By Fred Kammer, S.J.
Critical to Catholic thinking is the fundamental concept of the common good. The Catechism, following Pope John XXIII in Mater et Magistra and Vatican II, defines the common good as: “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”1 The common good applies to each human community, but its most complete realization occurs in the political community where the state’s role is “to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.”2
Three Essential Elements
The Catechism notes three essential elements of the common good: respect for the individual, the social well-being and development of the group, and peace which results from the stability of a just society. The common good’s conceptual roots lie in Greek and Roman philosophy as the goal of political life, the good of the city (pólis), and the task entrusted to civic leaders.3
Regarding the first essential of individual respect, the Catechism notes that all “public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person.”4 This means far more than the utilitarian “greatest good for the greatest number,” but insists that majorities respect individual rights.
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