267a4-9). One can acquire necessities with a little property and some hard work and so become too busy to engage in faction. The remedy for excessive desire is moderation (P 1267a10), or reorientation of desire (P 1267b6-7). Yet, Aristotle says that the only cure for people who want painless pleasures is philosophy (P 1267a10-2). The activity associated with philosophy is most pleasant because, unlike tactile somatic pleasures, which involve pain and fatigue (NE 1119a4-5, VII.12 and 14, X.4), theory neither involves pain nor wears us Out (NE 1152b36-1153a2). Indeed, for Aristotle, theory is more satisfying than the political good (NE 1177b23ff, 1178b26, 1178a1, 1179a4-5). So, while the common good may be part of the human good, it is not the high est human good. One large problem here is the relation between the common good and theory. Of course, this is a hotly contested problem in contemporary Aristotelian studies (e.g., Ackrill 1980; Hardie 1968; Kraut 1989; Mara 1987; Nussbaum 1986, 373-7; Tessitore 1996, esp. chap. 1; Thompson 1994), which I must bracket for reasons of space. In order to sketch the limits of politics, however, one would have to sketch the conditions for its highest possibilities.

(9.) Philia is difficult to translate. Nussbaum (1986, 354) identifies two problems. First, philia includes many relationships we would not describe as friendship, such as business partnership or parent-child relationships. Second, philia makes no distinction between the active and passive partners in the relationship. I will either use philia or translate it as friendship or relationship, but these caveats must be kept in mind.

(10.) "The usual view is that friendship should be more like a business partnership: those who contribute more should also take more of the proceeds. The inferior partner who stands in need takes the reverse position. The argument is that it is the mark of the good friend to come to the aid of the needy. What is the use of being a friend of a morally good and serious person (spoudaios), they ask, if you get nothing Out of it?" (NE 1163a30-5).

(11.) This devalues the ethos of honor, which insists that every gift entails a favor in return. "The individual who had received a gift [in ancient Athens] owed his benefactor not mere thanks but a favor in return. The benefactor could legitimately demand that the return favor be rendered. With the institutionalization at a national level of the charis relationship into the system of liturgies there were some changes; especially important was the introduction of the idea that the corporate recipients had the right to judge the spirit in which the gift was given. Yet the essential concept of the recipient's duty to repay the donor was retained" (Ober 1989, 229).

(12.) Ironically, this is the way many Aristotelians frame the question. See Cooper 1986, 96; Finnis 1980, 103ff; Hardie 1968, 227; Kraut 1989, 156; Sorabji 1980, 206.

(13.) For the argument that awakeness is the best translation for nous, see Williamson 1986, 185-7.

(14.) By comparing most fathers to cannibalistic Cyclopes, Aristotle implies that they do not provide a context in which their wives and children can flourish. It should also be recalled that the Cyclopes were not political. As such, they did not attend to the formation of their household in light of the fact that the household is not self-sufficient. Yet, since the interrelatedness of human society renders the household dependent on its larger social and political context, it is not enough to "lay down the law" within one's house in a way that neglects the formative effect of the regime on the household.

(15.) This does not mean that Aristotle subsumes the polis into the family or that the common goods of these communities are the same. The analogical character of philia entails that the political community is unlike as well as like the household. Drawing the similarities between family and political life obscures as much as it illuminates. Most obviously, the political community lacks filial ties of natural affection. In addition, Aristotle thinks that most fathers do not care about the formation of their children (NE 1180a29), and politicians fare even worse in his estimation (NE 1180a25, 1180b28-1181a13). If it is difficult to strive for a harmonious family, then how much more problematic would it be to strive for a harmonious political community?

(16.) Aristotle employs epieketa as a synonym for "goodness" and "reasonableness." See, for example, NE 1137a35-113Th1, 1107b11, 1166a10, 1167b5; P 1308b27, 1452b34. Maclntyre (1988, 119-20) suggests that we translate epiekeia as "reasonableness.

(17.) MacIntyre's account of external and internal goods helps illuminate this passage: "It is characteristic of what I have called external goods that when achieved they are always some individual's property and possession. Moreover characteristically they are such that the more someone has of them, the less there is for other people. This is sometimes necessarily the case, as with power and fame, and sometimes the case by reason of contingent circumstance as with money. External goods are therefore characteristically objects of competition in which there must be losers as well as winners. Internal goods are indeed the outcome of competition to excel, but it is characteristic of them that their achievement is a good for the whole community who participate in the practice" (MacIntyre 1981, 190).

(18.) In fairness, I must ask such questions of my own account. I think that the environment would be an example of a common good. Responsible stewardship over the earth requires the political community to act, but its fruits can be enjoyed individually. At once massive questions and problems arise, however. For one, reasonable people disagree about how to balance possibly countervailing goods, such as economic development or full employment. A larger problem is that such stewardship requires the kind of reorientation that Aristotle says is necessary for a common good. For an excellent Aristotelian account of the origins of the overgrasping that yields environmental problems, as well as a sketch of the radical reordering of priorities that responsible use of the earth's resources would require, see Berry 1977, 1992.

(19.) One could object to my interpretation by pointing out textual evidence of Aristotle's misogyny and arguments for the naturalness of relationships of domination, such as slavery. One response is to note excellent scholarship that takes issue with the usual interpretation of such passages (e.g., Nichols 1992; Salkever 1991). Another is to argue that following the implications of Aristotle's account of the preconditions for community leads one to reject those texts that justify domination of women and slaves. The question here is whether we can become better Aristotelians than Aristotle.

(20.) Aristotle's teleology ultimately points to theory, but I have argued that he does not employ theory to recommend abstract and coercive political policies. Rather, Aristotelian theory provides a standard and thus a starting point for a critique of regimes. This critique both fosters the political activities that constitute part of a good life and sketches the limits of those activities by pointing beyond them.


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Publication:American Political Science Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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