The Concept of the Common Good

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Policy points:
• Appeals to the common good are often meant to discourage corruption and the pursuit of narrow self-interest, but what this good consists of is subject to debate and contestation.
• Invocations of community and the common good do not necessarily lead to greater inclusiveness, but may also legitimise discrimination.
• Politics in different social and institutional settings may or may not succeed in constructing shared notions of the common good.

Abstract: This paper provides historical and theoretical background on the concept of the ‘common good.’ Recent scholarship on peace- and statebuilding suggests that, in deeply divided societies, there is a need to construct a shared notion of the common good as part of the political transition from war to peace. The paper provides an overview of different conceptions of the common good that developed in the history of western political thought, considers similar concepts such as ‘public interest’, and explores related ideas in non-western thought. In addition, the paper surveys contemporary theoretical debates on this subject, and points to different views on the relationship between the common good on the one hand and human rights and equality on the other.

Keywords: Concepts

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