General Election 2017: The Common Good
I haven’t written anything for this blog for a few week as my time has been dominated by the recent County Council elections. Now they are over I can relax. Well, that was the plan! I am also the selected Green Party parliamentary candidate for West Dorset, and a general election has been called – so the relaxation has been put on hold for five weeks. For this campaign I’ve decided to write a short series of blogs that outline my personal manifesto. Whilst I very much doubt that this will vary a great deal from the Green Party manifesto (when it is published) I must stress that the views expressed are my own – no one else’s. So criticise me not the Green Party.
Two and a half thousand years ago, Aristotle made the following observation. Everything we do, we do for a purpose – to achieve some end, some good. I walk the dogs for the good of their and my health. I drink cider to support the local economy – seriously, I think it my duty! But each of these ends or goods are, in turn, pursued for some higher good. I seek good health because it gives me a better quality of life, and I support the local economy because it makes for a more thriving community. And ultimately all these further ends become means to achieve one ultimate end or good – what Aristotle termed the greatest good. This he called eudaimonia, often translated as happiness, thought better translated as flourishing.
Aristotle’s view is often criticised these days for being too individualistic – for encouraging the individual to focus on their own happiness. What he probably did not fully appreciate was that our individual happiness or flourishing is interdependent on the flourishing of others in our community, and the flourishing of individual communities is interdependent on the flourishing of other communities and the whole of society. So the final, total and complete end or good of everything we do could be understood as the flourishing of humanity itself. And as this flourishing has to be, to a very large degree, a shared flourishing, it is in effect the greatest, greatest good! This, for me, describes the common good.
However, this flourishing gets even more complex. The flourishing of humanity is totally dependent upon the environment in which it is embedded, from which it draws its food, water, energy, raw materials and air to breath, and into which it dumps its waste (for example it’s carbon and nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere and its soft plastics into the oceans). What this means of course is that whatever we regard as constitutive of human happiness or flourishing has to be achieved with the limits set by our environment. There is absolutely no way round this. These limits are set. Exceed them and bad things start to happen (sorry, did that sound a bit Trumpish?). Species other than humans don’t need to concern themselves with this – as soon as they start to exceed the limits of their environment they start to die off. If they continue they become extinct. Why do we consider ourselves so very much different?
Bearing in mind the interdependence of human life, a rough and ready description of human flourishing would be that the needs of everyone (and by everyone I mean everyone in the world, the whole of humanity) are met – that everyone has sufficient food, clean air, fresh water, warm, dry and safe shelter, and are healthy, have access to education, are free from persecution, and free to participate in social and political life. And all this needs to be achieved within the natural limits imposed by our environment. Achieving this the biggest challenge we face. This is the common good that we need to be seeking. Our goal, therefore, can be summed up as: To meet the needs of everyone within the means set by our planet. In the next thrilling episode of this blog I will examine the political aspects of this goal in a little more detail.