The individual is a member of society and his morality represents a harmony between both individual and social benefits. Comte has put the same thing beautifully,
‘The man who dares to think himself independent of others cannot even put die blasphemous conception into words without immediate self contradiction since the language he uses is not his own.”
According to the theory of common good, both individualistic and socialistic ethics are partial and although practical in a relative way prove to be fallacious when unqualified.
Harmony of the Selfish and the Unselfish:
According to the theory of common good, the mutual contradiction of selfishness and unselfishness is not psychological. Desire for life is the most personal but this desire is dependent upon family and social relations.
In the same way some feeling of individual benefit is conjoined to all altruistic desires. Our actions can become tendentious towards making our neighbor’s benefit real the end as common god only if we look upon him as a part of our self.
Yagyavalkya’s statement in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad too means this when he says that wife and children are not loved for themselves but for the self. A wise person aims at self realization.
But it is to be remembered at the same time that an individual’s soul has both individual and social aspects. According to philosophers like Sri Aurobindo the soul can be widened, and it can be made so comprehensive, by breaking its limited walls created by egoism, that its interests may include the benefit of everybody.
In the words of’ Dewey, “Individuality means, not separation, but defined position in a whole.”
Development of the Individual:
The theory of common good holds that man’s development outside society is impossible. At birth, an individual is not like a ‘Tabula Rasa’.
In the words of Muirhead, “The child who comes into the words inherits everything he has from a previous state of society.”
Children born in different societies like Hindu, Muslim and Christian, Indian and European societies will have different impressions. Education can develop and transform these impressions, not create or destroy them.
Education is imparted through the linguistic medium and language is the creation of society even moral education reserves a major place for social traditions, benefits and dogmas.
Great people like Napolean, Ceasar and Gandhi, Mohammed and Christ can change the social order but they also represent their social conditions. The soul of the time is manifested by great men. Dr. Johnson called Shakespeare the soul of the age in a similar sense.
Organic Theory of Society:
The theory of common good opposes the acceptance of society as an organic structure, like a biological structure. But it stresses the relevant social meanings. There is no common social will or mind separate from individuals but hi the same way there can be no individual mind who has not taken anything from society.
Social structure differs from biological only hi one respect and that is that it is a spiritual whole in which society and the individual, though complete, are interdependent.
Thus the pure selfish and the pure unselfish are both partial in Aristotelian language, the man who does not live in society, or does not think this necessary because he is sufficient in himself, is either a saint or an animal.
Self Improvement and Self Sacrifice:
Thus, in social service the individual achieves his own benefit. According to the Gita, consolidation of society is an essential means to the attainment of self or God realization.
Defending one’s interest by running away from society is losing them. On the contrary, experiencing one’s own life in the life of the multitude, spending a life of service to all after making one’s own self congruent to the universal soul, is the real life.
It is said that, “to lose one’s life is to it and to save it is to lose it” Man’s life can be selfish as well as selfless manhood lies in experiencing one’s own life hi the life of the multitude. He is man who dies for man. To spend a life of selfishness and to avoid a life of sacrifice is to lose the real life, and to spend a life of benevolence is to attain the true life.
This is the only basis of the obligation in duty and this is the command of the universal soul within us. Common good is the individual’s absolute good, because in it is his maximum individuality and in it is his absolute self improvement. In this way, in the theory of common good, the sole and essential means to self improvement is self sacrifice.