We are more important than I

I am almost giddy with today’s learnings!

From my reading:

For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete whether to attain or to preserve (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I.2)

And from St Thomas:

Hence, he concludes, the end of political science is the good of man, that is, the supreme end of human things [sic; beings?]. (Commentary on Nicomachean Ethics, I.2.29)

Certainly it is a part of that love which should exist among men that a man preserve the good even of a single human being. But it is much better and more divine that this be done for a whole people and for states. It is even sometimes desirable that this be done for one state only, but it is much more divine that it be done for a whole people that includes many states. This is said to be more divine because it shows greater likeness to God who is the ultimate cause of all good. (Commentary on Nicomachean Ethics, I.2.30)

I suppose that more about this will be said later, but it is there from the beginning too: the common good is better than the good of the individual. Please note that neither Aristotle nor St Thomas says that the good of one man is of no account. Of course it is. But surely it is beyond all argument that it is better for us to enjoy a given good thing rather than just me myself. And likewise, it is better for all the human race to enjoy that same good than for only us Americans or just me myself to do so. I mean, isn’t it? Of course it is.

Also, note that no sense of a royal we is what they have in mind. For that would boil down to the good of a single man (the king, or president, or el presidente, or whomever). The good of the individual is not realized in the good of some ethereal “we” that does not include every individual.

Some might object that this is all very fine as an exercise in theory but that it is irrelevant in the real world because worldly goods are inherently scarce goods. It is true that we do not enjoy limitless material goods, but it is also true that the very fact of that scarcity militates against the nigh-limitless accumulation of material goods when others in our neighborhoods or cities or nations or world objectively lack bare essentials. How can I excuse or dismiss the billionaire’s $billions as a feature of an economic system when children will starve or freeze tonight? Is it not better to say that the $billions are a blemish on that economic system under these circumstances?

I do not pretend to have any wisdom as to the best way of resolving the problem. I do think, however, that we need to at least start by admitting that we have a problem and that we need to fix it.

It should also be noted that neither Aristotle nor St Thomas have in mind only material goods, like a soft pillow or a comfy chair. They also have in mind intangible goods: education, peace, safety, health, and so forth. In other words: all those things without which life would be nasty, brutish, and short just because we are social animals and incapable of providing for ourselves all the things that adorn a happy life.

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Posted in Etc, social justice

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