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The common good.

NATURAL LAW ARGUMENTS CONCERNING the political order characteristically appeal, at some point or other, to the common good of the political community. To take the clearest example: Aquinas, perhaps the paradigmatic natural law theorist, appeals to the common good in his accounts of the definition of law, of the need for political authority, of the moral requirement to adhere to the dictates issued by political authority, and of the form political authority should take. But while united on the point that arguments for normative political conclusions must take the common good as a principle, natural law theorists have not been united in their understanding of the nature of the common good. The differences among natural law views on the character of the common good are not trivial: they concern such deep issues as whether the common good should be understood as an intrinsic or an instrumental good, and whether the common good should be understood in relation to the good of individuals of that community or solely in relation to the good of the community as a whole. If one aims to develop a natural law account of the political order, then, one cannot remain neutral with respect to the various natural law understandings of the common good, for these various understandings are almost certain to yield differing conclusions on the source, functions, and limits of political authority.

I

We can, I think, agree on some general formal considerations concerning the nature of the common good without presupposing a particular account of what the common good is; these formal considerations constrain the possible candidate conceptions and will help to determine which of the candidate conceptions is ultimately the most plausible. Not surprisingly, these considerations concern two features of the common good: its goodness and its commonness.

The notion that the common good must be good is meant to stand in place of a couple of theses concerning the way that the concept of the common good functions in governing political deliberation and in underwriting allegiance to the outcomes of that deliberation. Ends advanced by citizens in political deliberation as appropriate aims of state action are in fact such only if they can be brought under the description "necessary or useful to promoting, protecting, or honoring the common good." Given that political action is appropriately regulated by the aim of the common good, it seems that if we are not to disconnect political deliberation from the grounds for adherence to the outcomes of that deliberation, we need to say that the common good is something to which agents have good reasons to adhere. That the common good is the end regulating political deliberation and the source of allegiance to the outcomes of correct political deliberation generates both an epistemological and a practical constraint on theories of the content of the common good. The epistemological constraint is that inasmuch as the common good serves as a starting point for political deliberation, it must be something to which we can have some sort of cognitive access. The practical constraint is that a conception of the common good should be something that the citizen has--I will put it as vaguely as possible here--very strong reasons to pursue and to promote. I will try to be loose about this, noting only that it would be an unfortunate theory of the content of the common good that did not support a view in which citizens should have allegiance to the common good thus understood.

The other desideratum that a conception of the common good must satisfy is that it must be common. Put roughly, the idea is that the common good is common only if it is an end that is shared by reasonable agents within the political community. One might wonder whether this desideratum can serve in any way to differentiate the merits of competing conceptions of the common good: surely any barely plausible conception of the common good will meet this constraint. But it seems to me that the allegedly "common" character of certain conceptions of the common good evaporates upon closer inspection or, at the very least, is attenuated.

What I have in mind is what we might think of as a Hobbesian conception of the common good. Recall the situation that Hobbes describes as the "natural condition of mankind." In the natural condition of mankind, human agents are predominantly self-interested, roughly equal in mental and physical capacities, in a condition of moderate scarcity, and lacking any coercive political authorities. This condition, says Hobbes, is guaranteed to be a state of war, and the lives of the denizens of the state of nature terrible and short. Hobbes holds, though, that even given the radically disparate aims of those in the state of nature, they must come to realize that peace is good, and they will recognize that the only way to achieve peace is to contract together to institute a nearly absolute political authority, the sovereign, which has the right and power to apprehend and punish all those who engage in behavior that threatens the peace. Now, do we not have adequate grounds to hold that in Hobbes's natural law view there is a common good--peace--which serves as the central premise for subsequent reasoning about the source, nature, and form of political authority?

There is surely some sense in which peace is a common good for Hobbesian agents, but it is a very weak sense. The reason is that, appearances aside, those in the state of nature do not aim at a common end. What each party in the state of nature wants, given Hobbes's description of those agents, is not peace as such, or peace for all of us in the state of nature, but rather that he himself be in a state of peace. That is, the state of affairs aimed at by each party has an essential self-reference; it is a wholly agent-relative end. At no point does the Hobbesian agent have a reason to promote the condition in which all agents are in a state of peace; he has a reason only to promote the condition in which he is in a state of peace. (1) If all agents act in this way, Hobbes thinks, general peace will prevail. But there is no robust sense in which the general peace is a common good for Hobbesian agents. (2)

I don't wish here to give the impression that Hobbesian theories of political authority must be wrong just because they fall to offer a robust account of the common good. But--and this will be no surprise, I suppose--the failure to offer such a robust account would both make Hobbes's view a deviant natural law account of political authority and render the task of explaining how reasonable agents would concur on the need to institute and adhere to the dictates of political authority far more difficult. I will, then, treat it as a point in favor of a conception of the common good that it fulfill the "commonness" desideratum more fully than a Hobbesian conception does.

II

I will call the three main candidate conceptions of the common good within the natural law tradition the "instrumentalist," the "distinctive good," and the "aggregative" conceptions of the common good. On the instrumentalist view, the common good consists in the presence of those conditions that are necessary or helpful means for members of that community to realize their own worthwhile ends. On the distinctive good view, the common good consists in the obtaining of some intrinsically good state of affairs that is literally the good of the community as a whole (as opposed to simply the goods of the members of that community). On the aggregative view, the common good consists in the realization of some set of individual intrinsic goods, characteristically the goods of all (and only) those persons that are members of the political community in question.

Given the account of formal considerations concerning theories of the common good, it is clear that the relative success of these various views will depend in large measure on the extent to which they satisfy these formal considerations. I will argue in favor of the aggregative conception in this way: it seems to me that while the aggregative conception can satisfy on its own the goodness and commonness constraints on theories of the common good, the instrumentalist and distinctive good conceptions gain their plausibility only by way of the aggregative conception.

III

The case for the aggregative conception of the common good is a simple and straightforward one. Consider any individual A within a political community, and consider the state of affairs in which A is flourishing--that is, is enjoying the goods that genuinely make human life go well. That state of affairs is a reason for action that members of the political community should acknowledge: in the crafting of law or policy, the effect that the proposed law or policy would have on A's flourishing is relevant with respect to that law or policy. That a law or policy would promote A's good is a reason to adopt it; that a law or policy would thwart A's good is reason to reject it. (3) There may be other considerations, of course, that outweigh or in some way exclude the reason to adopt or reject the law or policy that is based on its effect on A's good. But that does not call into question the fundamental relevance of A's good in political matters.

So the state of affairs in which A is flourishing is a fundamental reason for political action within A's political community. Now consider the state of affairs in which A and one other individual B are flourishing. The state of affairs in which A and B are both flourishing is an even stronger reason for political action and in the most straight-forward way: the state of affairs A and B are flourishing includes all that is of importance in the state of affairs A is flourishing and more as well. To construct the normative ideal of the aggregative common good, one merely carries out this process of inclusion to its limit, including all of the goods of the members of a political community in the common good of that political community. The common good aggregatively conceived is that state of affairs in which all of the members of a political community are fully flourishing.

There is nothing epistemologically suspect about the aggregative common good. Given the general human capacity to grasp the fundamental elements of well-being, there can be little objection on such grounds: for, on the aggregative view, the idea of the common good is built upon the idea of well-being, upon the theory of prudential value. There surely can be no epistemological objection to this conception within natural law thought, since central to natural law thought is the development of an account of the individual's good; and since, as far as I can tell, every normative political theory develops or at least assumes a conception of individual well-being, a conception of the common good construed aggregatively does not on any view add an epistemological burden to political thought that was not already present.

Nor can is there a basis for objection on the grounds that the aggregative common good is insufficiently common. While the common good is built up out of individuals' goods, the common good thus conceived is the same for all citizens: while constituted by individual goods, all reasonable agents should recognize it as an end worth seeking, and under the same description. It is not a Hobbesian common good, which is simply the result of various agents' realizing the necessary conditions for promoting their own ends. When asked why a Hobbesian common good is worth pursuing, reasonable agents will answer differently: A will answer that it serves A's good, B that it serves B's good, and so forth. When asked why the aggregative common good is worth pursuing, reasonable agents will give the same answer: A will answer that it serves A's good and B's good and C's good, and so on, B that it serves A's good and B's good and C's good, and so on, and so forth. That the "material" of the common good is individuals' goods does not make the aggregative common good less than common. (4)

Nor can there be a basis for objection on account of the inability of this conception of the common good to serve the role assigned by the natural law account to conceptions of the common good--that is, to provide a normatively weighty basis from which we can account for the law's authority. It seems clear that if one accepts the point that an individual's good provides all members of the political community with a reason for action, the aggregative common good, which includes the goods of all members of the political community, will be a very strong reason for action indeed.

IV

John Finnis's account of the common good identifies it with a broad obtaining of states of affairs that are instrumentally valuable for the flourishing of the citizens of the political community. (5) Finnis holds that the common good is constituted by "the whole ensemble of material and other conditions, including forms of collaboration, that tend to favour, facilitate, and foster the realization of each individual [in that community] of his or her personal development." (6) While on Finnis's view, the common good is good only instrumentally, that is, as a means to the promotion of the genuine goods that citizens can participate in, we should not (as the definition makes clear) confine the common good's character only to material means: the common good also includes the preservation of certain institutions (for example, marriage) as well as a moral environment that is conducive to citizens' flourishing. (7)

Surely the instrumentalist picture meets the epistemological constraint: if we can, as the aggregative conception assumes, say something informative about the content of the human good, we should be able to say something informative about certain sorts of conditions in which citizens are better equipped to pursue their good. But it seems to me that its response to the questions of allegiance and commonness shows that the instrumentalist account is parasitic upon the aggregative conception.

Why should we be interested in promoting the common good instrumentally conceived? There are two answers suggested in Finnis's work. The first is implausible and ad hoc. The second indicates that the normative force of the common good instrumentally conceived flows from the normative force of the common good aggregatively conceived.

In order to understand one of the answers that Finnis might offer for the reason to promote the common good, we need to say a few words about what he understands the structure of correct practical thinking to be. On his view, the first principles of practical reasoning are a number of basic goods, things that are worth pursuing for their own sakes. (8) These basic goods are aspects of agents' well-being, ways that agents are made better-off. What governs our choices and commitments with respect to plans of action to respond to these goods are principles of practical reasonableness, which rule out certain possible plans of action or ways of forming plans of action on the basis that acting or choosing in these ways is incompatible with full practical reasonableness. (9) Now, Finnis holds that one of these principles of practical reasonableness is that agents are bound to favor and foster the common goods of their communities. (10) If, then, the common good of the political community is this complex instrumental good, then we might answer the allegiance question by appealing to the principle of practical reasonableness that agents are bound in reason to foster the common good of their communities, including their political communities.

The immediate question to be asked is, of course, what is the warrant for the principle of practical reasonableness that the good of one's communities is to be fostered. His official view is that the principles of practical reasonableness are self-evident and underivable. I take him to be claiming something like the following: one who understands the nature of the basic goods will immediately recognize that these principles specify (and thereby rule out) inappropriate responses to these goods. Thus, not every minimally rational agent will affirm these principles: those agents that have a false view of the features of the basic goods will tend to affirm claims that are in tension with the correct principles of practical reasonableness. Thus, in defending these principles, Finnis's main task is to lay bare the features of the basic goods to which these principles specify appropriate responses and to criticize rival conceptions of the basic goods. (11) But we get nothing like this sort of defense of the principle requiring the fostering of the common good of one's communities; in fact, we get no defense of it at all. It is simply laid down as a principle of practical reasonableness. Perhaps this manner of proceeding would not be objectionable if the defense of it were obvious or the principle itself so evident that it needed no amplification. But neither of these is the case. First, the characteristic defense of principles of practical reasonableness involves an appeal to the features of basic goods: after all, these are the first principles of practical reasoning, from which all practical warrant flows. But if Finnis means to use this principle to underwrite a rational requirement to promote the common good of the political community, then another line of defense will have to be found for the common good of the political community is by Finnis's lights an instrumental, not a basic, good. This is highly problematic since no practical thought is reasonably governed by reference to instrumental goods alone; it is reasonably governed only by the intrinsic goods, specified or unspecified, to which the instrumental goods can serve as instruments. Second, the principle is far from evident. As a requirement of practical reasonableness, not just a principle stating what is a basic good, it is supposed to say more than that being in community with others is a good thing. This much is given by Finnis's affirming that friendship and community are basic goods. (12) But once we go beyond this weaker claim, we need to know what the strength and scope of the requirement are supposed to be. Again, if it is to include communities where the common good is merely instrumental, we should want to know a lot more about how and why this principle controls our practical reasoning.

The placement of the principle concerning the fostering of the common good of one's communities strikes me as mysterious within the wider context of Finnis's views on the theory of practical reasonableness, and I thus think that an appeal to this principle is not a helpful way to explain the allegiance that reasonable citizens will have to the common good instrumentally conceived. There is, however, a far more straightforward way to explain the allegiance owed to the common good instrumentally conceived. The extent to which we should be interested in any instrumental good is the extent to which we are interested in the intrinsic good to which it is an instrument. It seems, then, that if we are to understand the allegiance owed to the common good instrumentally conceived, we will have to appeal to the good to which the common good instrumentally conceived is instrumental. Given Finnis's description of the common good as the conditions that the individuals of that community can draw upon in order to flourish, it appears that it is the overall flourishing of citizens in community that provides the normative force of the common good instrumentally conceived. But if that is what provides it, then I do not see the advantage in offering an instrumentalist conception of the common good, for the aggregative conception in the background is doing all of the normative work.

A similar point can be made with respect to the commonness desideratum. Whether or not the common good instrumentally conceived is genuinely common or common only in (for example) a Hobbesian way is going to depend on the end to which that good is instrumental. If the reason that I should be interested in the common good instrumentally conceived is that its realization enables me to promote my own good, and the reason that you should be interested in the common good instrumentally conceived is that its realization enables you to promote your own good, then in promoting the common good thus conceived we do not aim at a common end: what each of us is really aiming at is just that aspect of the common good that is good for each of us individually. Only by seeing the common good instrumentally conceived as for the sake of something like the common good conceived aggregatively can its commonness be validated. But, again, if we can confidently say that the instrumentalist account fulfills the commonness desideratum only by connecting that account to the aggregative conception, there seems to be strong reason to affirm an aggregative rather than an instrumentalist conception of the common good.

My main line of argument for the superiority of the aggregative to the instrumentalist conception of the common good is, then, that the instrumentalist view is parasitic on the aggregative conception. Now, I am not sure that a defender of the instrumentalist view need deny this. What the defender of such a view would have to go on to say is that there are distinct reasons to keep with the instrumentalist conception. The defender of the instrumentalist conception can admit, that is, that with respect to the issues of normative force and commonness the instrumentalist view leans on the aggregative view, while holding that there are other grounds to identify the common good of the political community in the instrumentalist way.

Let's return to Finnis. In Natural Law and Natural Rights he vacillates between an aggregative and an instrumentalist conception of the common good of the political community, while in later work he explicitly adopts the instrumentalist conception. As far as I can tell, he offers two reasons for adopting the instrumentalist view: first, that the common good aggregatively conceived is not a realizable end; and second, that the common good instrumentally conceived is able to provide an account of limited government. But it seems to me that neither of these arguments provides grounds to move from the aggregative to the instrumentalist view.

Here is the realizability argument.
 If the object, point, or common good of the political community
 were indeed a self-sufficient life, and if self-sufficiency
 (autarcheia) were indeed what Aristotle defines it to be--a life
 lacking in nothing, of complete fulfillment then we would have to
 say that the political community has a point it cannot hope to
 achieve, a common good utterly beyond its reach. (13)


The argument is, as it stands, unsatisfactory. The first thing to be said in response is that the conception of the common good that Finnis offers--that whole set of material conditions, and so forth--is utterly beyond the reach of the political community as well. We might think about it this way. What would it be for the common good in the instrumental sense to be wholly realized? Something like the following: that for every reasonable aim a citizen might have, the only thing that would prevent the citizen from achieving that end would be that citizen's lack of a will to achieve it. This is far beyond the reach of any political community. Now, the response might be: surely it cannot be achieved, but it can be achieved to a greater extent than the aggregative common good can be achieved. I am not sure that this is true--I am not sure that the comparison involved makes much sense--but even if it were, it would not seem to me to be that great an objection. Like the notion of an individual's good, the notion of the common good serves as a kind of regulative ideal--perhaps not something realizable in practice but nevertheless the starting point for deliberation. (14)

The other main argument that Finnis puts forward in favor of the instrumentalist conception is that this conception seems better suited to providing a principled rationale for limited government. Finnis seems to understand by "limited government" a government whose actions are constrained not only by the basic principles of natural practical reasonableness, which principles apply to all agents, but also by principles of antipaternalism and subsidiarity. There are a variety of understandings of antipaternalism, some of which Finnis would reject. At the very least, though, antipaternalism is the principle that political authority is not to be exercised solely in order to prevent a competent agent from acting unreasonably. Subsidiarity, the other constraint on government Finnis wishes to defend, is the principle of Catholic social thought that political authority is not to take over the provision of goods that lower-level associations are able to provide for themselves. (15) But if one were to affirm the aggregative conception of the common good, it might be thought that one would find oneself committed to the advocating of (for example) criminalization of self-regarding immoral behavior simply as such--not because of further undesirable social effects, including the deterioration of a moral environment in which vice is discouraged but simply because acting in a practically unreasonable way is bad for the agent that acts in that way and thus damaging to the aggregative common good. Further, the aggregative conception seems to leave inadequate room for subsidiarity, according to which the proper role of government is that of "assisting individuals and groups to co-ordinate their activities for the objectives and commitments they have chosen, and to do so in ways consistent with the other aspects of the common good of the political community." (16) The instrumentalist view is better suited to a conception of government in which government cannot be simply paternalistic and cannot, even in principle, take over the tasks of lower-level associations. For if the aim of political authority is to promote the common good, and the common good is in principle restricted to instrumental goods, political authority cannot reach beyond the provision of instrumental goods in a way that would justify paternalism or take away the proper tasks of individuals or groups.

All of this strikes me as the wrong way around. The attractiveness of the antipaternalist and subsidiarity principles should be explicable in terms of the good; we should not have to pare down the theory of the good in order to generate an argument against paternalism and for subsidiarity. A theory of the common good should not have to be rigged in order to generate these two results; even if in developing a theory of the common good the direction of our inquiry is shaped by antipaternaiist and prosubsidiarity intuitions, our finished account should provide some explanation from the nature of the good to the antipaternalist and prosubsidiarity principles. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that whether or not one should accept antipaternalist and prosubsidiarity principles as the main story about political authority's function will depend on one's theory of intrinsic goods, those goods that constitute the aggregative common good.

Here's an example that might make this clear. Suppose that one is firmly committed to a Benthamite understanding of the good--that all goods are, at root, individual and reducible to pleasure absent pain. The only things worth pursuing on this view are pleasures, and the only things worth avoiding are pains. Now it seems to me that a Benthamite account of the political order would have very little use for the antipaternalism and prosubsidiarity principles. If the only things of value are pleasures and pains, what does it matter whether they are provided through paternalistic measures by the state? If the only things of value are pleasures and pains, what does it matter whether they are provided by political institutions, or by families, or trade unions, or individuals? What difference could it possibly make? A Benthamite could support nonpaternalism or subsidiarity as empirical generalizations about the best means to generate pleasures and avoid pains. But for the Benthamite to have an in principle preference for lower-level associations producing pleasures and avoiding pains for themselves would be bizarre. If a Benthamite declared that the common good of the political community should not be understood in terms of pleasure and pain but in terms of the conditions by which individuals can realize for themselves pleasures and avoid for themselves pains, we would have very little idea what this person was up to. The conception of intrinsic good that the Benthamite is working with would make any in principle appeal to nonpaternalism and subsidiarity unintelligible.

What makes the imagined Benthamite's appeal to antipaternalist and prosubsidiarity principles unintelligible is Bentham's theory of intrinsic goods. Similarly, we might say, what would make affirmation of antipaternalism and prosubsidiarity principles intelligible is a different theory of intrinsic goods. Finnis's theory of basic goods is sufficiently rich that--unlike on Bentham's view--many of the goods that he affirms include agent's deliberations, judgments, choices, and actions. One could offer some support for the antipaternalism and prosubsidiarity principles by appeal to one or another of these basic goods. While I cannot of course undertake to provide a satisfactory account here, the following are sketches of the sort of argument that one might offer against paternalism or on behalf of subsidiarity from an account of intrinsic goods. One could offer at least a weak antipaternalist rationale on the basis of there being a prima facie reason against any legal restriction on conduct: that there is a good involved in deliberating one's way to a practical conclusion, and the existence of a legal rule cuts off or at the very least restricts the relevant range of deliberation. (A good--though by no means the only--reason for not having legal rules against [for example] all lying is that it is a good thing to reach and act on the deliberative conclusion not to lie without having legal apparatus intruding on one's practical thinking.) One could offer at least a weak prosubsidiarity rationale on the basis of there being a prima facie reason against stripping from individuals the tasks that they can fulfill on their own: that there is a good involved in deliberation and judgment, in intelligent, challenging work, and so forth. (17)

Now, a defender of the instrumentalist view might say that this is something like what he had in mind all along--that while the common good aggregatively conceived provides for the normative force and the commonness of the common good, sound practical thinking governed by the features of the aggregative common good indicates that the common good instrumentally conceived is the uniquely appropriate proximate ideal for political deliberation and action. Once we see clearly the nature of the aggregative common good, we will see that promoting and honoring it requires that we restrict ourselves to the instrumental common good as the object of political deliberation and action. If this turns out to be so, then the defender of the aggregative view would have no objection. But it seems to me that we have grounds to doubt that things will turn out so neatly. Surely there will be occasions when the difficult questions of the following sort arise, not just as matters of idle speculation but as serious practical issues: "Even if deliberative freedom is important, aren't some self-regarding actions so evil or debasing that they are the appropriate object of state action, even apart from their effects on specific other-regarding obligations or on the moral environment more generally?" Or: "Even if there are goods realized through letting functions be carried out at lower levels, are there not other goods--perhaps goods of community-that are instantiated or at least fostered by placing citizens 'in the same boat,' as it were?" These are questions that cannot be answered at the level of the instrumental common good; we would have to turn back to the aggregative common good, the good of persons in community, to have a hope of answering them reasonably and assessing their relevance for particular political decisions. No matter how much we can rely on the instrumental conception of the common good in ordinary political thinking, the aggregative conception will retain at least its background influence and almost certainly will on some occasions have to be relied upon more directly in dealing with difficult questions about the appropriate exercise of political authority.

V

The instrumental conception of the common good yields to the aggregative conception. But there is a rival understanding of the common good that, like the aggregative conception, understands the common good in terms of intrinsic rather than instrumental goodness. What distinguishes this rival conception--what I call a "distinctive good" view--is that it holds that the common good is not composed out of the various goods of the members of that community. Rather, the good is the good of the community as a whole, what perfects the political community as such.

I think that Aquinas offers this sort of picture of the common good, though I admit that his remarks on the nature of the common good of the political community are not completely unambiguous. As I understand him, for Aquinas the common good consists of "justice and peace," (18) where justice and peace are conditions of the community entire. Justice consists in that state of the community by which a proper relation among persons, a certain kind of equality, is preserved. (19) Peace consists both in the absence of discord among citizens and the presence of a proper ordering among them. (20) A political community's being in good condition as a whole consists in its being just and well-ordered. (21)

Now, the common good thus conceived does seem to be sufficiently accessible to be an object of political deliberation. Aquinas does think that we can have access to truths of natural justice and that we can concern ourselves with the most appropriate way to determine the particulars of these principles of justice for the concrete circumstances of common life in which we find ourselves. These goods might be taken to be common in a strong sense: as perfecting the whole community, they belong to no one in particular but to the community itself. I want to argue, though, that the distinctive good conception runs into difficulty with respect to the allegiance criterion. In order to see how it runs into difficulty, though, we need to get clearer on the different ways that one might understand the distinctive good view.

To get clearer on the different understandings that one might offer of the distinctive good view, let us consider briefly an objection that might be leveled against aggregative conceptions of the common good. There is a straightforward sense in which the aggregative view is individualistic: for on that View the common good is made up of the goods of individuals. (22) But such conceptions are deeply flawed, one might argue, because they fall to recognize the importance of irreducibly social goods, goods that involve not one agent but two or many. The aggregative conception, by not including these irreducibly social goods in the common good of the political community, is both at odds with the natural law tradition and implausible in itself. The distinctive good conception, by contrast, affirms the possibility of irreducibly social goods; indeed, its key thesis is just that the common good is one of these irreducibly social goods.

It seems to me important, though, to recognize that there is more than one way that a good can be said to be social; and to get clear on the way that the distinctive good view is supposed to be superior to the aggregative conception, we need to make explicit at least two of these senses. Consider a statement of the form "x is good for y," where x ranges over states of affairs and y ranges over "parties," where a party is a person, a group of persons, or an institution whose offices are occupied by persons. Now, suppose that one were to claim that x is an irreducibly social good. There are at least two ways that this claim could be understood. First, it could mean that the state of affairs x is irreducibly social. For x to be irreducibly social is, roughly, for x to involve more than one person (that is the "social" part), and for x not to be divisible into two or more states of affairs that do not include all of the persons involved in x (that is the "irreducible" part). Second, it could mean that party y is irreducibly social. Again, for y to be irreducibly social is, roughly, for y to involve more than one person and for y not to be divisible into two or more parties that do not include more than one person. To claim that x is an irreducibly social good is therefore an ambiguous claim: it can mean either that the good itself is social (this is the first sense) or that the being that is made better off by x's obtaining is a social unity (this is the second sense).

Given these clarifications, it cannot be a point against the aggregative conception of the common good that that conception rejects the existence of goods that are social in the first sense while the distinctive good conception affirms the existence of goods that are social in the first sense. Most natural law theorists, including myself, hold that (for example) friendship and community are basic goods, but these goods are irreducibly social in the first sense of that notion: the goods of friendship and community cannot be broken down into states of affairs that are asocial. (23) The aggregative view, then, would include within its conception of the common good goods that are irreducibly social in the first sense, insofar as these irreducibly social goods are aspects of the fulfillment of individual persons.

Indeed, it seems to me that a number of defenders of the distinctive good view affirm the thesis that while the common good perfects the community as such, the practical force of the common good arises from its role in perfecting individual members of the community. As I mentioned, on Aquinas's view the common good consists of justice and peace, which perfects the community as a whole. But if I understand his view of the relationship between an individual and the common good of that individual's political community correctly, the individual's good includes not just his private good but the broader goods of family and political community, and Aquinas understands the allegiance claimed by the common good in terms of its place in one's own overall good. (24) Recent advocates of distinctive good views like Aquinas's have often asserted that the common good is common through its perfecting the community as a whole while perfecting each individual member of that community. Louis Dupre endorses the "classical definition" of the common good as "a good proper to, and attainable only by, the community, yet individually shared by its members." (25) When Ralph McInerny emphasizes the "shareability" of the common good, he is drawing our attention to the fact that the realization of the common good is something that perfects each member of that community. (26)

Now, if the defenders of the distinctive good view want to say nothing more than that the common good is irreducibly social but worthy of pursuit as a constituent of the good of individual members of that community, then it seems to me that the defender of the aggregative view can affirm this claim as well. One might think, on the basis of the agreement between the aggregative and the distinctive good View on this point, that we have reached an argumentative impasse between these two views. But that does not seem to me to be correct. First: if we affirm that the obtaining of the common good is a constituent of the good of each and every member of the political community, we still have to provide an account of what the defender of the distinctive good view wants to say about the source of allegiance to the common good. Does the defender of the distinctive good view want to say that for each member of the political community it is the contribution to his own good that makes pursuit of the common good worth carrying out? Or does the defender of this view want to say that for each member of the political community it is the contribution not only to his own good but to the good of the other members of the political community as well that makes the common good something to be promoted by him? If the former option is chosen, then it looks like the distinctive good theorist's account of the common good has become Hobbesian. It may be a logical truth that the common good is shared by members of the political community; it would be, on this view, a logical impossibility for me to gain the benefits of the common good's being instantiated without others' gaining them as well. But the end of my actions would be just the promotion of a just, peaceful order for myself; it is at my perfection alone that my actions are aimed. We have thus lost an important element of the commonness of the common good, that it should be shared as an end by reasonable agents within the political community. Further, it is not clear what rationale one is to employ here to show that while one's own good is an appropriate object of political action, the good of other citizens is not.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the defender of this version of the distinctive good view allowed that it is not only insofar as the common good perfects oneself, but also insofar as it perfects the fellow members of one's political community, that this good is a reasonable object of pursuit. On this reading of the distinctive good view, what would separate the defender of the distinctive good view from the defender of the aggregative view would be only the scope of their accounts of the content of the common good: the defender of the distinctive good view would hold that only justice and peace--conceived as perfecting each member of the political community--should be included within the common good, while the defender of the aggregative view would hold that not only justice and peace but also the nonsocial (and even social but nonpolitical) goods of each and every member of the political community should be included within the common good as well. Given that the difference between these views is only one of scope, there seems to be a powerful argument for preferring the aggregative view to this version of the distinctive good view: since other goods besides the distinctive common good of justice and peace are reasons for action or grounds for the community to make one decision rather than another, the common good aggregatively conceived provides all of the reasons for allegiance than this distinctive good view provides, and more as well. It has a greater claim to guide action than this version of the distinctive good view can offer, and thus it would be an unmotivated watering down of the common good aggregatively conceived to affirm this understanding of the distinctive good position.

When the source of the allegiance to the common good as distinctive good is held to be its status as a constituent of individual members' goods, the distinctive good conception of the common good places itself into a sort of direct competition with the aggregative conception that the distinctive good view cannot win. It would avoid this sort of direct competition by affirming that it is the common good's status as an irreducible social good of the second type that provides, on its own, the source of members' reasonable allegiance to the common good. On this latter reading, the idea is not that the community's being just and peaceful is a part of each and every member's good and therefore part of the common good; rather, the idea is that the state of justice and peace is good for the community as a whole: it perfects a body of persons organized politically. It is therefore--and without necessary recourse to additional premises--an end that members of the political community have reason to pursue and promote. There is thus a sharp contrast between this View and the aggregative view: the aggregative view understands the common good wholly in terms of what fulfills individual persons, while this version of the distinctive good view understands the common good wholly in terms of what fulfills the political community as a social unit.

One more reconciliation-minded than myself might at this point suggest that the common good consists both in the goods of individual persons and in social goods in this latter sense. If it were agreed that it makes sense to speak of such distinctive goods and that these distinctive goods are as such fundamentally relevant to reasonable action, then one could run an arbitrariness argument against an aggregative view that affirms goods that fulfill persons but not goods that fulfill irreducible social units: it would be arbitrary to allow the former but not the latter into one's conception of the common good if both are fundamentally relevant to deliberation. But it seems to me that we should reject the fundamental relevance to deliberation of this kind of irreducibly social good.

My ground for saying that we should reject the fundamental relevance to deliberation of irreducibly social goods in this sense is not that it is not meaningful to ascribe irreducibly social goodness to certain states of affairs. One can speak of a team's good condition, or a university's, or a chess club's, and one can talk about what is good for a team or university or club in ways that can be understood only by appeal to this irreducibly social goodness. Moreover, such statements can be true: it is true (for example) that a university's having intelligent faculty, motivated students, well-designed facilities, and wealthy and nostalgic alumni is good for that institution. So claims about certain states being good for some social units--such as the claim that the state of justice and peace is good for the political community as a whole--can be intelligible and correct. But this concession to the distinctive good view does not yet offer any grounds for the defender of that view to argue against the aggregative conception. For claims about what is good for some entity do not always have fundamental practical or moral importance, do not always of themselves furnish reasons to choose or act one way rather than another. To take a clear example, whether a vacuum cleaner is in good or bad condition is of no fundamental practical importance: it can only be made practically relevant by appeal to other reasons for action, reasons that are themselves fundamental or appropriately connected to reasons that are fundamental. I want to make the same claim with respect to the distinctive good view: that while it can be meaningful and correct to hold that certain states of affairs are good for the political community as a whole, our reasons to promote these states of affairs are explicable wholly by way of those goods included within the aggregative conception of the common good. Any allegiance that the distinctive good version seems to claim derives from what is involved in reasonably promoting, honoring, and respecting the aggregative common good.

Let us take as a test case Aquinas's conception of the common good as the distinctive good of justice and peace. Start with justice and with a basic distinction between two ways that justice can function in deliberation. Justice can function as a constraint: one's deliberation will be guided such that one does not act unjustly. Justice can function as a goal: one's deliberation will be guided such that one's actions promote the obtaining of justice. Now, whatever the differences may be between the aggregative and distinctive good conceptions, that justice should serve as a constraint on political deliberation is not, or need not, be at issue between them. The defender of the aggregative conception can, that is, affirm that political deliberation must adhere to the constraints of justice in reaching deliberative conclusions.

The difference between the distinctive good and the aggregative conceptions concerns the way that justice should function as a goal in political deliberation. For there to be an important difference between these views, the value of justice as a goal cannot be reducible to the overall good of citizens in community. Here is what I have in mind. Suppose that one affirms the following: that it is a human good for one to respond properly to others' good. This is part of the good of practical reasonableness, or excellence in agency. Part of what would make me well off is to act in a reasonable way with respect to others. Now, imagine a political community in which I, and everyone else in it, act in a reasonable way with respect to others' good. We are, to speak roughly, honoring everyone's rights, what is due to each of us with respect to our good. (27) Clearly, this state of affairs is worth pursuing. But given the claim that to respond reasonably to others' good is an aspect of one's well-being, it seems that (i) the importance of this state of affairs can be understood in the terms provided by the defender of the aggregative conception, (ii) the aggregative conception is superior in that it includes other relevant goods as well, and (iii) the common good of the community as a whole adds little or--I would say--nothing to the point of pursuing justice within a community.

(i) The capacity of the aggregative conception to provide an account of the point of the pursuit of justice as an end is straightforward, given the claim that practical reasonableness is a basic good. If it is a basic good, then the state in which an agent acts reasonably with respect to others is an instance of a basic good, something that makes that agent well off. But if it is something that makes the agent well off, it is part of the agent's individual good and thus part of the common good of that community aggregatively conceived. To the extent that justice can be broken down into proper responses by one agent to another, its value can be captured by the aggregative conception of the common good.

(ii) To the extent that the value of justice can be captured by the aggregative conception of the common good, the aggregative conception is superior to a view that focuses on justice alone. For there are other aspects of well-being besides reasonable response to others' good: it is arbitrary to focus on just relations to the exclusion of other goods. Besides, since justice involves responding properly to others' good, it would be very peculiar to deny the importance of others' good in an account of the common good that makes justice central.

(iii) The extent to which the value of justice can be captured by the aggregative conception is very great. When we consider the choiceworthiness of justice as a goal, we should probably consider the extent to which its choiceworthiness is bound up with making individuals well off--both intrinsically, to the extent that responding reasonably is a basic good, and instrumentally, to the extent that agents are often made worse off by injustice. Now ask: what is added to the choiceworthiness of justice by noting that "and what's more, it perfects the community as a whole"? It seems to me that very little normative pull indeed is exerted by this addendum.

We may be briefer with respect to the distinctive good of peace. Its instrumental value in promoting agents' well-being has always been clear. Further, we might add that there is a genuine intrinsic good in not being in discord with one's fellows: this is the negative aspect of the good of friendship. The argument follows the same course as the argument against the importance of the distinctive good of justice: that the good of peace can be accounted for in terms offered by the aggregative conception of the common good; that the aggregative conception is less arbitrary by allowing all other aspects of well-being into the picture; and that once the choiceworthiness of peace provided by individuals' good is bracketed, there seems to be little or nothing left for the distinctive good of peace to account for.

The distinctive good view rightly says that we sometimes speak of there being a good that is of the community as a whole. There are many other things besides political communities of which we may speak of their distinctive good: there is the good of football teams, of universities, of families, of trade unions, and so forth. But while nothing in my treatment of the particular features of Aquinas's representative distinctive good account commits me to anything more than that the distinctive good account of the common good that he offers takes its reason-giving force from the aggregative view, I am willing to generalize the point not only to other distinctive good theories of the common good but to distinctive good theories of all of these associations and institutions. To whatever extent the distinctive good of a football team, university, and so forth is worth promoting, respecting, honoring, the reasons to act in these ways derive not from the distinctive good of that association but from the good of the persons whose lives that association affects. Inasmuch as a distinctive good view distances itself from the good of persons, its normative hold on us is loosened. It is a virtue of the aggregative conception that it retains its normative hold through being entirely person-regarding.

A final point. I have challenged the distinctive good view practically, holding that it does not seem that the distinctive goods of political community as such provide us with reasons for action and that to the extent that they appear to provide such reasons it is only because of the way that these distinctive goods enter into the individual well-being of its members. There is, however, a very direct way to challenge the distinctive good view--metaphysically. Consider, for the sake of comparison, one of Parfit's lines of criticism of the self-interest theory of rationality: that personal identity is not some further fact, holding in an all-or-nothing fashion; rather, there are simply more-or-less tight psychological and physical continuities between earlier and later person-stages. (28) Parfit wields this thesis about the nature of personal identity against the self-interest view: the self-interest view presupposes that the relationship between my present and later selves is one of strict numerical identity, and inasmuch as it is not strict identity but rather a matter of more-or-less psychological continuity, the self-interest theory is irrational in its absolute insistence on a pattern of concern in which I care as much about my later self as I do about my present self and in which I give entire priority to my later self over any other party.

One could use this sort of metaphysical line of attack against the distinctive good view in a much more direct challenge. There is a difference, one might say, between what exists strictly speaking and what exists only loosely speaking; and human persons fall on the former side of this divide while communities and associations fall on the latter. Since only what exists can have a good, individual human persons can, strictly speaking, have goods; communities and associations can have goods in only a loose sense. Since it also seems to me that what is of fundamental practical importance must be referred to what is good really, and not just to what is good in a manner of speaking, a distinctive good conception of the common good just could not have the normative force that an aggregative conception has.

VI

My argument in favor of the aggregative conception of the common good is that we have strong reasons for allegiance to the common good thus conceived and that the other conceptions of the common good claim our allegiance only through the normative force of the common good aggregatively conceived. There are a number of questions about such a conception of the common good that need answering: How does the reason-giving force of the common good interact with one's own personal commitments, aims, projects? And does not the logic of the argument for the aggregative conception, which appeals to nonarbitrariness, push toward the conclusion that concern for the common good is merely a parochial interest that must be subordinated in practical thought to the unqualifiedly overall good, the good of all persons? At present, I have little to say about these matters, except that the status of the common good as "in-between"--not a simply personal end, but not the good impersonally considered either--pretty much guarantees that any theory of the common good is going to have to deal with these difficulties. These questions raise troubles for everyone interested in the normative character of the common good, not just for defenders of the aggregative view. (29)

I will instead conclude by considering a difficulty that arises especially for the aggregative conception due to the similarity that it bears both in its content and in the sort of defense offered for it to utilitarian theories of practical reasonableness. There is a serious worry that the correspondence between the aggregative conception of the common good and the utilitarian View of morality entails that the discontents of utilitarianism are bound to become the discontents of the aggregative view of the common good. The problem here is subordination--that since the utilitarian View implies, objectionably, that the individual's good must be subordinated in an inappropriate way to the overall good, the aggregative conception too must imply that the citizen's good must be subordinated in the same way to the good of the political community. Rawls puts the point this way in his discussion of utilitarianism as a principle governing the distribution of goods by the basic structure of society. On the utilitarian view, "society is rightly ordered, and therefore just, when its major institutions are arranged so as to achieve the greatest net balance of satisfaction summed over all the individuals belonging to it." (30) But, as Rawls notes,
 The striking feature of the utilitarian view of justice is that it
 does not matter, except indirectly, how this sum of satisfactions is
 distributed among individuals.... The correct distribution ... is
 that which yields the maximal fulfillment.... Thus there is no
 reason in principle why the greater gains of some should not
 compensate for the lesser losses of others; or more importantly,
 why the violation of the liberty of a few might not be made right
 by the greater good shared by many. It simply happens that under
 most conditions, at least in a reasonably advanced stage of
 civilization, the greatest sum of advantages is not attained in
 this way. No doubt the strictness of the common sense precepts of
 justice has a certain usefulness in limiting men's propensities
 to injustice and socially injurious actions, but the utilitarian
 believes that to affirm this strictness as a first principle of
 morals is a mistake. (31)


On Rawls's view, the central mistake of utilitarianism is its failure to "take seriously the distinction between persons" (32) by proposing that a sacrifice of one person's good can be simply compensated by a greater good realized by another. Given the similarity between the utilitarian picture of the overall good and the aggregative conception of the common good, the aggregative conception must be prone to this weakness as well.

If we grant that these implications are obnoxious--and I do grant that--then a defense of this objection to the aggregative view will have to fulfill two tasks. It will first have to show that the aggregative conception of the common good does not straightaway commit the defender of that view to endorsing the utilitarian mode of deliberating about how to advance the common good. Second, it will have to show that there is an alternative, more reasonable mode of deliberating about how to advance the common good that is not subject to the criticisms to which utilitarianism is susceptible. I will try to fulfill the first task and offer a tentative suggestion for how the second might be carried out.

We find in utilitarianism, I think, the following sensible line of thought. The highest end in ("ideal") moral deliberation is, on the utilitarian view, overall well-being. But we cannot realize everyone's well-being to the logical limit. Choices have to be made about whose good to promote and in what ways. Since everyone's well-being counts, everyone is to "count for one, and only for one." The only relevant differences are the amount of well-being that we can realize in the various options before us. If these are the only relevant differences, then the most obvious strategy is that of maximization: if the only thing that ultimately matters is agents' well-being, then what could be as reasonable as a strategy of maximization, of promoting as much well-being as one can? Certainly, in some cases, this may involve sacrificing some agents' good for the good of others--either letting their good languish, or even in destroying it, for the sake of greater good. But their being sacrificed is, after all, a result of the tough choices that agents have to make rather than their good being discounted in any way in deliberation.

To fulfill the first task--to show that the defender of the aggregative conception of the common good need not be subject to the criticisms leveled against utilitarianism's willingness to subordinate agents' good in objectionable ways--all that needs to be done is to show that affirming the overall good as the proper end to promote does not commit one to a maximizing theory of practical reasonableness in deliberation. This seems clear enough: for the defender of a maximizing strategy of deliberation must appeal to at least three other theses to justify the move from the overall good as a starting point in deliberation to the conclusion that maximization is a, let alone the only, reasonable strategy to determine how to go about responding to that good. (33)

First: the defense of the maximizing conception of reasonableness presupposes that what is right, or reasonable, is entirely a function of the nature of the good, that is, that the only guidelines to deliberation are those that can be gathered from the intrinsic features of the goods that one has reason to promote. But this can be sensibly denied: one might claim instead that there are side-constraints on reasonable action that are not derivable simply from the character of the good. (34) These side-constraints may very well limit the areas in which maximization is a reasonable deliberative strategy.

Second: the defense of the maximizing conception presupposes that what is right, or reasonable, is always best understood in terms of promotion of the good. But this can be sensibly denied: one might claim instead that there are other modes of reasonable response to goods besides that of promotion. What I have in mind here is primarily expressive action, that of honoring, respecting, or otherwise expressing one's relationship to them.

Third: the defense of the maximizing conception presupposes that what is right, or reasonable, can be determined by a weighing or summing of goods that are instantiated in different agents' lives; it presupposes, to the extent that it aims to govern deliberation, commensurability. But this can be sensibly denied: one might claim instead that the goods of different lives are incommensurable and as such cannot be placed on a common scale to be weighed off against each other.

The point, then, is that there are a number of claims that one has to affirm in addition to the claim that the common good of the political community is the aggregate of individual members' goods in order to arrive at the concededly objectionable maximizing view of practical reasonableness. One has to affirm the priority of the good to the right; one has to affirm promotionism (the view that the only reasonable response to goods is that of promotion); and one has to affirm the commensurability of different agents' goods. The rejection of any of these blocks the way to a maximizing view of practical reasonableness.

I would not reject the first of these three claims--the natural law view that I adopt shares with utilitarianism the view that the good is prior to the right, or the reasonable (35)--but I would reject the second and the third. The second of these is the hardest to make out; theories of practical reasonableness along promotionist lines are well developed, while the theory of reasonable expressive action is still quite underdeveloped. (36) But let me say a few tentative words about the third. One of the noteworthy, and much criticized, features of the "new natural law theory" of Finnis, Grisez, Boyle, and others is its emphasis on the incommensurability among goods. (37) Even if one accepts the incommensurability view, it still leaves deep questions about how we are to deliberate about how to advance the common good. We seem to be left with nothing more than that each of their goods is worth realizing, yet with respect to their value each is unique, nonfungible, irreplaceable. How could we possibly deliberate in a reasonable, nonarbitrary way about how to promote the common good when (a) all individuals' goods are included in that good, (b) not everyone's good can be fully realized, yet (c) none of their goods can be weighed against the others?

One important source of political judgment can be found by noting that even though maximization is ruled out, the requirement of impartiality remains in force. All of these goods have a place in the common good; none can be dismissed. What we need is something to make the requirements of impartiality more vivid, a way to try to ensure that decisions about how to advance the common good are made in a way that is impartial among the various individuals' goods that make up the common good. Here is an example. The defender of the aggregative conception of the common good looking for such a procedure might turn to a suitably modified Rawlsian account, in which the requirements of impartiality in promoting the common good can be modeled by way of an agreement of parties, each of which represents an agent's good. (38) Surely the details of the agreement situation will differ: we might well allow that distributions might be affected by the intrinsic unreasonableness of some agents' ends, as agents in such an original position would be aware that there is such a thing as worthwhile and worthless plans of life, and that there are other principles of practical reasonableness that constrain their agreement. But the agreement situation is a helpful model since we know that rational agents can come to agreements that are nonarbitrary in content even when they do not place their ends on a common scale to be weighed off against each other. (39)

Of course, there is no reason to think that how the aggregative common good should be determined for the sake of common action must be entirely decided by the demands of practical reasonableness. As an analogy: think of one's own ideal individual good, the condition in which one is enjoying to the logical limit all of the aspects of well-being that make one's life go well. Surely this is an ideal unrealizable in practice, an ideal that will have to be pruned and molded if one is to pursue in a fruitful way a realistically attainable vision of a good life. But even if deliberation will take one some way in deciding how to reshape this ideal for the sake of action, there is no reason to think that deliberation will take one all the way: at some point, choices undetermined by reasons have to be made.

So it may well be--indeed, it seems pretty obvious that it must be--that how the unrealistically ideal aggregative common good will yield a realistic, proximate object of common political pursuit will be a matter for free political choice. But even here it is not as if it will be a matter of indifference which political structures are in place that will determine what counts as the community's choice on matters related to the common good. It may be, for example, one of the demands of impartiality that all citizens have an equal share with respect to the making of discretionary choices about the determination of the common good. (40) So some of the rational constraints with respect to the determination of the common good may concern not how agents are to reason with respect to the question of how to determine it for the sake of common action but what procedures should be in place for deciding such questions once the resources for rational deliberation run out.

The discontents of utilitarianism, then, are not the discontents of an aggregative conception of the common good. We can affirm the aggregative conception of the common good while rejecting a maximizing conception of practical reasonableness; and this combination of views need not lead to mere arbitrariness in deciding how to act in response to the common good. (41)

Georgetown University

Correspondence to: Department of Philosophy, 215 New North, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1076.

(1) Some writers think that Hobbesian agents, either in accepting the laws of nature or in entering the covenant to obey the sovereign, are transformed such that they do share ends in this way. This is at least a plausible reading of Hobbes, though it raises different argumentative difficulties for him. At any rate, "Hobbesian" is meant here to indicate a type of view of the common good, of which Hobbes's actual view may or may not be an example.

(2) I discuss this Hobbesian case with respect to the good of community in Natural Law and Practical Rationality (hereafter, "Practical Rationality") (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 126-7.

(3) This is of course fully incompatible with the point that a great deal of one's flourishing cannot be directly brought about through law or policy.

(4) Or so I say: but see below the response that a defender of the distinctive good conception might offer.

(5) Finnis also ascribes this conception of the common good to Aquinas; for critique, see Michael Pakaluk, "Is the Common Good of Political Society Limited and Instrumental?" Review of Metaphysics 55 (2001): 57-94.

(6) John Finnis, "Natural Law Theory and Limited Government" (hereafter, "Limited Government"), in Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality, ed. Robert George (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 5; see also Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (hereafter, "Natural Law") (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 147. In providing such an account he takes himself to be following John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (Chicago: Discoveries Press, 1962), [section] 65, in which the common good is said to be "the sum total of those conditions of social living whereby men are enabled more fully and readily to achieve their perfection."

(7) See also Robert George, Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

(8) Finnis's list in Natural Law includes life, knowledge, aesthetic experience, play, practical reasonableness, friendship and community, and religion (86-90). In later writings he has altered his account in a couple of important ways: (i) he has widened play to include the skillful performances involved in work; and (ii) he has included as a distinct form of good the special form of interpersonal communion he calls "the marital good."

(9) Finnis's list in Natural Law includes requirements to form a coherent life plan, to exhibit appropriate commitment to and detachment from that plan, to exhibit no arbitrary preferences among the basic goods, to exhibit no arbitrary preferences among persons that can participate in these goods, to act efficiently within the constraints set by the other principles, to respect every basic good in every act, to foster the common good of one's communities, and to follow one's conscience (103-26).

(10) Finnis, Natural Law, 125.

(11) To take just a couple of examples: in arguing for a principle of impartiality among those that can enjoy the basic goods, Finnis emphasizes the agent-neutral character of the basic goods; and in arguing for the claim that it is always wrong to intend to destroy an instance of a basic good for the sake of a distinct instance of a basic good, he argues that the rejection of the view is predicated on the commensurability of these instances of basic good, but that in fact distinct instances of basic good are incommensurable. See Finnis, Natural Law, 106-9, 118-25.

(12) Finnis, Natural Law, 88.

(13) Finnis, "Limited Government," 7.

(14) This view of the common good as ideal is also articulated in Clarke E. Cochran, "Yves R. Simon and 'the Common Good': A Note on the Concept," Ethics 88 (1978): 229-39 at 236, where Cochran ascribes this conception of the common good to Simon.

(15) For its classic formulation, see Pope Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno, in Contemporary Catholic Social Teaching (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1991 [first published 1931]), [section] 79.

(16) Finnis, "Limited Government," 6.

(17) See, for a nice discussion, Christopher Wolfe's "Subsidiarity: The 'Other' Ground of Limited Government," in Catholicism, Liberalism, and Communitarianism, ed. Kenneth Grasso, Gerard Bradley, and Robert Hunt (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995), 81-96.

(18) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (hereafter, "ST") I-II, q. 96, a. 3. Aquinas also refers to justice as part of the common good at ST I-II, q. 19, a. 10 and II-II, q. 33, a. 6; he refers to peace as "the good of the multitude" at ST I, q. 103, a. 2, obj. 1 (not denied), and calls the peace of the political community good in itself (and presumably a common good) at ST II-II, q. 123, a. 5, ad 3.

(19) ST II-II, q. 57, a. 1.

(20) ST II-II, q. 29, a. 1; in holding that peace goes beyond absence of discord to the presence of an ordering within the political community, Aquinas takes himself to be following Augustine, who calls the peace of the community the "tranquility of order." See St. Augustine, City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (New York: Penguin, 1972), 870.

(21) For a fuller discussion of Aquinas's account of the common good, see my "Consent, Custom, and the Common Good in Aquinas's Account of Political Authority," Review of Politics 59 (1997): 323-50 at 335-43, and John Finnis, "Public Good: The Specifically Political Common Good in Aquinas," in Natural Law and Moral Inquiry: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the Work of Germain Grisez, ed. Robert George (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998), 174-209.

(22) It should go without saying that the individualism of the aggregative conception is not egoism. One often finds, though, in accounts of distinctive good conceptions of the common good arguments that seem to be of the form: if one rejects the distinctive good conception of the common good, one must be going in for a conception of the common good as mere means to one's own private good; but this latter conception of the common good is absurd, vicious, a form of egoism; therefore, and so forth. But there is nothing remotely egoistic about the aggregative conception of the common good.

(23) There would be trouble for the natural law theorist that denied the existence of goods irreducibly social in this sense, though, but defenders of such a position are few and far between.

(24) For relevant texts see STI-II, q. 19, a. 10; II-II, q. 26, a. 3; II-II, q. 26, a. 4, ad 3; II-II, q. 31, a. 3, ad 2; and II-II, q. 47, a. 10.

(25) Louis Dupre, "The Common Good and the Open Society," Review of Politics 55 (1993): 687-712 at 687.

(26) Ralph McInerny, "The Primacy of the Common Good," in Art and Prudence: Studies in the Thought of Jacques Maritain (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 77-91 at 90.

(27) don't assume here that what counts as responding reasonably to others' goods can be determined atomistically, that is, in isolation from the way that others act. What I am suggesting here is that we can see a value in such reasonable response apart from merely as an aspect of a good of the community as a whole.

(28) Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 307-47.

(29) The proof of this is just that we can raise for the instrumental and distinctive good conceptions analogous questions with analogous force. We can ask the defender of the instrumentalist conception: "What is the relationship between the reasons for me to promote the conditions that can help to make all in my community well-off and the reasons for me to promote the conditions that can help me (and my friends) to be well-off?" And, "Why should I not aim at the conditions that all persons, not just those in my community, can draw on to further their own reasonable ends?" We can ask the defender of the distinctive good conception, "What is the relationship between the reasons for me to promote the distinctive good of my political community and the reasons for me to promote my own individual good (or the distinctive good of my family)?" And, "Why should I not aim at the realization of the distinctive goods of all political communities, not just my own?"

(30) John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. (hereafter, "Theory") (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 20.

(31) Ibid., 23.

(32) Ibid., 24.

(33) See Murphy, Practical Rationality, 142-56.

(34) One could try to make this claim out as Dworkin does, that the pursuit of goals can be trumped by individual rights. See Ronald Dworkin, "Hard Cases," in Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977), 81-130 at 90-4.

(35) See Murphy, Practical Rationality, 1-3.

(36) But see Elizabeth Anderson, Value in Ethics and Economics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

(37) Here are the basics of the way that incommensurability arguments have been run in recent natural law thought. (The idea is from Germain Grisez, "Against Consequentialism," American Journal of Jurisprudence 23 [1978]: 21-72; I endorse the main lines of this argument in Practical Rationality, 182-7.) Say that an agent A confronts a "practically significant choice" if (a) A has a reason to [phi] which is not identical with any reason that A has to [psi]; (b) A has a reason to [psi] which is not identical with any reason that A has to [phi]; (c) it is possible for A to [phi]; (d) it is possible for A to [psi]; and (e) [phi]-ing is incompatible with [psi]-ing. The idea is first to show a connection between practically significant choice and incommensurability. Consider a situation in which an agent A faces a practically significant choice between two plans of action, one of which, the plan of action of [phi]-ing, has reason (or set of reasons) R as its rationale, and the other of which, the plan of action of [psi]-ing, has reason (or set of reasons) S as its rationale. According to the "general incommensurability thesis," in all such cases R and S are incommensurable. If they were commensurable, then A would not face a practically significant choice between them: for either it would be the case that every reason that A had to [psi] would be a reason that A had to [phi], and A would have additional reasons to [phi] as well, or it would be the case that every reason that A had to [phi] would be a reason that A had to [psi], and A would have additional reasons to [psi] as well. (I ignore ties, where one has every reason to take one option as to take the other; these are choices that are practically insignificant through indifference.) In either case, A does not face a practically significant choice. Thus, in every practically significant choice, the reasons for action involved are incommensurable.

This does not say what the scope of practically significant choice is. But here we might just appeal to the fact that when we choose to promote one agent's good rather than another's, the choice is not like that between taking five dollars and taking one dollar; in the latter choice, everything that is worth pursuing in the latter option is present in the former option, and the former option has more besides. This is decidedly not the case in promoting intrinsic goods in distinct persons. Given the invariable practically significant quality of choosing between agents' goods, all such choices are between incommensurable goods.

(38) Rawls suggests that the original position is appropriate because of persons' equality (Theory, 17), but this strikes me as misleading, or at least not dispositive. If they are equal, why shouldn't we treat citizens' systems of ends as equally valuable, and then proceed to trade them off against each other? The separateness of persons point does not seem to help here. After all, each of the one-dollar bills in my wallet is separate from each of the others, but fungible with each of the others; there is nothing unreasonable about trading them off, of sacrificing one in order to gain three, and so forth.

(39) See, for example, David Gauthier, Morals by Agreement (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

(40) For arguments along these lines see Thomas Christiano, The Rule of the Many (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1996) and Henry S. Richardson, Democratic Autonomy: Public Reasoning about the Ends of Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

(41) was supported by a fellowship from the Erasmus Institute at Notre Dame during the writing of this essay, for which I am most grateful. I owe thanks to the other scholars in residence there, who gave me useful feedback on the argument of this essay. I also presented an early version of this paper at a summer seminar at Calvin College led by Nick Wolterstorff; I am in debt to my fellow seminar members and to the seminar leader for the forceful criticism they offered.
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Title Annotation:metaphysical papers
Author:Murphy, Mark C.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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