1.3.9 ‘Integral human development’

Back to 1.3.8

Unit 1 Contents


In this part of this unit, we looked first at justice, next at the common good, and then at five CST principles that can all be seen as specifying what justice requires.

You will recall that we gave some attention to how justice and the common good are related.  The basic points here are two.  First, justice is a prerequisite of the common good.  To the extent that there is injustice, the common good is impossible.  Second, the common good, in its meaning as the goal of human social life, goes beyond justice.  It is more than justice.  Once there is justice, the common good is an end or aim that we can pursue together.

On this screen we look at another principle found in CST, ‘integral human development’, or as it’s sometimes called, ‘authentic human development’.  We shall give this a lot of attention later in this module.  This is because we shall study international development – i.e. how extensive poverty in the global South can be addressed and overcome – and it is in connection with this that CST has had most to say about ‘integral human development’.  This focus is especially clear in the most recent papal encyclical that contributes to CST, Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, issued in 2009.

However this concept was far from new in this encyclical, and it doesn’t relate only to efforts to overcome poverty and deprivation.  This is because ‘integral human development’ is CST’s term for the human fulfilment that God intends for all persons – including you.

‘Integral human development’ goes beyond justice.  It is, in this way, like ‘the common good’.  Indeed justice is a prerequisite of such human fulfilment, just as it is of the common good.  The principles of integral human development and the common good can be seen, in this respect, as similar or parallel.  The both describe, not just prerequisites of something else, but ends or goals which we aim towards.

This might seem confusing because it begs the question of how integral human development and the common good are related to each other.  Hold this question!  We shall look at it in a moment.  First, we need to try to understand ‘integral human development’ itself.

While human dignity is something that must be respected, ‘integral human development’ refers to what must take place in each person’s life.  The insistence that this is ‘integral’, or ‘authentic’, communicates that it must be understood holistically – that is, it must take the whole human person into account and not be based only on material or economic factors (for example).  It must, therefore, incorporate an understanding of the human person as made for relationship with God, his or her “capacity for transcendence” (Gaudium et Spes, #24).

Authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension. Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space. Enclosed within history, it runs the risk of being reduced to the mere accumulation of wealth… (Caritas in Veritate, #11, italics in original; cf. Compendium, #130)

The principle was first expressed in CST in the context of general concern with human fulfilment, rather than in relation narrowly to economics.  We find the idea articulated in the Second Vatican Council document, Gaudium et Spes, in relation to the “proper development of culture”.  Referring to the obligation that all people have to build a “more human world”, the text says that this activity “gives to human culture its eminent place in the integral vocation of man”.  It continues,

When man develops the earth by the work of his hands or with the aid of technology, in order that it might bear fruit and become a dwelling worthy of the whole human family…, he carries out the design of God manifested at the beginning of time, that he should subdue the earth, perfect creation and develop himself. At the same time he obeys the commandment of Christ that he place himself at the service of his brethren. (Gaudium et Spes, #57, italics added)

In turn, this reflects a very longstanding affirmation in Catholic thought that if humans are to reach their proper fulfilment, as intended by God, they need to be able to give expression to all the dimensions of their humanness.

Of course, describing what I refer to here as the different ‘dimensions’ of humanness is a challenge, and no doubt it can be done in different ways.  The most influential thinker of the past 1000 years in Catholic Christianity is St Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican monk who lived in the thirteenth century.  In his vast corpus of work, we find a short passage that basically describes human fulfilment in terms of three dimensions:

  • what we need for mere survival
  • what we need as animals
  • what we need as uniquely rational creatures.[1]

He left it somewhat unclear whether our openness to transcendence, and ultimately to communion with God, fits within the third of those, or whether we can see it more fruitfully as a fourth, spiritual dimension.

In recent decades, moral philosophers and people working in international development have put a lot of effort into working out descriptions of human wellbeing in terms of several more dimensions than suggested by Aquinas.  You have the opportunity to consider some of these later in Module B.

But the main point to appreciate here is that the principle of ‘integral human development’ refers to the end or goal of people becoming as fully human as possible, in all the dimensions of their God-given humanness, however these should exactly be distinguished.



If you had to try to list distinct ‘dimensions’ of integral human development, what would you include?


But we need to address the question I raised above and asked you to hold.  How is ‘integral human development’ related to the ‘common good’?  Both of these can be seen as specifying an end or goal of human living.  Are they in tension with one another, or even contradictory?  Or are they consistent?

In fact, in the context of the vision of the world that CST gives overall, they are two different ways of referring to the same thing.  A person’s integral human development is found in participation in the common good.  And vice versa: the common good is nothing other than the true and integral good of persons.

This may seem odd, or over-simple, or mere words, or just baffling!  But it does withstand careful reflection.  The point here is really the same one I made in describing the common good in 1.3.2.  The common good is not contradictory to your good or my good.  Rather, the good of each of us is found in our exercising our own particular abilities and gifts in ways that help to generate the common good, and simultaneously enable us to benefit from it.

I used some analogies to explain this, such as an orchestra and a football match.  These can assist again.  It is as the violinist and the trumpeter, or the centre half and the striker, fulfil these roles as well as they possibly can, that both of two things happen.  They each reach their own fulfilment as players, and the common good of the music or the game comes to exist for all involved.

While ‘integral human development’ focuses on the good of each particular person, and ‘the common good’ refers to the wider picture of people together, these two terms are different ways of speaking about the same thing.

But immediately we must enter a huge caveat: this is CST’s vision, but no-one is foolish enough not to recognize that it will never be able to be fully achieved in the real world.  We can work towards it and make progress – CST certainly affirms this – and if we don’t things will just get worse.  But human limitations, imperfections and sin mean that this will always be hard, with steps backwards as well as forward.  In this respect, CST is much more realistic than some of the main forms of both liberalism and socialism which have been ‘utopian’.  They have been characterized, in other words, by an over-optimistic belief that their vision of the ideal society could fairly easily be made real.



Can you see how, on this understanding, ‘integral human development’ fits together with ‘the common good’?

Would you agree that this vision is not widely grasped in contemporary Western cultures, because in all sorts of ways these celebrate individuals without an understanding of how each person’s good is truly found in common with others? Many observers of modern Western societies would agree with this.

But maybe this is over-simple: after all, it is obvious that many people greatly value ‘irreducibly common goods’ in these cultures, such as live sports and live musical performances.



[1] St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, Q. 94, Art. 2 (accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2094.htm#article2)


End of 1.3.9

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Module B outline

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