New Perspectives from Legal and Political Theory
Edited By Antonia Geisler, Michael Hein and Siri Hummel
The Common Good and Individual Rights
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Paradoxically, even though starting from a markedly individualist approach, the modern counterparts of the classical idea of public good, the Rousseauian concept of ‘volonté générale’ and the utilitarian notion of ‘public interest’ both tend to supersede and neglect the individual’s will, interest and rights. To be sure, the original Aristotelian understanding of the common good also implies that in case of conflict the good of the community should take precedence over that of the individual. Nevertheless, in the classical way of thinking the public and the private good are seen as typically existing in harmony with one another rather than in a state of conflict. In this chapter I seek to elucidate the ontological presuppositions and conceptual premises underlying the classical theory of the common good which, in my view, allow to avoid both the reduction and the opposition of the common good to individual goods and rights.
In this chapter I will present, albeit in a tentative and sketchy way, the essential outlines of a concept of the common good which is meaningful, coherent, viable and at the same time compatible with the idea of individual rights. In doing so I will use the more comprehensive and traditional term ‘good’ rather than that of ‘right’, and I will rely mainly on the thoughtful analysis of ‘atomist’ and holist ontologies offered by Charles Taylor (see esp. Taylor 1985, Taylor 1997a, Taylor 1997b), and on the now classic essay...
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