Conference on the Common Good at Notre Dame

Some graduates students at Notre Dame are organizing a very promising conference: The Common Good as a Common Project. They have lined up Alasdair MacIntyre (!), Jean-Luc Marion, Jean Porter, and Emilie Tardivel-Schick as key-note speakers. They have released a call for papers, requesting abstracts of “both theoretical and applied papers that address key questions about the common good” to be submitted by November 15th (Feast of St. Leopold of Austria).

I am planning to attend myself, and to give a presentation, the abstract of which follows.

Eudemonism and the Common Good

Submission for the conference:

The Common Good as a Common Project

Nanovic Institute for European Studies, University of Notre Dame

March 26-28, 2017


In modern times, beginning with the Protestant Reformation, the Aristotelian-eudaemonist tradition of ethics has often been accused of being self-centered. Thus Martin Luther writes, “Aristotle’s philosophy is contrary to theology since in all things it seeks those things which are its own and receives rather than gives something good” (Heidelberg Disputation, thesis 28). In the 20th century this objection to eudaemonism was passionately insisted on by Protestant theologians such as Karl Holl, Anders Nygren, and Jörg Bauer, as well as by the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. It is my claim, however, that this modern objection is unconsciously founded on a modern, individualistic understanding of happiness. For Aristotle happiness was not an individual or private good, but rather a common project, a common good of the πόλις. Aristotle’s argument at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics that the study of the final end of man is the concern of political philosophy (1094b) ought to be taken in a much stronger sense than modern interpreters tend to take it; politics is concerned not merely with aiding men towards achieving an individual εὐδαιμονία, rather εὐδαιμονία is itself a common end achieved in common.

I shall argue that reflections on the common good in the Thomist tradition are helpful to unfolding Aristotle’s non-individualistic understanding of εὐδαιμονία. Developing a distinction made by Aristotle in Metaphysics XII,10 (1075a), St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic common goods. Thomists such as Henri Grenier (1899–1980) and Charles de Koninck (1906-1965) further developed that distinction, arguing that while the intrinsic common good of political community is the order of its parts, its constituent form (itself a participation in the good of cosmic order), the extrinsic common good is the life of united virtuous action of the community, or the very object and end attained to by that action, which remains numerically one, while being shared among all.


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