• DATE November 8, 2012
  • URL oneinstitute.com/tile/human-flourishing/

Human Flourishing

What does it mean to seek the common good?

Part of what drives The One Institute is an interest in encouraging entrepreneurs to create ventures that serve the common good. In other words, we believe entrepreneurs can contribute to human flourishing in really profound ways. But what does “human flourishing” mean, exactly?

In Miroslav Volf’s award-winning book A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, he describes three main understandings of human flourishing throughout history. Up until the eighteenth century, the common view in the West was that human flourishing happened when people centered their lives on God, and enjoyed created things “in God” and not as ends in themselves. Then came a movement called “new humanism” that made no reference to a transcendent being, focusing entirely on human beings and their collective wellbeing apart from God (Karl Marx showed us where this understanding leads). Over the past century or so, new humanism has given way to what Volf calls “experiential satisfaction,” which again minimized the importance of God, but lost concern for universal solidarity as well. In this view, other human beings – or God, for that matter – are only worthwhile when they serve to enhance an individual’s experience of satisfaction. Volf writes:

One way to view the three phases in the conception of human flourishing – love of God and neighbor, universal beneficence, experiential satisfaction – is to see them as a history of the diminution of the object of love: from the vast expanse of the infinite God, love first tapered to the boundaries of the universal human community, and then radically contracted to the narrowness of a single self – one’s own self. A parallel contraction has also occurred with the scope of human hope… When love shrinks to self-interest, and self-interest devolves into the experience of satisfaction, hope disappears as well.

When we set out to create ventures that serve the common good, it’s worth considering how we understand human flourishing. Thinking about these different understandings can help us as we ask, How does this venture – or this product or service – truly contribute to human flourishing, most deeply understood?