The D’Arcy Lectures 2021

This year’s D’Arcy Lectures, delivered by Revd Dr Patrick Riordan, explore the concept of Common Good through the three lenses of Aristotle’s philosophy, Catholic teaching, and contemporary political liberalism.

Common Good: Theological, Philosophical, Political Aspects

What is the Common Good? This expression is used more and more as people face the challenges of the pandemic, the resultant economic issues, and political crises focused on the responsibilities and competencies of governments.

The Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford recently launched The Common Good Project to explore the relationship between law and the common good, and the purpose of law in serving the public interest. Campion Hall’s D’Arcy Lectures complement this worthwhile project, raising other questions – philosophical, theological, political, and economic – about the meaning of common goods in the broadest sense.

The concept of common good comes from Aristotle and found its way into Christian Theology, becoming a core pillar of Catholic Social Thought. The D’Arcy lectures will draw from Aristotle’s reflections and the Catholic intellectual tradition to engage with contemporary issues. They involve a three-cornered conversation: Aristotle’s philosophy, Catholic teaching, and contemporary political liberalism.

The eight-part lecture series will explore questions such as:

  • Is concern for the common good compatible with upholding respect for human rights?
  • Can the conception of the common good be sufficiently robust to generate concrete policy proposals?
  • Is the notion of common good intrinsically conservative, so that its usage undermines the possibility of critique of established interests?

The intellectual tradition rooted in the Catholic worldview hopes to speak of realities that apply to all, and so it typically avoids taking sides in specific ideological debates. The Vatican Council’s approach in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, Gaudium et spes, is to invite all to a dialogue about the common good as the set of economic, political, legal and cultural conditions for the flourishing of human beings, whether as individuals or as communities. This year’s D’Arcy Lectures are a contribution to that ongoing dialogue.

Lecture Schedule

The lectures will take place every Tuesday 5:30pm-6:30pm in Trinity Term (27 April to 15 June)


27 April: Lecture 1
Philosophical and Theological Sources of ‘The Common Good’

Authors such as Adrian Vermeule, Michael Sandel and Jonathan Sachs invoke ‘The Common Good’ in recent publications. It is increasingly heard in the discussion of law’s purpose, and in the critique of contemporary politics. What does it mean? This lecture explores the philosophical and theological sources of the concept, from Aristotle’s introduction of the notion in his Politics, and its adoption in Christian Theology to being a pillar of Catholic Social Teaching today.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture One video recording

4 May: Lecture 2
Reconstructing Aristotle’s Political Philosophy

The relevance of Aristotle’s philosophy to modern politics is not immediately evident. This lecture focuses on three core elements where his thought seems to be incompatible with our present experience: the stress on consensus, law’s moral purpose, and the preferred normative language. Developing these elements allows for a reconstruction of Aristotle’s approach to meet our needs.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture Two video recording

11 May: Lecture 3
Is Liberalism the Enemy?

Many contemporary appeals to the common good are couched within the critique of liberalism in political thought and neo-liberalism in economics. Situating the common good in opposition to liberalism is in danger of misunderstanding the concept and its theological usage. This lecture challenges the supposed polarisation and argues that liberal principles can be defended in terms of common goods.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture Three video recording

18 May: Lecture 4
The Role of Conflict in a Political Account of Common Goods

‘Politics’ and ‘political’ are widely used as labels in speaking of social situations in which there is conflict. A more precise understanding of politics will be defended in which it appears as just one form of rule. Following Aristotle’s usage, it is argued that not all forms of rule of states are political in the full sense. This approach entails a challenge whether Catholic Social Thought can accommodate an adequate account of conflict.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture Four video recording

25 May: Lecture 5
Does Political Augustinianism Help?

Many theologians addressing these questions of politics and the common good begin their discussion with St. Augustine’s City of God. This lecture argues that there is a trap in taking this starting point, a trap that Aquinas avoided by combining his reading of Augustine, the Theologian, with a reading of the Philosopher Aristotle. It suggests a reworking of Augustine’s analysis to retain the theological benefit of his ideas for understanding politics today.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture Five video recording

1 June: Lecture 6
Is the Church Paternalistic in Prescribing the Common Good?

Pope Francis challenges politicians to care for the earth and care for the poor. The Vatican Council dares to tell the state what its purpose is. Do Church authorities infringe on the autonomy of civil authorities in doing so? Is the Church in danger of ‘imposing’ its view of the good on others? This lecture considers issues of solidarity, knowledge of others’ interests, distinction of types of goods, and the limits of permissibility in caring for others’ wellbeing.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture Six video recording

8 June: Lecture 7
Politics and Law: The Limits of Bounded Rationality

The political handling of conflict presupposes its own standards. These are less precise than the technical languages of law and economics, and there is a persistent danger that the political realm be colonized by the standards of legality or economic efficiency. This lecture explores the tension, relying on Aquinas’s account of law, and drawing on his analogical discussion of the many types of law to underline the importance of preserving a distinct realm of political reasonableness as a requirement of the common good.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture Seven video recording

15 June: Lecture 8
Fraught Issues Today: Integral Ecology and Humane Economy

Can the analysis of common goods as presented in these lectures contribute to discussions of typical problems today? There is no simple deduction of solutions from an account of common goods. The issues call for regulation; regulation follows on debate within legislative assemblies; a wider political conversation is needed to sustain the focused debate. Review of experience in our societies in dealing with regulation, and de-regulation, points to urgent need for reform and revisioning if our political institutions are to support and serve the common good when dealing with current issues.
Accompanying lecture notes
Lecture Eight video recording


About The D'Arcy Lectures

The Martin D’Arcy Memorial Lectures are an annual series established by Campion Hall in 1976 to be delivered, usually by a fellow Jesuit, in honour of the celebrated Master of the Hall from 1933-45. It is held in collaboration with Georgetown University Press.
Find out more about The D'Arcy Lectures.

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We hope you have enjoyed the D’Arcy Lectures given by Revd Dr Patrick Riordan SJ and that you might consider helping to support the next series. This will be held in Trinity Term 2022, and given by Fr Jim Keenan SJ. Find out more about supporting Campion Hall.