2.2.8 Response to Exercise

It is in the fourth and fifth paragraphs (from “There is a correlation…”) that Maritain shows how a proper understanding of the common good is different from those two reductionist views.

The two central concepts of his whole argument, ‘the person’ and ‘the common good’, form the basis on which he opposes those views.

In the fourth paragraph, he refers to the way in which the common good is itself “received in” and so is the good of persons. (This is like the way people at a concert all “receive” the common good which the event generates.)  That means that, in principle, there is no contradiction between each person’s good and the common good.

In the same paragraph, he contrasts this with an individualistic view in which the good of ‘society’ is understood entirely in terms of each separate individual’s good.  “Such a conception would dissolve society as such to the advantage of its parts…”

In the fifth paragraph, he points out that, if “the good of the social body” is not understood to be the good of persons, this will lead to the opposite kind of problem, “errors of a totalitarian type”.  People would end up sacrificed for the alleged good of the whole.

He then sums up the way the common good differs from both those views:

The common good… is neither the mere collection of private goods [i.e. the goods of each individual seen as separate from one another], nor the proper good of the whole which, like… the hive with respect to its bees, relates the part to itself alone and sacrifices them to itself.  It is the good human life of the multitude, of a multitude of persons; it is their communion in good living.  (Italics in original)


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