About the Project: What is The Common Good PDF Print E-mail

Caring to Change’s participants concluded that foundations will be more effective in their own particular missions and more appreciated as institutions when they also aim to advance the Common Good. The call is for funders to explicitly ground their grantmaking in fundamental values, and when they operate with a clear idea of the roles they could – and do – play in the wider society over the long term. Practically speaking, the focus on the Common Good, on values and on the broader context of grantmaking needs to involve greater attention to diversity, equal opportunity, and the artificial barriers that often stop us from making valuable connections. All of these points are addressed through C2C’s suggested strategies; the Common Good itself is elaborated in an essay an on this web site and in Foundations for the Common Good.

But what is the Common Good? Notions of the Common Good have been central to conceptions of society since Plato and Aristotle, and have been described in fairly consistent ways since then. There has been general agreement that the search for “…the common good is disciplined yearning, deliberation, judgment, and action in concrete realization of the best, most choiceworthy way to live”1 and that “Its most basic meaning is that the community and its institutions should serve the good of all its citizens and not just the restricted good of a particular ruler or class.”2

Put more simply, the Common Good is advanced when society’s institutions, including foundations, operate in the interests of the broadest possible swath of people. While opinions and judgments may differ, and while we do not always live up to our ideals, from the beginning the American pursuit of the Common Good has been characterized as the effort to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”3 In this conception, as a society we get closer to the Common Good when we achieve freedom from untoward interference in our lives, as secured by the Bill of Rights. We also advance towards the Common Good when we enjoy the freedom to have equal opportunities for the pursuit of society’s rewards, regardless of the circumstances of our birth, the wealth of our families or our other demographic characteristics.

The Common Good is much more than the aggregate of individual goods and accomplishments. Rather, it reflects both the morality and the enlightened self-interest that allows institutions across society to operate so that all might enjoy a life of justly and humanely distributed resources, rewards, responsibilities and obligations.

1 Copeland, M. S. (2008, July 11). Who Will Live the Common Human Good? An Address to the Convention for the Common Good. Retrieved April 30, 2009, from Vote the Common Good: http://www.votethecommongood.com/files/Copeland.pdf, p. 4.

2 Lewis, V. B. (2005, November 3). The Common Good in Classical Political Theory. Retrieved April 30, 2009, from V. Bradley Lewis: http://faculty.cua.edu/lewisb/Common%20Good3.pdf, p. 3.

3 Constitution of the United States.


Material on this site is based on the report Foundations for the Common Good. You are invited to download a complimentary copy or purchase the printed report.

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