The Invisible Hand and Thinness of the Common Good
The term “the common good” has a long history going back at least to Plato for whom it means social virtue. For Aristotle it took on a political meaning. Thomas Aquinas gave the concept its classical form, but in the process gave it a theological twist, according to which both individuals and all humanity have a common destiny or end, the attainment of the Summum Bonum or eternal life with God, to which other ends should be subordinated. It is this notion that was rejected by modern philosophers from Descartes and Locke onward, as they denied a common teleological end for all and, from an individualistic perspective emphasized the importance of the individual person, whether through a utilitarian calculation or a doctrine of human rights.1 Similarly, the resulting individualism represented by modern philosophy was adopted by modern economists as the presupposition of self-interested individuals each interacting for his or her own good.
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