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The Common Good

A Nonaggregative Concern

(Last Updated On: April 9, 2019)

Most conceptions of the common good define a form of practical reasoning that fits the model of solidarity. Many social relationships require a form of solidarity among those who stand in the relationship. Solidarity here basically involves one person giving a certain subset of the interests of another person a status in her reasoning that is analogous to the status that she gives to her own interests in her reasoning (see, e.g., Aristotle NE 1166a1–33). For example, if my friend needs a place to sleep tonight, friendship requires that I should offer him my couch. I have to do this because friendship requires that I reason about events that affect my friend’s basic interests as if these events were affecting my own basic interests in a similar way. A conception of the common good typically requires citizens to maintain certain facilities because these facilities serve certain common interests. So when citizens reason as the conception requires, they effectively give the interests of their fellow citizens a status in their reasoning that is analogous to the status that they give to their own interests in their reasoning.
An example will make the idea more intuitive. According to Rousseau, a properly ordered political community is “a form of association that will defend and protect the person and goods of each associate with the full common force” (1762b [1997: 49]). Citizens in this community are united by a solidaristic form of mutual concern that is focused on (among other things) their common interests in physical security and property. This form of mutual concern requires each citizen to respond to an attack on the body or property of a fellow citizen as if this were an attack on her own body and property. When extended over all members, this form of mutual concern requires the whole community to respond to an attack on any individual member as if this were an attack on every member. In this sense, “the full common force” stands behind each person’s physical security and property. Or, as Rousseau sometimes puts it, “one cannot injure one of the members without attacking the body, and still less can one injure the body without the members being affected”

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