We began by trying to define the Common Good. My argument began with the US Declaration of Independence, in which a key statement, generally considered to be written by Thomas Jefferson, is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The question is whether Jefferson originally said, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” And that Franklin, when asked to review the document, changed it to, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That single word change makes an otherwise tedious document into a call to all humanity to seek a greater goal than personal profit.
The conversation took a turn when Abraham Maslow’s theory of Self-Actualization was brought up and I took exception to that concept of the highest goal. “To Maslow, self–actualization is the ability to become the best version of oneself. Maslow stated, ‘This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.'”
These are accomplished in an order: Physiological needs, Safety needs, Love and belongingness needs, Esteem needs, Self-actualization needs. This last one refers to the realization of one’s potential, for self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, peak experiences. Maslow (1943) describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.
My contention is that this approach is good enough as far as it goes, but that it stops far short of the goals we should aspire to reach. Thus, I suggested: We as individuals should move beyond simple Self-Actualization and seek to self-actualize our family, our local social groups, our political affiliations, our whole species, our Earth’s well-being, and to help our whole Universe to become a self-conscious Self-Actualizing being.
I may only be a single individual, but I am part of all of these other things to which I refer, and part of my responsibility as a sentient being to bring sentience and Self-Actualization to everyone, and everything that is capable of becoming Self-Actualized.