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Augustine: the Search for Happiness
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(Fr. bonheur; Germ. Glück; Lat. felicitas; Gr. eutychia, eudaimonia).
The primary meaning of this term in all the leading European languages seems to
involve the notion of good fortune, good chance, good happening; but from a very
early date in the history of Greek philosophy the conception became the centre
of keen speculation and dispute. What is happiness? What are its constituents?
What are the causes and conditions of happiness? How, if at all, does it differ
from pleasure? What are its relations to man's intellect, to his will, to his life as a
whole? What is its position in a general theory of the universe? These are
questions which have much occupied the various schools of philosophy and,
indeed, have exercised men who would not be willingly accused of
philosophizing. For happiness is necessarily amongst the most profoundly
interesting subjects for all of us. With the Greeks interest in the problem was
mainly ethical, the psychology of happiness being ancillary; whereas for several
modern schools of philosophy psychology is deemed the key to many of the
most important queries respecting this familiar yet enigmatic conception.
Happiness  (2)

                         Dismissing the view that happiness was a lot arbitrarily bestowed by capricious
                         Fortune, the more serious thinkers among the Greeks regarded it as a gift of the
                         gods. Further reflection led to the view that it was given as a reward for goodness
                         of life. Hence the acquisition of happiness depends on the working out of the
                         good for man in man's life. What then is the good? For Socrates it is eupraxia,
                         which receives closer definition at the hands of Plato, as such harmonious
                         functioning of the parts of man's soul as shall preserve the subordination of the
                         lower to the higher, of the non-rational to the rational. In this view happiness
                         becomes for Plato less the reward than the inevitable concomitant of such
                         harmony. It is the property of the whole soul; and the demand of any element of
                         the soul for preferential treatment in the matter of happiness Plato would thus
                         look upon as unreasonable. In setting happiness as the intrinsic result of a policy
                         of "following nature", the Stoics and the Cyrenaics were in verbal agreement with
                         Plato, though diverging to opposite poles in their answer to the psychological
                         question as to the constituents of happiness. "Follow Nature", for the Cyrenaics,
                         meant: "Gratify the sensuous faculties which are the voices of nature." For the
                         Stoics it signified: "Satisfy your reason which nature bids us to exalt by the
                         entire suppression of our sensuous appetites." Happiness is for these latter the
                         consequence of the virtuous life which issues in spiritual freedom and peace.

                         In Aristotle's ethical system, happiness, as expressed by eudaimonia, is the
                         central idea. He agrees with Plato in rejecting the exaggerated opposition set up
                         between reason and nature by the Sophists, and fundamental to both the Stoic
                         and Epicurean schools. For Aristotle, nature is human nature as a whole. This is
                         both rational and sensuous. His treatment of happiness is in closer contact with
                         experience than that of Plato. The good with which he concerns himself is that
                         which it is possible for man to reach in this life. This highest good is happiness.
                         This must be the true purpose of life; for we seek it in all our actions. But in what
                         does it consist? Not in mere passive enjoyment, for this is open to the brute, but
                         in action (energeia), of the kind that is proper to man in contrast with other
                         animals. This is intellectual action. Not all kinds of intellectual action, however,
                         result in happiness, but only virtuous action, that is, action which springs from
                         virtue and is according to its laws; for this alone is appropriate to the nature of
                         man. The highest happiness corresponds to the highest virtue; it is the best
                         activity of the highest faculty. Though happiness does not consist in pleasure, it
                         does not exclude pleasure. On the contrary, the highest form of pleasure is the
                         outcome of virtuous action. But for such happiness to be complete it should be
                         continued during a life of average length in at least moderately comfortable
                         circumstances, and enriched by intercourse with friends. Aristotle is distinctly
                         human here. Virtues are either ethical or dianoetic (intellectual). The latter pertain
                         either to the practical or to the speculative reason. This last is the highest faculty
                         of all; hence the highest virtue is a habit of the speculative reason. Consequently,
                         for Aristotle the highest happiness is to be found not in the ethical virtues of the
                         active life, but in the contemplative or philosophic life of speculation, in which the
                         dianoetic virtues of understanding, science, and wisdom are exercised. Theoria,
                         or pure speculation, is the highest activity of man, and that by which he is most
                         like unto the gods; for in this, too, the happiness of the gods consists. It is, in a
                         sense, a Divine life. Only the few, however, can attain to it; the great majority
                         must be content with the inferior happiness of the active life. Happiness
                         (eudaimonia), therefore with Aristotle, is not identical with pleasure (hedone), or
                         even with the sum of pleasures. It has been described as the kind of well-being
                         that consists in well-doing; and supreme happiness is thus the well-doing of the
                         best faculty. Pleasure is a concomitant or efflorescence of such an activity.

                         Here, then, is in brief Aristotle's ethical theory of eudemonism; and in its main
                         features it has been made the basis of the chief Christian scheme of moral
                         philosophy. Constituting happiness the end of human action, and not looking
                         beyond the present life, Aristotle's system, it has been maintained with some
                         show of reason, approximates, after all, in sundry important respects towards
                         Utilitarianism or refined Hedonism. This is not the place to determine precisely
                         Aristotle's ethical position, but we may point out that his conception of happiness
                         (eudaimonia) is not identical with felicity - the maximum sum of pleasures -
                         which forms the supreme end of human conduct for modern hedonistic schools.
                         It is rather in his failure to perceive clearly the proper object of man's highest
                         faculty, on the one hand, and, on the other, his limitation of the attainment of this
                         proper end of man to a handful of philosophers, that the most serious deficiency
                         in this part of his doctrine lies. It is here that the leading Schoolmen, enlightened
                         by Christian Revelation and taking over some elements from Plato, come to
                         complete the Peripatetic theory. St. Thomas teaches that beatitudo, perfect
                         happiness, is the true supreme, subjective end of man, and is, therefore, open to
                         all men, but is not attainable in this life. It consists in the best exercise of the
                         noblest human faculty, the intellect, on the one object of infinite worth. It is, in
                         fact, the outcome of the immediate possession of God by intellectual
                         contemplation. Scotus and some other Scholastic writers accentuate the
                         importance of the will in the process, and insist on the love resulting from the
                         contemplative activity of the intellect, as a main factor; but it is allowed by all
                         Catholic schools that both faculties play their part in the operation which is to
                         constitute at once man's highest perfection and supreme felicity. "Our heart is ill
                         at ease till it find rest in Thee" was the cry of St. Augustine. "The possession of
                         God is happiness essential." "To know God is life everlasting." With all Christian
                         writers true happiness is to come not now, but hereafter. Then the bonum
                         perfectum quod totaliter quietat appetitum (the perfect good that completely
                         satisfies desire) can be immediately enjoyed without let or hindrance, and that
                         enjoyment will not be a state of inactive quiescence or Nirvana, but of intense,
                         though free and peaceful, activity of the soul.

                         The divorce of philosophy from theology since Descartes has, outside of Catholic
                         schools of thought, caused a marked disinclination to recognize the importance
                         in ethical theory of the future life with its rewards and punishments.
                         Consequently, for those philosophers who constitute happiness - whether of the
                         individual or of the community - the ethical end, the psychological analysis of
                         the constituents of temporal felicity, has become a main problem. In general,
                         such writers identify happiness with pleasure, though some lay considerable
                         stress on the difference between higher and lower pleasures, whilst others
                         emphasize the importance of active, in opposition to passive, pleasures. The
                         poet Pope tells us, "Happiness lies in three words: Peace, Health, Content".
                         Reflection, however, suggests that these are rather the chief negative condition,
                         than the positive constituents of happiness. Paley, although adopting a species
                         of theological Utilitarianism in which the will of God is the rule of morality, and the
                         rewards and punishments of the future life the chief part of the motive for moral
                         conduct, yet has written a celebrated chapter on temporal happiness embodying
                         a considerable amount of shrewd, worldly common sense. He argues that
                         happiness does not consist in the pleasures of sense, whether the coarser, such
                         as eating, or the more refined, such as music, the drama, or sports, for these
                         pall by repetition. Intense delights disappoint and destroy relish for normal
                         pleasures. Nor does happiness consist in exemption from pain, labour, or
                         business; nor in the possession of rank or station, which do not exclude pain and
                         discomfort. The most important point in the conduct of life is, then, to select
                         pleasures that will endure. Owing to diversity of taste and individual aptitudes,
                         there is necessarily much variety in the objects which produce human
                         happiness. Among the chief are, he argues, the exercise of family and social
                         affections, the activity of our faculties, mental and bodily, in pursuit of some
                         engaging end, that of the next life included, a prudent constitution of our habits
                         and good health, bodily and mental. His conclusion is that the conditions of
                         human happiness are "pretty equally distributed among the different orders of
                         society, and that vice has at all events no advantage over virtue even with respect
                         to this world's happiness". For Bentham, who is the most consistent among
                         English Hedonists in his treatment of this topic, happiness is the sum of
                         pleasures. Its value is measured by quantity: "Quantity of pleasure being equal,
                         push-pin is as good as poetry." Rejecting all distinctions of higher or lower
                         quality, he formulates these tests of the worth of pleasure as an integral part of
                         happiness: (1) its intensity, (2) duration, (3) propinquity, (4) purity, or freedom
                         from pain, (5) fecundity, (6) range. J. Stuart Mill, whilst defining happiness as
                         "pleasure and absence of pain", and unhappiness as "pain and privation of
                         pleasure", insists as a most important point that "quality must he considered as
                         well as quantity", and some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and valuable
                         than others on grounds other than their pleasantness. "It is better", he urges, "to
                         be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." This is true; but it is an
                         inconsistent admission fatal to Mill's whole position as a Hedonist, and to the
                         Hedonistic conception of happiness.

                         The aid of the evolutionist hypothesis here as elsewhere was called to the
                         support of the Sensationist school of psychology and ethics. Pleasure must be
                         life-giving, pain the reverse. The survival of the pleasure fittest to survive will,
                         according to Herbert Spencer, lead to an ultimate well-being not of the individual,
                         but of the social organism; and the perfect health of the organism will be the
                         concomitant of its perfect functioning, that is, of its perfect virtue. Thus happiness
                         is defined in terms of virtue, but of a virtue which is a mere physical or
                         physiological excellence. Spencer's critics, however, have been keen to point out
                         that the pleasure of an activity in man is not by any means a safe criterion of its
                         healthiness or conduciveness to enduring well-being. In the writings of the
                         German Rationalists from Kant onwards we meet echoes of the ancient
                         Stoicism. Usually there is too narrow a view of human nature, and at times an
                         effort to set aside the question of happiness as having no real bearing on ethical
                         problems. Kant is inclined to an over-ready acceptance of the Hedonistic
                         identification of happiness with sensuous pleasure, and for this reason he is
                         opposed to our working for our own happiness whilst he allows us to seek that of
                         others. His rigoristic exclusion of happiness from among the motives for moral
                         action is psychologically as well as ethically unsound, and although "Duty for
                         duty's sake" may be an elevating and ennobling hortatory formula, still the
                         reflective reason of man affirms unequivocally that unless virtue finally results in
                         happiness, that unless it be ultimately happier for the man who observes the
                         moral law than for him who violates it, human existence would be irrational at the
                         very core, and life not worth living. This latter, indeed, is the logical conclusion of
                         Pessimism, which teaches that misery altogether outweighs happiness in the
                         universe as a whole. From this the inevitable inference is that the supreme act of
                         virtue would be the suicide of the entire human race.

                         Reverting now to the teaching of St. Thomas and the Catholic Church respecting
                         happiness, we can better appreciate the superiority of that teaching. Man is
                         complex in his nature and activities, sentient and rational, cognitive and
                         appetitive. There is for him a well-being of the whole and a well-being of the parts;
                         a relatively brief existence here, an everlasting life hereafter. Beatitudo, perfect
                         happiness, complete well-being, is to be attained not in this life, but in the next.
                         Primarily, it consists in the activity of man's highest cognitive faculty, the
                         intellect, in the contemplation of God - the infinitely Beautiful. But this
                         immediately results in the supreme delight of the will in the conscious
                         possession of the Summum Bonum, God, the infinitely good. This blissful activity
                         of the highest spiritual faculties, as the Catholic Faith teaches, will redound in
                         some manner transcending our present experience to the felicity of the lower
                         powers. For man, as man, will enjoy that perfect beatitude. Further, an integral
                         part of that happiness will be the consciousness that it is absolutely secure and
                         everlasting, an existence perfect in the tranquil and assured possession of all
                         good - Status omnium bonorum aggregatione perfectus, as Boethius defines it.
                         This state involves self-realization of the highest order and perfection of the
                         human being in the highest degree. It thus combines whatever elements of truth
                         are contained in the Hedonist and Rationalist theories. It recognizes the
                         possibility of a relative and incomplete happiness in this life, and its value; but it
                         insists on the importance of self-restraint, detachment, and control of the
                         particular faculties and appetencies for the attainment of this limited happiness
                         and, still more, in order to secure that eternal well-being be not sacrificed for the
                         sake of some transitory enjoyment.

                         (See also EPICUREANISM; ETHICS; GOOD; HEDONISM; LIFE; MAN; STOIC
                         PHILOSOPHY; UTILITARIANISM; VIRTUE.)

                         JOSEPH RICKABY, Aquinas Ethicus, I (London, 1892); IDEM, Moral Philosophy (New York and
                         London, 1893); CRONIN, The Science of Ethics (Dublin, 1909); JANET, Theory of Morals (tr.,
                         Edinburgh, 1872); PALEY, Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (London, 1817);
                         BENTHAM, Works, Pt. I, ed. BOWRING (Edinburgh, 1838); MILL, Utilitarianism (New York and
                         London, 1844); SPENCER, Data of Ethics (Edinburgh, 1879); SETH, Ethical Principles (New York
                         and London, 1904); LECKY, History of European Morals, I (New York and London, 1894); PLATO,
                         Philebus, tr. JOWETT (Oxford, 1892); GRANT, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, I (4th ed., London,
                         1884); RASHDALL, Aristotle's Theory of Conduct (London, 1904). - There are several of the
                         translations of the Nicomachean Ethics; WILLIAMS (New York and London, 1879) and PETERS (9th
                         ed., London, 1904) are good. - SIDGWICK, Methods of Ethics (6th ed., New York and London,
                         1907); IDEM, History of Ethics, (17th ed., New York and London, 1896); OLLÉ-LAPRUNE, Essai sur
                         la morale d'Aristote (Paris, 1891).

                         Michael  Maher
                         Transcribed by Vivek Gilbert John Fernandez
                         Dedicated to all Catholics who find happiness in continuing the work which Our
                         Lord began.

                                           The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII
                                        Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company
                                        Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
                                      Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
                                     Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

The Catholic Encyclopedia:
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