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Plato's ideal of the Common Good

Anatomy of a concept of timeless significance

Harald Haarmann

This study documents various historical instances in the development of the concept «Common Good». The author reflects about Plato's theory of Forms, which is infused with the idea of good, as the first principle of being. Plato was not the first philosopher to address the theme of the Common Good although he was the first to construct a political theory around it. This theme has remained a central agenda for philosophers throughout the ages

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Epilogue: The Common Good – Contested perspectives of community life


What was the fate of Plato’s political theory? Have his ideas been developed by subsequent generations of philosophers? Is there a continuous legacy of Plato’s political ideas in western philosophy? Surprising as it may seem, this is not the case. “It is notable that the political concerns of Plato, as expressed in the Republic for example, took virtually no part in shaping the tradition of thought commonly described as Platonic” (Howatson 2011: 455).

The two most prominent representatives of Neoplatonism, Plotinus (third century AD) and Proclus (fifth century AD) cared much about Plato’s world of ideas but neither of them was much interested in the domain of political conceptualizations. Plotinus makes an effort to systematize the features that Plato attributes to goodness in his discourse but he does not seem interested in the political implications of Plato’s concept of the Common Good (Mutchinick 2013). Yet, some fundamental conceptions of Plato’s political scheme enjoyed continuity although in a domain different from philosophy. This other domain was theology.

Of all the Platonic dialogues that have been preserved, the Timaeus is the only work that has been continuously studied from antiquity through the Middle Ages into the nineteenth century (when it was marginalized in favor of the Republic), and for the longest time in the history of philosophy this dialogue was considered preeminent.

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