Arts and Humanities for the Common Good

The land grant mission of Michigan State University commits all of its members to serving the common good. It is the highest responsibility we can have as educators supported by our fellow citizens and devoted to their wellbeing.

What exactly do we mean by the common good, and how can a residential college in the arts and humanities contribute to it?

"The common good" is one of those essentially contested terms that does not have a simple dictionary definition. Instead of thinking of it as some elusive object or bundle of goods that everyone desires no matter what else they want, let me suggest another way of conceptualizing the common good. The common good is something valuable to all members of society that is non-divisible. It can only exist when it is held in common. This is more than just what economists call public goods, for example, things like highways and national defense which have to be created through the taxing power of the state and cannot be left to marketplace of individual buyers and sellers. The common good includes things like a culture of toleration and a practice of nurturing the young and caring for the elderly. These are  things that cannot exist very long unless they are held in common by most, if not all members of society. 

The arts and humanities play a particularly vital role in articulating, nurturing, and conserving the common good. The arts and humanities remind us what we have shared in the past that have made us a people--our languages, customs, traditions, norms, and values. The arts and humanities shine a light on those elements of the common good that are endangered. They tell us when what was once held in common is beginning to lose favor and why. And, the arts and humanities can articulate new components of the common good that should have a claim on us and, again, why.

Here, in this virtual space, we can spotlight the work of RCAH faculty, staff, students, visitors, and community partners whose scholarship, creative work, and teaching contributes concretely to this conception of the common good. Through these examples we hope to demonstrate why the common good is neither a far-off reality nor a dangerous illusion.