In Quest of the Common Good

Jean Keller, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University


Philosophers often debate whether there is a common good and in what it might consist. My concern is somewhat different. My premise is that there are multiple plausible candidates for goods that benefit humanity as a whole, including but not limited to maintaining an environment conducive to human (and other) forms of life and caring for the next generation. The challenge we face is not so much one of theorizing the common good but rather that the insights theorists provide seem so distant from political and social reality that they have little or no practical effect on public discourse and public policies. Identifying and addressing the obstacles that prevent us, as citizens and political actors, from identifying and pursuing the common good are ethically significant in themselves, as we need to think carefully about how to create the kind of society that promotes and sustains interest in and commitment to the common good. In this talk, I addressed some of the individual and societal challenges that prevent the common good from becoming a significant factor in our public discourse, along with some initial suggestions for ameliorating them.