The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought

The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought

The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought

The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought

Synopsis

This study offers a major reinterpretation of medieval political thought by examining one of its most fundamental ideas. If it was axiomatic that the goal of human society should be the common good, then this notion presented at least two conceptual alternatives. Did it embody the highest moral ideals of happiness and the life of virtue, or did it represent the more pragmatic benefits of peace and material security? Political thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to William of Ockham answered this question in various contexts. In theoretical terms, they were reacting to the rediscovery of Aristotle's Politics and Ethics, an event often seen as pivotal in the history of political thought. On a practical level, they were faced with pressing concerns over the exercise of both temporal and ecclesiastical authority - resistance to royal taxation and opposition to the jurisdiction of the pope. In establishing the connections between these different contexts, The Common Good questions the identification of Aristotle as the primary catalyst for the emergence of 'the individual' and a 'secular' theory of the state. Through a detailed exposition of scholastic political theology, it argues that the roots of any such developments should be traced, instead, to Augustine and the Bible.

Excerpt

One of the greatest attractions in studying medieval scholastic thought is the fluidity of the boundaries between its intellectual disciplines. For the historian, this can also be one of its greatest frustrations since the task of writing about scholasticism requires the skills and knowledge not just of an historian but of a theologian, a philosopher, and a philologist as well. Few scholars can claim expertise in all these fields and, as a consequence, few works on medieval thought are free from lacunae or immune from specialist criticism. This book is no exception as it has proved, in turn, too historical for some theologians, too theological for some philosophers, and too theological and philosophical for some historians. As an historian, I can only enter the plea that, in producing a study of the relationship between the individual and the common good, I have simply tried to contextualize the language of a particular debate in the history of political thought. If this has meant straying into theological, philosophical, and legal territory, then it has only been insofar as this has helped to elucidate the denotations and connotations of the terms in which this debate was conducted. It has certainly meant accepting rather than rejecting the precision with which this language was used. One historian has suggested that the result will not be to everyone's taste. De gustibus non disputandum.

Remaining faithful to the linguistic and conceptual exactitude of scholastic argument has meant giving this book a particular structure. One of the aims of this study is to investigate the connection which may, or may not, have existed between metaphysical theory and political thought, between a discussion of how, say, goodness in general can be predicated of individual good things and a discussion of whether, say, the defence of the kingdom makes a particular town liable to pay the taxation demanded by a French king. This juxtaposition of the metaphysical with the political has resulted in the analysis of each scholastic thinker being divided into two separate chapters, the first of which deals with predominantly abstract questions, the second with their practical application. A second aim of this book is to use the notion of the common good as a means of investigating the influence of Aristotle Ethics and Politics on scholastic ethical and political ideas. Rather than analyse these ideas theme by theme, I have set them out author by author. There is, of course, always a balance to be struck between, on the one hand, acknowledging the extent to which scholastic theologians were working with the same set of authorities and, on the other, illustrating the extent to which each theologian had their own views on what these authorities might mean. Examining these authors seriatim has had the significant advantage of clarifying the particular fusions of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology which each individual author was seeking to produce. If the historian is to begin to make sense of the sophistication of scholastic thought, then the monolithic . . .

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