"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What is the Common Good?

When I teach courses on the social teachings of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, my students invariably want a more fleshed out answer to the question "What is the common good" than what is supplied in the abstract and often unhelpfully vague treatments of it found in, e.g., the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by Rome more than a decade ago.

Perhaps help is now at hand in the form of Daniel K. Finn's new book, Empirical Foundations of the Common Good: What Theology Can Learn from Social Science (Oxford UP, 2017), 272pp.

About this collection we are told:
The idea of the common good was borrowed by the Fathers of the early Catholic Church from the rich philosophical traditions of ancient Greece and Rome. It has been a fundamental part of Catholic thinking about social, political, and economic life throughout the Catholic intellectual tradition, from Augustine and Aquinas to modern Catholic social thought in the encyclicals of popes in recent centuries. Yet this history has been rooted in the traditions of philosophy and theology. With the rise of the social sciences in the nineteenth century as distinct disciplines no longer limited to the methods of their philosophical origins, humanity has learned a great deal more about the human condition. Empirical Foundations of the Common Good asks two questions: what have the social sciences learned about the common good? how might theology alter its understanding of the common good in light of that insight?
In this volume, six social scientists, with backgrounds in economics, political science, sociology, and policy analysis, speak about what their disciplines have to contribute to discussions within Catholic social thought about the common good. Two theologians then respond by examining the insights of social science and exploring how Catholic social thought can integrate social scientific insights into its understanding of the common good. This volume's interplay of social scientific and religious views is a unique contribution to contemporary discussion of what constitutes "the common good."

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