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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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3. The Common Good: Its role as an agent of social cohesion


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3.  The Common Good: Its role as an agent of social cohesion

While the basic idea of the Common Good persisted in the tradition of self-governance of the village communities from Neolithic times onwards, certain organizational forms were created to make the essence of the Common Good materialize, and such agencies are recorded among the early Greeks. Knowledge about the older manifestations of the Common Good was also available to Plato and this knowledge enhanced the elaborations of his political theory.

In the ancient sources, we find accounts of agencies and institutions that have as their agenda the promotion of the Common Good. These agencies played a key role for the formative process of Hellenic unity (i.e. pan-Hellenism), during the time when a sentiment of all-Hellenic cultural unity emerged and consolidated among the Greeks. The focal points from which pan-Hellenism spread throughout the Greek world were the sanctuaries of Delphi and Olympia. It is in the milieu of these holy places, frequented by many Greeks throughout antiquity, that a sense of the significance of the Common Good gave shape to Greek identity.

Pan-Hellenism as a signifier of the Common Good: Cultural stereotyping and the emergence of Greek ethnicity

The idea of the Common Good in Plato’s political scheme of an ideal state is not unconditional, not meant for any culture or any society, or all people. Plato addresses Greeks and those who have become Hellenized through the medium...

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