Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 92, 2018

Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life

Leonard Ferry
Pages 241-260

Bound by the Good
The Common Good as Ground of Political Obligation in Aquinas’s Political Theory

Political authority is not eliminable, even if in a globalizing world order the particulars of its exercise might be undergoing a transformation. What matters to political philosophy is whether or not its existence and exercise can be justified. In this paper I begin by contrasting two paradigmatic approaches to justifications of political authority and political obligation: political naturalism and political voluntarism. Having set the stage for the debate, I connect Aquinas’s account of political authority with the former—though one will not find a full-fledged version of that account in this paper (it appears elsewhere). More importantly, I connect Aquinas’s naturalist defense of political obligation to a non-instrumental account of the common good, though the bulk of the paper deals with what I argue are failed attempts to offer non-naturalist accounts of the common good as alternative natural law defenses of political authority.