Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Person and the Common Good

Book:The Person and the Common Good
Author: Jacques Maritain
Translated: John J. Fitzgerald
Edition:from the web
Read: January 2, 2014
34 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

The central question Maritain asks is found in chapter I:  Does society exist for each one of us, or does each one of us exist for society? His answer is that the question is too simple. He says: A unilateral answer would only plunge us into error. Maritain's answer will be centered in the dignity of the human person from every social philosophy centered in the primacy of the individual and the private good.

The question which Maritain asks to open his book, Does society exist for each one of us, or does each one of us exist for society? Is central not only to this book, but to the essence of how we operate as a society. He recognizes that while it is easy to ask the question, it is not one which you can answer one way or the other. By coming down firmly on individual rights and freedoms, you see what the French Revolution brought to us. But by going to the side of society, we will meet Hitler and Stalin at the end of that tunnel. But we must still answer that question to understand our relationship within the society we live. Maritain sides with a social philosophy which centers on social philosophy of the dignity of the human person from every social philosophy centered in the primacy of the individual and the private good. 

What does the first statement in chapter II mean? What are the implications?  The human person is ordained directly to God as to its absolute ultimate end. A person is directly and ultimately responsible to God. It is God's commands which I am to respond to. Maritain uses the term created common good. I take this to mean that the good which society creates is not primary law or drive in our lives. But it also is not to be ignored either. God will work through our culture. We ignore whom we live with us at our own peril.   Maritain goes on to say  the personal contact of all intellectual creatures with God, as well as their personal subordination to God, be in no way interrupted.

A series of foundational themes Maritain states:
  1. Man is not just a cog in the mechanism of the world. We are willed into being for our own sakes for our obedience to God. Before even the common good, we are related to the Separated Common Good. We have the image of God intertwined in our whole being. Our purpose is to love God.
  2. A single soul enjoying God is worth more than the whole universe. God and the soul in love is two who have become one. This is an open friendship. One where many are in union with God. Consequently, we are bond to each other.
  3. The speculative vs practical intellect. Maritain says that the practical intellect is needed to cope with our day to day living. But the speculative intellect is what brings us to God. So the speculative is higher than the practical. It is here which the contemplative life resides. It binds us to the divine.
All of this is not to say that only the individual is important. But it does say that the assistance to the common good comes about through the proper placing of the individual above the common good.

In Chapter III, Maritain asks the question, who is the person? What is self? He first talks about false concepts of self by saying ...when we represent someone as "self-assertive", do we not mean that he is self-centered, imperious and dominating--sacrcely capable of friendship? He is refuting Pascal here. He then goes on to say that it is  ...a serious reproach to assert of a man that he has no personality. He notes that saints and mystics have strong personalities and concepts of self, only topped by the Christ in the gospels. He notes the teaching of Thomas Aquinas: whosoever loves God must love himself for the sake of God, must love his own soul and body with a love of charity.

Individuality: Maritain defines as dealing with the material side of life. While personality concerns the spiritual.

Not sure what Maritain was getting at in this one paragraph, but to me it is crucial to my understanding. Maritain said that each soul is intended to animate a particular body. The implications are profound. First, that the soul and body are coupled. Our soul does not develop into a being because of our bodies, but soul and body are like two locking pieces, which would not be ables connect unless they were intended to be together. The other implication is from the word intended. It is not a haphazard arrangement, but a planned out occurrence. It is up to us to fathom the depth of who we are. We will never know that, unless we understand what was intended. In order to know this intention, we need to know who the intendor is. This is a life-long study. Maritain's conclusion is one aspect of this:  Each of us is subject to the determinism of the physical world. Nonetheless, each of us is also a person and, as such, is not controlled by the stars.  (Chp III)

Maritain defines personality as a distinction from the individual. Personality is the subsistence of the spiritual soul communicated to the human composite.  From what I understand, personality is what sets us apart from beasts and from each other. Also this is what allows us to be in relationship with God. The distinction between personality and the individual comes back around to be talking about the same coin, but the two different sides of it.

My wife and I were talking about anger. She had read one of the Psalms which dealt with David in his righteous anger. The question was how does our anger compare to the righteous anger David felt? I think that it has to do with the difference between the hurt we feel on ourselves is what we feel as an individual versus the anger we substain because God has been hurt by going against him, which is our person. As we come closer to God, our individuality and our personhood become more alike.

Starting in chapter four, Maritain starts to explore the relationship between a person and his society. He notes that a person is made for communion and relationship-it is not good that man is alone. As before, with his God, but also with his fellow man. This's not only to procure his physical needs, like food and shelter, in fact, this may be the lesser reason for being drawn into society. But the chief reason is to develop our rationality and virtue. By drawing closer and cooperating with each other, we assist each other to fulfill our purpose.  The end of society is the good of the community, of the social body. But if the good of the social body is not understood to be a common good of human persons, just as the social body itself is a whole of human persons, this conception also would lead to other errors of a totalitarian type. 

So what is the common good? Maritain points out it is much more than just the collection of laws, goods and services, infrastructure, government, .... It also includes the virtues of society, its temperament, the good the society does. But it's most important thing is to develop and perfect the life and liberty of each person.

But are we to go as a person, lock step march along with what a society wants? No. It is only when we serve justice and righteousness do we serve the common good. Dissenting against a society which has parted company with virtue has more to do with the common good, than 100 people obeying rules designed to block out goodness.

What is the extent of the common good? In Aristole's day, it was the city. It has been transformed into the nation, but as nations become more intertwined, it is the whole of civilazation. But we must remember that the common good, is not necessarily the good of the nation, but rather that the good of the individuals within the nation.

A person is to be committed to his society. But no matter how committed the individual is, the  person effort is not the whole of his being. Maritain uses the example of a runner. A runner can stretch with all the muscles he has, yet that is not totally him. There is more to him than running. He thinks, he enjoys, he may meditate. In other words, he has a soul-my words not Maritain.

The person is to commit to bringing the good to his society. But that does not make the person owned by the society. Rather the person had a responsibility to bring justice, good and the right to society, even if the society does not want it. Society is not the arbitrar of what is good for it. In fact, the person may be persecuted for bringing the good to it. There are ways which society tries to bend truth. The person who is committed to his society's common good will have none of that. In the society I live in today, we enjoy pluralism. But the problem is that we do not differentiate between what every one says is their truth and what is plainly truth. We have our own versions of history, of sociology, of psychology, of theology. So we cry with Pilate, What is truth? It is the person's responsibility to cry out on what is Truth itself.

The central reason why we seek the common good is that Man is constituted a person, made for God and life eternal, before he is constituted a part of the city; and he is constituted a part of the family society before he is constituted a part of the political society. This is inline with Jesus' command to love each other, to be great by serving. It also follows that each person in a society is irreplaceable. We cannot be cloned and removed from society without damaging society. This goes with CS Lewis thought that we have never met a mortal, only immortals.

The book points out that Aristotle, and St Thomas, says that the good of the city is more noble, or even divine, than the individual. Maritain, does not dispute this, but shows that this is true only when the City honors it's commitment to protecting the individual-not so much paternalistically, but to bring the individual into maturity. This maturity is to love truth and goodness, appreciate beauty and art and poetry.  In essence, at the end of his arguement, both the good of the individual and the common good of the society are the same. By emphasizing one, you actually do harm to both.

What is extrinsic common good vs immanent common good? Note #42 John Goyette in a piece called On the Transcendence of the Political Common Good, defines the two as:
  • Intrinsic - The intrinsic common good is the form of an ordered multitude, its “unity of order.”
  • Extrinsic - The good of the order is for the sake of the good of the ruler.

There are three materialistic philosophies. Maritain notes that all three of them do violence to the concept of person. All three are prevalent today-communism, totalitaerism, and bourgeois individualism. He goes through each and should why they are anti-person. He notes to the totalitarian, the person as a person is the enemy. But he is no fan of the bourgeois individualismof the West, particularly of America when he says, The moral crisis of our occidental civilization and the disastrous spasms of our liberal, capitalistic economy exhibit all too clearly the tragedy of bourgeois individualism. But Communism also comes under attack with, Communism requires a very powerful and rigorous discipline, which it can generate only through the external processes of thought control and constraint. Where Christianity is talked about in relationship to these three, he points out that all three are resistant to Christianity. Surprisingly, he labels that the  bourgeois individualism the most irreligious. It ignores all religion as irrelevant, not worth persecuting. Communism, he says, is  a heresy of Christianity, the ultimate heresy. It branches out from Christianity, relying on itself to save, rather than Christ to transform.

So if materialism is not the answer for society's ill's, what is? Maritain makes a couple of statements. The first is,   Whoever recognizes this spiritual and eternal element in man, recognizes also the aspiration, immanent in the person, to transcend...  A system cannot be in place which will be satisfying to us, unless it also can minister to the spiritual nature of man. This is one of the reasons why a whole generation dropped out of the American materialistic society.  It is the reason why our young are nihilistic. The church has not provided an alternative to materialism, instead it has been in bed with it. Then he follows it up by saying, an organization of liberties is unthinkable apart from the moral realities of justice and civil amity. A society which does not recognize he spiritual nature of man will lose its moralness and sinks into discord.

 I first heard about this book in an appeal from Mars Hill Audio-these appeals are more like a teaching missive than begging for money. Then seeing Timothy Keller talking about the common good, I thought I really should have better understanding of what does the common good mean.

This book looks at what a person is and his relationship to his society. He concludes that the person is supreme as it is only him who can be in relationship with God. But that does not say the society is there to serve the person. But society is there is build the person. The person in turn needs to contribute to his society-towards the common good-in order to grow in matureity. Still the aim is to increase the dignity of a person.

Maritain does a good job in laying the basis for what is a person, emphasizing the person instead of the concept of the individual. He explores the relationship between a person and his society, while showing the primacy of the person, but still showing the dependency which a person has on his society and it's good in order to mature. It is well worth the two month struggle I had in understanding this short book, 34 pages. But the reader should be forewarned that a good background in philosophy, which I do not have, will not hurt in reading this book.

New Words:
  • philosophic(chp I):  of or pertaining to philosophy
  • fecundity(chp I): derived from the word fecund, generally refers to the ability to reproduce.
  • concomitant (chp II):  existing or occurring with something else, often in a lesser way; accompanying; concurrent: an event and its concomitant circumstances.
  • connaturality (chp II): Innate; inborn.
  • Apposite (chp III):  suitable; well-adapted; pertinent; relevant; apt: an apposite answer.
  • Ineffable (chp III):  incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible
  • Leibnizian monad (chp III): Leibniz defines a monad as a simple substance which cannot be divided into parts. A compound substance may be formed by an aggregation of monads. Thus, a compound substance may be divided into simple parts.
  • Apiary (chp IV):  a place where beehives of honey bees are kept
  • statism (Chp V): the belief that the state should control either economic or social policy, or both, to some degree
Book References:

Good Quotes:
  • First Line:  AMONG the truths of which contemporary thought stands in particular need and from which it could draw substantial profit is the doctrine of the distinction between individuality and personality.
  • Last Line:
  •  Does society exist for each one of us, or does each one of us exist for society? Chp I
  • social philosophy centered in the dignity of the human person from every social philosophy centered in the primacy of the individual and the private good.   Chp I
  • THE human person is ordained directly to God as to its absolute ultimate end. Chp II
  • ... the personal contact of all intellectual creatures with God, as well as their personal subordination to God, be in no way interrupted.  Chp II
  • ... the good of grace of one person is worth more than the good of the whole universe of nature.  Chp II
  • The adage of the superiority of the common good is understood in its true sense only in the measure that the common good itself implies a reference to the human person. Chp II.
  • Matter itself is a kind of non-being, chp III
  • Each of us is subject to the determinism of the physical world. Nonetheless, each of us is also a person and, as such, is not controlled by the stars.  Chp III
  • We love the deepest, most substantial and hidden, the most existing reality of the beloved being. Chp III
  •  love is not concerned with qualities or natures or essences but with persons.  Chp III
  • personality in man seems to be bound to the experience of affliction even more profoundly than to the experience of creative effort.  Chp III
  • the deepest layer of the human person's dignity consists in its property of resembling God.  Chp III
  • ... man will be truly a person only in so far as the life of the spirit and of liberty reigns over that of the senses and passions.  Chp III
  • ...personality tends by nature to communion.  Chp IV
  • The common good is common because it is received in persons, each one of whom is as a mirror of the whole.   Chp IV
  • Only on condition that it is according to justice and moral goodness is the common good what it is, namely, the good of a people and a city, rather than of a mob of gangsters and murderers.  Chp IV
  •  the common good of civil society implies that the whole man is engaged in it.   Chp IV
  • When, against social pressures, the human person upholds right, justice, fraternal charity, when it raises itself above social life to enter into the solitary life of the spirit, when it deserts the banquets of common life, to feed upon the transcendentals, when, seeming to forget the city, it fastens to the adamantine objectivity of beauty and truth, when it pays obeisance to God rather than to men, in these very acts it still serves the common good of the city and in an eminent fashion.  Chp IV
  • the privilege connected with the dignity of the person is inalienable, and human life involves a sacred right. Whether to rid society of a useless member or for raison d'├ętat, it is a crime to kill an innocent man. It is a crime to doom a prisoner to death in order to test some drugs which may save thousands of the sick.   Chp IV
  • Man is constituted a person, made for God and life eternal, before he is constituted a part of the city; and he is constituted a part of the family society before he is constituted a part of the political society.  Chp IV
  • Francis de Vitoria wrote: "In the corporeal organism, the natural part exists directly for the whole. But in the Church, each man exists only for God and himself, ....   De potestate Ecclesiae, II, 5. 
  • the tendency towards the materialism and atheism inherent in the city of the individual appears as one of the absurdities by which it destroys itself. Chp V
Table of Contents:
  •  Acknowledgements
  • Chapter I: Introductory
  • Chapter II: The Positions of St. Thomas on the Ordination of the Person to Its Ultimate End
  • Chapter III: Individuality and Personality
  • Chapter IV: The Person and Society
  • Chapter V: Contemporary Problems
  • Index of Names


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