An Ordinance of Reason

A number of events have me wondering about Aquinas' definition of law.

An Ordinance of Reason

A number of events have me wondering about Aquinas' definition of law. "[A]n ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated."

I'm staring at the words "common good." They feel utterly alien. We just don't talk this way. We talk about who is at fault, who deserves blame. We might mention our individual problems—health issues, debt, family drama—but problems a community faces are waved away with "then just don't live there." I tend to think we need to take steps to articulate the concept of the "common good."

I need to take steps. I don't think it's as simple as saying "this policy will benefit everyone," though that is one part of articulating a common good. I feel like it entails a sensitivity to what such a good constitutes in our lives. A related example can help illustrate what I mean. I used to think that politicians saying somber words on somber occasions was nothing but fluff. Now I realize how important it is that people who have power act appropriately. Their decorum marks how others should behave. It helps convey, in this case, the necessity of remembrance. Some emotions and events do require us to pause.

Approaching the "common good," in my understanding, involves a set of intellectual habits I'd like to develop. What are the things around me that benefit us all? How do their specific benefits operate? Sometimes, this is obvious: clean water, clean air, free wifi. Other times, I have to think about how access to a good only a few may use has a snowball effect. Therapy being free and accessible, for example, means lots of emotions are managed better, not just the client's.

Even that reasoning seems to be too concerned with concrete issues. The real key is more subtle. I guess this is the deeper reason—besides an emphasis on hierarchy and obedience—why Aquinas speaks of "an ordinance of reason for the common good" being made by one who has "care of the community." If you can actually detect what works and what steps promote it, you ought to rule.

In any case, I've attached a Powerpoint I've been working on to introduce students to Aquinas and natural law. Take a look if you're so inclined. Thank you for listening.