Common good

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Common good (rare common good , ancient Greek κοινή συμφέρων koiné symphérōn ; Latin salus publica bonum commune, bonum generalis ; English common good ; French bien public ) the well called "(the common good, the common good, the common welfare , the prosperity )" which, for social reasons, should benefit as many members of a community as possible .

A fundamental disagreement exists with regard to the question of whether a "common good a priori " find could (like the right solution to a math problem) or whether what the public good is, as a result of determination sleistung of victims or their representatives who are endeavor to balance interests in negotiations (common good a posteriori ), should be considered.

Common good is understood as the opposite of mere individual or group interests within a community. Aristotle's concept of the common good necessarily referred to the polis . In the Stoa it was extended to all of humanity. Today it can be related to anything about individual community (marriage, family, association, religious community, region, country, people, peoples of a contractual community, world community, etc., but also to world, nature, universe).

In many political philosophies , the common good is of great importance. The more detailed definition of the content depends on the underlying concept of political justice . In modern political philosophy, the common good of the state is in the foreground. For some this is identical to the question of the highest purpose of the state or the legal idea.

The term is used in philosophy , politics , jurisprudence and sociology .

In modern management-oriented common good discussion ( public value ) is offered a sociologically inspired solution to the above disagreement. On the one hand, the specific design of what should be considered the common good is assumed to be open, context-dependent and not determinable in advance. On the other hand, content-related basic categories are determined by recourse to basic human needs based on psychology in the sense of basic bio-psychological structures. In particular, Epstein's Cognitive-Experiential Self Theory offers a frame of reference to connect the individual level of needs with the collective level of the common good. Common good as a regulative idea and generalized experience of the social relates to those values ​​and norms that constitute a community and society. In that the individual deals with his social environment and actively shapes it himself, he develops as a social being. In this view, the common good is interpreted as a prerequisite and resource for a successful life.

Common good in political philosophy

Common good is a term used in classical political philosophy , natural law doctrine of the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment, and Catholic legal philosophy .

History of ideas


  • Plato
The Greek philosopher Plato writes in his main work on the philosophy of the state, the Politeia , that only philosophers know what serves the common good and that they should therefore take over government. Herbert Marcuse took up this view in 1967 .
  • Aristotle
According to Aristotle , the goal of the polis is the happiness of its citizens. The individual cannot achieve happiness through a private life and only private satisfaction of needs. The citizen can only achieve happiness by being committed to the general. Either through theoretical research or through sensible regulation of public concerns. This requires the political (state) enabling and securing of public participation and the acquisition of knowledge.
The special good of the polis, the community, consists in the just safeguarding of rights and the just distribution of duties.
For Aristotle, the concept of the common good unites political justice with general benefit / happiness.
  • Stoa
The Stoa understands the common good as that which is good for all people.

middle Ages

In the political thinking of the Middle Ages, political action was determined by two factors: self-interest and common good (bonum commune). The common good was mostly not understood philosophically (although Thomas Aquinas had already formulated it like this), but as a real need for life in the midst of a society that did not have a state as the highest regulatory authority. It was on this basis that modern bourgeois consciousness was significantly shaped.

Modern times

  • Leibniz
According to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , all law serves the common good. This consists primarily in the divine world order, secondarily in the order of the human race and tertiary in that of the state
  • Christian Wolff
For Christian Wolff the common good is understood individualistic than the outer well-being of all.
  • Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that the common good'll find if each independent of the other (especially without party formation) after the general will of the volonté générale , seeking. "If the citizens had no connection with each other, if the people made a well-informed decision, the large number of small differences would always result in the Volonté générale (common will), and the decision would always be good." ( Social Contract , Book 2, Chapter 3 ).
The enlightener opposes the will of all (volunté de tous) with the “common will” (volonté générale) , which is exclusively interested in the common good. Not the sum of the individual pursuits, but only the collective effort of will can guarantee the common good.
  • utilitarianism
In utilitarianism , the common good becomes “the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number of private individuals”. This is intended to mediate between the individual's good and the common good.
  • Adam Smith
According to Adam Smith , the common good is the result of peaceful processes that strive to realize one's own interests. “Common good” and “private good” are therefore inseparable. Wanting to pursue the common good politically is postulated as impossible and counterproductive.
  • Catholic philosophy of law
The Catholic social doctrine , in which the common good is a central social principle, is based on a metaphysically filled idea of ​​the common good, which corresponds to an overriding, reasonable and divine interest (the bonum commune - cf. Thomas Aquinas ). The actions of individuals as well as the community are committed to this goal by striving for social justice . In this way they create the true community order and thereby guarantee the common good.
Since the more recent ecclesiastical social proclamation has taken greater account of the importance of an international common good, this Christian universalism largely coincides with the idea of ​​a secular human rights ethic.

Common good in political practice

Phenomena of action that is not oriented towards the common good

The opposite of a politics oriented towards the common good is a politics determined by personal power interests. This serves the rulers (or other benefiting, relatively small groups that do not appear directly as rulers), but not the community. The former can be observed above all in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships , but capitalism as an economic form is also criticized accordingly. Welfare-reducing politics directed by power groups can be found to varying degrees in all political systems (see also lobbying )

Methodological problems are, on the one hand, that there are theories according to which politicians are allowed to use violence in a way that their opponents assess as “determined by personal power interests”, but which they classify a priori as being in the interest of the common good. On the other hand, theorists who follow Adam Smith's tradition would admit that egoism prevails in politics and business, but deny that it is harmful to the common good as long as it is tamed by competition.

Consensus building on the common good

In pluralism

The assumption that there can even be a common good that can be determined a priori is rejected in particular by the advocates of pluralism . Accordingly, the common good can only arise a posteriori, from a free and fair process of state decision-making with the involvement of interest groups . This concept of the common good assumes that a policy is possible which does not take advantage of anyone.

Political and economic decisions, which give one part of this society (in the extreme case all) greater benefit than they lose benefit in the other groups of society, are considered to be an increase in the common good. However, the exact extent of the construct “benefit” cannot be measured in a universally valid way, which is why disputes must arise again and again as to whether a project actually increases or decreases welfare.

According to Ernst Fraenkel, pluralistic systems are to be distinguished from totalitarian systems that claim sovereignty over the definition of the common good (understood as “common good a priori”).

Critics of the method of defining the common good as the result of a reconciliation of interests after negotiations point out that conflicts of interest , especially international conflicts such as the Middle East conflict and North-South conflict , cannot always be resolved in win-win situations; rather, a zero-sum game often results . The losers are not always obvious. When determining the common good in the sense of pluralism, it is systematically weak groups that cannot articulate or enforce their interests, e.g. B. lower class or third world , or general interests such as preservation of natural capital and environmental protection . If, however, legitimate interests are not articulated and brought into the political process, it would be problematic to label the result of such deficient negotiations with the label “common good”.

Discourse free of domination (Habermas)

According to Jürgen Habermas' discourse theory , the common good in a domination-free discourse that aims to balance different interests can be determined through insight. The prerequisite is that there is a visible consensus on the rules of the game under which the conflict of different interests is carried out and which are part of the above-mentioned, most general system of standards. It is also important that no relevant interest is excluded from the “market of compensation”.

Common good in positive law


State power is seen by the Federal Constitutional Court as being committed to the common good.

In order that interference with a fundamental right is not disproportionate, the legislature must pursue legitimate public interest .

The criterion for the common good is positive in various laws and, as an indefinite legal term, needs to be interpreted. It is based on a “constitutional understanding of the common good that can be tied to the common good of the Basic Law such as human dignity, freedom, legal security , peace and prosperity and thus to the fundamental rights, the rule of law, the welfare state and democracy”. 

Example Sparkasse: Application and interpretation of the common good principle

Towards the end of the 18th century, some socially minded citizens recognized the increasing poverty in the cities as a problem of the early industrial revolution . That is why they founded the first savings banks , which were publicly charged with promoting savings and thus the wealth creation of the citizens, as well as ensuring the supply of credit to the population . The main purpose of the savings bank idea was to help people to help themselves and to encourage individuals to take responsibility for themselves. Even today, savings banks differ from private banks in that “making profits is not the main purpose of business operations”, but an obligation to the common good. This is laid down in the savings bank laws and the KWG . Today, the savings banks also meet their public welfare obligations by using part of their annual surplus as donations for charitable, cultural, scientific or social purposes. 

Basic Law

Freedom of ownership

According to Article 14, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law : “Property obliges. Its use should at the same time serve the common good. ”According to Article 14, Paragraph 3, Sentence 1 of the Basic Law:“ Expropriation is only permitted for the common good. ”

In Article 14, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law, the so-called social commitment of property is established ( social obligation of property ).

For example, the protection of cultural monuments ... is fundamentally a legitimate concern, and the preservation of monuments is a task of high priority for the common good that justifies restrictive regulations within the meaning of Article 14.1 sentence 2 of the Basic Law.

Freedom of occupation

Statutory regulations governing the exercise of the profession according to Article 12, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law (see freedom of occupation ) are, among other things, only permissible "if they are justified by sufficient reasons for the common good." The legislature must "a common good of sufficient weight that can justify restrictions on the exercise of the profession " follow. In doing so, “pure restrictions on the exercise of the profession ... can in principle be legitimized by any reasonable consideration of the common good. However, the purpose of the intervention and the intensity of the intervention must be in an appropriate relationship. "

Or to put it another way: “In order to be able to stand before the guarantee of freedom of occupation ( Article 12, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law), encroachments on freedom of occupation must be based on a legal basis that is justified by sufficient reasons for the common good [...]. The restrictions on freedom of occupation, which are unavoidable for reasons of the common good, are subject to the principle of proportionality [...]. The interventions must therefore be suitable for achieving the intervention goal and must not go further than the public interest requires [...]. In addition, the means of intervention must not be excessively burdensome [...], so that the limit of reasonableness is still maintained when the severity of the intervention and the weight of the reasons justifying it are weighed up. "

Common good in management

Organizations as drivers of the common good

In business administration, the focus on the common good is primarily addressed in the behavioral-oriented variant.

The management thinker Peter Drucker spoke of a "society of organizations" and thus aims at the basic social function of companies, public administrations and the non-profit sector, which are each specifically constitutive for a social system, produce and reproduce it.

In management-oriented business administration, the common good is currently understood under the term public value as a performance indicator and the basis of legitimation for organizational action. Linked to this is the assumption that every organization contributes to the stabilization or further development of the community through its core business alone and thus influences the common good. In this non-normative conception it is explicitly left open which common good values ​​are worth striving for. In this way, the common good is dynamized, integrated into a cultural context and described as changeable through concrete actions (management). With the Public Value Atlas , an internet platform was created in Switzerland on which the public welfare contributions of the largest companies and organizations are made transparent. Common good atlases were published in May 2014 and September 2015. The Public Value Atlas is based on a representative survey in German-speaking Switzerland and contains organizations from various sectors of society. The classification of the organizations in a ranking list is based on an integrated consideration of four needs-based dimensions. Such a public value atlas was created for Germany for the first time in 2015 (published in October 2015).

Common good and company

As early as the end of the 18th century, there were efforts to align the purpose of certain companies with the common good, as the example of the Sparkasse shows.

For companies, the common good / public value approach is gaining in importance if they want to determine their role in the social environment. In addition to risk management, it is about strategic positioning and the legitimation of entrepreneurial activity in the social environment. What is new about it is a holistic view in which the financial and economic added value represents only a part of the contribution to the common good. In this perspective, in addition to functional customer benefits, companies also make moral-ethical, political-social and hedonistic-aesthetic contributions to the common good - they influence social values. In practice, individual aspects of the common good have so far been discussed under terms such as “sustainability” or “social responsibility”, but as a rule not understood in the sense of a value contribution.

Model of an economy for the common good

A comprehensive revision of our current economic system does the Austrian Attac co-founder Christian Felber reached by the model of a common welfare economy, is no longer equated with the success of Greater competition and financial gain, but with cooperation and a maximum contribution to the general welfare. The heart of this is a “ public welfare balance sheet ”, with which the criteria of social responsibility, ecologically sustainable economic activity, internal democracy and overall social solidarity are measured. Companies that draw up such a balance sheet should then also have advantages with regard to z. B. get lower taxes or cheaper credit. According to the "Association for the Promotion of the Economy for the Common Good", this economic model is not only supported by many individuals, associations and politicians, but now (at the end of February 2015) also by over 1,700 companies.

Critics mainly criticize the economic aspects of Felber's model. But there is also a fundamental fear that the economy for the common good is not intended for real people, but for ideal people; It is no coincidence that the concept of the common good has historically been instrumentalized by authoritarian regimes. Felber's radical innovations in the financial markets in particular cause this accusation. B. Money that is not needed for the real economy should be set aside without interest. In this thematic context, however, it is also registered that Felber has repeatedly emphasized that such fundamental social decisions must be brought about democratically. It is also criticized that the economy of the common good has so far provided too little theoretical foundation and scientific positioning. It is more a social movement than a scientific school of thought. The selectively selected common good values ​​were not determined in a democratic process and consequently could not assume any social consensus. When implementing accounting for the common good in practice, the vagueness of the idea is repeatedly criticized and more professionalism is demanded.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which advises the EU institutions, recommended in an opinion in September 2015 that the model of the economy for the common good be integrated into both the European and national legal frameworks. It is suggested that companies should be advised to draw up a public good and that investment plans should be examined for their effect on the common good. The aim is "the change towards a European ethical market economy".

Common good and public administration

The theme of the common good for management in public administration under the term Public Value goes back to the Harvard administration scientist Mark Moore. In analogy to the shareholder value concept for private companies, he postulates that the public administration should orient itself towards the creation of public value, i.e. value for the public, ultimately the common good. This approach was taken up in many countries (including Germany) as part of the debate about administrative reforms and interpreted as the next development step after New Public Management . This connects an established administrative tradition (“common good as the reason and limit of public action”) with the question of impact-oriented entrepreneurial thinking and action.


  • Thomas von Aquin : “The goodness of each part always depends on the correspondence to its whole; ... Since every person is part of a bourgeois community, it is impossible for a person to be good if he does not do justice to the common good. "
  • Constitution of the Free State of Bavaria , Art. 151 Paragraph 1: "The entire economic activity serves the common good, in particular ensuring a humane existence for everyone and the gradual increase in the standard of living of all classes of the population."
  • It is important that we are always aware of our focus on the common good in everything we do. Susanne Pfab, General Secretary of ARD , in an interview with Die Welt , on the topic of language regulation in state broadcasting, on the discussion of an ARD manual by Elisabeth Wehling , February 2019.


  • Research reports of the interdisciplinary working groups of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. Volume I-IV. Akademie Verlag, Berlin:
    • Herfried Münkler , Harald Bluhm (Ed.): Common good and common sense. Historical semantics of key political concepts. Volume I. 2001.
    • Herfried Münkler, Karsten Fischer (Ed.): Common good and common sense. Rhetorics and perspectives of social-moral orientation. Volume II. 2002.
    • Herfried Münkler, Karsten Fischer (ed.): Common good and common sense in law. Specification and realization of public interests. Volume III. 2002.
    • Herfried Münkler, Harald Bluhm (Ed.): Common good and common sense. Between normativity and facticity. Volume IV. 2002.
  • Heinz-Horst Schrey: common good / common good. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia . 12, pp. 339-346.
  • Gunnar Folke Schuppert, Friedhelm Neidhardt (Hrsg.): Common good - in search of substance. Edition Sigma, Berlin 2002, WZB yearbook.
  • Birger P. Priddat: Modernization of the common good. Metropolis, Marburg 2006.
  • Walter Lesch : Society, community, common good. Oswald von Nell Breuning Institute, Frankfurt am Main 1993.
  • Timo Meynhardt, Peter Gomez: Organizations create value for society . In: DIE ZEIT explains the economy. Volume 2: Business Administration. Murmann Verlag, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-86774-258-0 , pp. 199-207.
  • Felber, Christian: Common Good Economy. Deuticke in Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Web links

Wiktionary: Common good  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Common good  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Meynhardt, T. (2009): Public Value Inside: What is Public Value Creation? International Journal of Public Administration , 32 (3-4), 192-219.
  2. Regenbogen / Meyer (Ed.): Dictionary of philosophical terms. Meiner, Hamburg 2005: Common Good.
  3. ^ Professors as state rulers . Der Spiegel issue 35/1967 (August 21, 1967)
  4. a b c d According to Oswald Schwemmer, Gemeinwohl, in: Mittelstraß (Hrsg.), Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy, 2nd Edition, Vol. 3. Metzler, Stuttgart, Weimar 2008 and Gessmann, Martin (Hrsg.): Philosophical Dictionary. - 23rd edition. - Kröner, Stuttgart, 2009: Bonum commune.
  5. Konstantin Langmaier: The land Ere and Nucz, Frid and Gemach: The land as honor, utility and peace community: A contribution to the discussion about common utility . In: . In: Quarterly for social and economic history. tape 103 , 2016, p. 178-200 .
  6. a b According to Regenbogen / Meyer (Ed.): Dictionary of philosophical terms. Meiner, Hamburg 2005: Common Good.
  7. So in principles of natural and international law, 1754, § 972 - after Regenbogen / Meyer (Ed.): Dictionary of philosophical terms. - Meiner, Hamburg 2005: Common Good.
  8. a b Gessmann, Martin (ed.): Philosophical dictionary. - 23rd edition. - Kröner, Stuttgart, 2009: Bonum commune.
  9. ^ Oswald von Nell-Breuning , in: Walter Brugger (Ed.): Philosophical Dictionary, Freiburg i. Br. 1964, p. 112
  10. ^ Walter Lesch : Society, Community, Common Good, Oswald-von-Nell-Breuning-Institut, Frankfurt / Main 1993, p. 5
  11. BVerfG, judgment of January 22, 2011, Az. 1 BvR 699/06; BVerfGE 128, 226 - Fraport, Rn. 47: "State authority bound by fundamental rights within the meaning of Article 1, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law is, according to this, every act of state organs or organizations because it takes place in the exercise of their mandate to the common good."
  12. See for example BVerfG, judgment of November 24, 2010, Az. 1 BvF 2/05; BVerfGE 128, 1 - Genetic Engineering Act, Rn. 191.
  13. cf. von Arnim: Common Good and Group Interests , 1977, p. 22 ff .; quoted after common good , juraforum.
  14. ^ German Bundestag, WD 4 - 3000 - 121/18 , accessed on August 27, 2019
  15. BVerfG, ruling of April 14, 2010 , Az. 1 BvR 2140/08, full text - "Monument protection for castle chapel, denial of a demolition permit" - Rn. 14th
  16. a b BVerfG, decision of February 1, 2011 , Az. 1 BvR 2383/10, full text - Rn. 15 ff., With further references
  17. BVerfG, decision of January 27, 2011 , Az. 1 BvR 3222/09, full text - "Bauforderungsicherunggesetz" - Rn. 36 mwN
  18. BVerfG, judgment of July 30, 2008, Az. 1 BvR 3262/07 u. a .; BVerfGE 121, 317 - Smoking ban in restaurants - Rn. 95.
  19. ^ Wöhe, G. and Döring, U. (2013). Introduction to general business administration , 25th edition, Munich: Vahlen.
  20. ^ Drucker, P. (1992). The new society of organizations Harvard Business Review, 70 (5), 95-104.
  21. Gemeinwohl Schweiz Website with GemeinwohlAtlas
  22. Gemeinwohl Germany website with GemeinwohlAtlas
  23. Christian Felber: Common good economy. Deuticke in Paul Zsolnay Verlag Vienna 2010 and 2012
  26. z. B. Erhard Fürst,
  27. I am uncomfortable with the common good economy ...
  30. Fröhlich, A. (2013). The common good balance organization development, 2013 (4), 91-92.
  32. ^ Moore, M. (1995). Creating Public Value - Strategic Management in Government. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  33. ^ Moore, M. (2013). Recognizing public value. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  34. Meynhardt, T. (2008). Public Value: Or what does value creation mean for the common good? the modern state, 1 (2), 73–91.
  35. ^ Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I – II, q. 92 a. 1 ad 3, quoted from Deutsche Thomas-Ausgabe Vol. 13, Heidelberg 1977
  36. ^ Constitution of the Free State of Bavaria