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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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4. Plato’s idealization of the Common Good as valuable knowledge


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4.  Plato’s idealization of the Common Good as valuable knowledge

Plato sets clear priorities regarding the individual’s choice of what is good. According to Plato’s view, there can be no doubt that the Common Good is of greater value than our own (individual or private) good. In philosophical terms, this distinction of priorities relates to different motivations of how to look at things.

Plato’s remark that we should prefer the common good over our own good [Laws 875a] may be explained by a division between a practical and a reflective level. If we ask how we should decide the considerations that should guide our action, our question arouses at the reflective level, and we answer by appeal to our own happiness. If we then ask what considerations should guide our action if we aim at our own happiness, our question arises at the practical level, and we answer that considerations about the common good should guide us. We do not give priority to the common good at the practical level because we have already found, at the reflective level, that this policy achieves our happiness. (Irwin 2010: 103)

According to Plato, embracing the good, the Common Good as its sublime expression, is equal to moving on the path toward fulfillment and happiness. In Plato’s ethical discourse, we do not find considerations about concepts such as duties or responsibilities, that is about ideas that are typical of modern philosophical elaborations on...

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