The Balancing Act Between the Individual Interest and the Common Good

Topics: Political philosophy, Sophocles, Oedipus Pages: 5 (1602 words) Published: June 3, 2007
The proper relationship between the individual's interests and the common good is a delicate balancing act that political philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Sophocles have tried to define. For philosophers such as Socrates and Plato, the common good trumps the individual interest when those interests interfere with what they believe is right for society as a whole. For others like Aristotle and Locke, a consensus on what the common good is must be defined within the reality that individual interests exists; meaning, they cannot be completely discarded for the good of society. I believe that in a free society, where the common good to doesn't have to be forced upon its citizens, the common good should impose upon the individual's interest only as much as citizens will allow without feeling such impositions are unreasonable restrictions on their lives.

The reason that unreasonable restrictions on the individual's interests cannot be entirely ignored is that human nature doesn't allow for such selflessness. Since that is so, citizens will not allow for common good to exist in a society if it as the expense of their interests. However, small restrictions can be readily accepted it they believe that such impositions actually affords them the safety and opportunity to nurture their interests. For example, the property owner will gladly pay taxes to the government for the common good if they believe that the government will protect them those who would steal their land. In Aristotle's critic of Plato, Aristotle points out that humans cannot learn what the common good and what their proper role in society is without having individual interests. For example, Aristotle pokes holes in Plato's position that philosophers should not possess personal property as irrational as it does not take into consideration that property ownership "contributes to the overall rational structure of society and thus to people's happiness," which is a requirement before the common good can be realized. Aristotle's criticism of Plato hinges on the presupposition that personal happiness must exist before civic virtue can. Accordingly, family, friendship, and personal property are "needed in order to enable individuals to feel that their lives have value, and both are necessary dimensions of a well-organized polis that secures a sense of communal solidarity among diverse people" (DeLue 54).

Contrastingly, Plato's "Republic" gives little or no consideration to the individuals interests. Plato believes that the republic trumps all, and basic human interests such as the desire to improve one's station in life is disregarded as unnatural or even the desire not to be lied to are not even worthy of consideration. Plato believed that the most important members in his republic, the philosopher kings, should not be allowed to possess personal property in order to quell the appetite of the soul and nurture the qualities that he believed that philosopher kings should possess. Plato's abhorrence for the indulging of individual interests such as the acquisition of wealth and luxuries makes what he perceived is the common good the only legitimate factor in the structuring of the polis. Therefore Aristotle's criticism of his republic and forms is valid. Plato asserts what should be, with little regard if what he proposes is even feasible.

The "Three Theban Plays" by Socrates demonstrates in balances of the individual's interests versus the common good. In "Oedipus Rex" Oedipus' determination to solve the mystery of his people's plight is example of where the individual interest is extremely forsaken in the interest of the common good. In the classic tale of the king who discovers that he has unknowingly killed his father and slept with his mother, the absurdly sacrifice of self-interest results in the self-blinding and self-exile of Oedipus. Instead of concern for his well-being, Oedipus, in the middle of the story, realizes...

Cited: DeLue, Steven. Political Thinking: Political Theory and Civil Society.
New York: Longman, 2002
Fagles, Robert. The Three Theban Plays.
New York: Penguin Classis, 1982
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