5.2.1 The ‘universal destination of material goods’

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Unit 5 Contents


It makes sense to say that, during the 120 years since Rerum Novarum, CST has broadened the range of topics it addresses.  One way in which it has done this is that, using terms introduced earlier (5.1.1), it has moved beyond a focus on work in its ‘subjective’ sense to address business and economics more generally, i.e. to the ‘objective’ work of private sector business.

On this, the chapter of the Compendium headed ‘Economic Life’ is especially useful as it brings together what are otherwise aspects of teaching found in a range of earlier documents.  The main task in this part of the unit will be to work through this chapter.  It is shorter than most encyclicals and the commentary on screen should assist.

One earlier statement that is highly significant on this topic is John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus, which marked the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum in 1991. However you will not be asked to read directly from Centesimus Annus in this unit, even though we shall focus on some texts from it (which are quoted in the Compendium).  That is simply because this encyclical will be set as reading in Unit 8.

Since the Compendium’s publication in 2004, Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate of 2009 has developed Catholic teaching on the economy in a striking and provocative way.  He calls for the practice of business to include an element of gift.  He is not talking about bribes or sweeteners, so what on earth can this mean?  In order to try to understand it, we shall look also at some of Caritas in Veritate later in this unit.

In terms of the main texts of CST, then, this unit will focus on one chapter in the Compendium, which itself quotes extensively from earlier documents, and on part of Caritas in Veritate.

We begin with revision and development of what you have already looked at in Unit 2, the principle of the ‘universal destination of material goods’.  This principle is connected with CST’s understanding of the common good – because what it means is basically that what people do with material goods should contribute to the common good.  More specifically, even when we use material goods to benefit those close to us, or ourselves, this should contribute to enabling people to live in ways that help to generate the common good.  For example, if you act to benefit your children materially, this should not be only for their sake or your family’s sake.  It should be also to enable them to contribute to the common good through their own lives.  In this way, your care for your children has its ‘universal destination’ in the common good.

The principle insists that all private ownership, investment, production, buying and selling must have as their indirect aim to help to generate the common good. Such activities are always unacceptable if they are exclusively for someone’s private benefit.

Before the first reading from the Compendium’s chapter on ‘Economic Life’, you are asked to look again at a few pages from earlier in this volume on the universal destination of goods.  These were set as a reading in Unit 2 (2.2.10).  The last section in the reading brings out how this principle is connected with the ‘preferential option for the poor’.


Re-reading (7pp)

Compendium, ##171-184 (Chap 4, part III)

The link will take you directly to the start of this reading, as will those for subsequent readings from the Compendium.




What are your first thoughts on what the principle of the ‘universal destination of goods’ means for each of the main kinds of economic activity that were distinguished in the first part of this unit?

1. Investment

2. Supply of primary products, manufactured goods, and services

3. Trade: buying and selling

4. Consumption: buying in retail markets

The answer to this question will become clearer as we go through this unit.



End of 5.2.1

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