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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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5. Plato’s demands for the materialization of the Common Good


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5.  Plato’s demands for the materialization of the Common Good

Plato is well aware that the achievement of the Common Good is no property that, once achieved, would be eternally secured for the community to profit from. The Common Good may be compared to a small plant that needs nurturing and caring to guarantee that it grows stronger which requires the readiness to ward off agents that could do harm to it. In practice, a kind of balance has to be established between the Common Good and the self-interest of the individuals who share in communitarian benefits, and this balance provides the conditions for the “communitarian plant” to grow.

The idea of the common good of an institution shows that institutions cannot reach their optimal performance and due diligence without anticipating their common good in the self-interested decisions of the people acting in them. The interest on the realization of optimal performance and due diligence leads to acknowledging the inevitable task to consider as well the common good as the self-interest of its members in the governance of institutions, be they political or economic. (Koslowski 2004: 32)

Although Plato does not explicitly ask for actions from the individuals to defend the Common Good, that is he does not specify duties or responsibilities, he nevertheless makes provisions for keeping up communal order and integrity. In Plato’s view, the struggle for the Common Good includes the readiness to make sacrifices for the...

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