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CHAPTER XLVIII—That the Final Happiness of Man is not in this Life586586The conclusion of this chapter marks the point where St Thomas deliberately and expressly leaves behind him, not only Alexander and Averroes, but Aristotle.
IF then human happiness does not consist in the knowledge of God whereby He is commonly known by all or most men according to some vague estimate, nor again in the knowledge of God whereby He is known demonstratively in speculative science, nor in the knowledge of God whereby He is known by faith, as has been shown above (Chapp. XXXVIII-XL); if again it is impossible in this life to arrive at a higher knowledge of God so as to know Him in His essence, or to understand other pure spirits, and thereby attain to a nearer knowledge of God (Chapp. XLI-XLVI); and still final happiness must be placed in some knowledge of God (Ch. XXXVII); it follows that it is impossible for the final happiness of man to be in this life.
2. The last end of man bounds his natural desire, so that, when that is reached, nothing further is sought: for if there is still a tendency to something else, the end of rest is not yet gained. But that cannot be in this life: for the more one understands, the more is the desire of understanding. natural to all men, increased.587587It may be urged that better than rest in the perfectly understood would be a perpetual progress in understanding. But God in heaven never is perfectly understood, or comprehended, by the Blessed. Cf Chap. LXXII, n. 8.
3. When one gains happiness, he gains also stability and rest. All have this idea of happiness, that it involves stability as a necessary condition: hence the philosopher says that we do not take man for a chameleon.588588“Making a sort of chameleon of the happy man, and resting his happiness on an unstable foundation (Eth. Nic. I, x, 8). A well-known poem tells “of the chameleon’s form and nature.” But in this life there is no stability: for however happy a man be called, sicknesses and misfortunes may always happen to debar him from that activity, whatever it is, wherein happiness consists.
4. It seems unfitting and irrational that the period of development should be great and the period of duration small: for it would follow that nature for the greater part of its time went without its final perfection. Hence we see that animals that live for a short time take a short time in arriving at maturity. But if human happiness consists in perfect activity according to perfect virtue, whether intellectual or moral, such happiness cannot accrue to man till after a long lapse of time; and this is especially apparent in speculative activity, in which the happiness of man is ultimately placed. For scarcely in extreme age can a man arrive [at] a perfect view of scientific truth;589589Perfectam speculationem scientiarum, in the thirteenth century! In the last age of human progress will the wisest have arrived at anything like a ‘perfect view of scientific truth?’ There are many perturbing forces to interfere with the steady progress as well of the race as of the individual: — infidelity, which will not be taught of God, and so wastes its powers after the fashion of an untractable schoolboy: sloth and timidity on the part of those who hold the talent of faith, wrapping it in a napkin instead of trafficking with it: wars and convulsions of civil society. At the same time, war rouses a nation; and the pressure of infidel criticism may and should develop a counter-energy in the Church. and then for the most part there is little of human life left.
5. That is the perfect good of happiness, which is absolutely free from admixture of evil, as that is perfect whiteness, which is absolutely unmingled 219with black. But it is impossible for man in the state of this life to be altogether free from evils, — not to say bodily evils, as hunger, thirst, cold and heat, but even from evils of the soul. There is no man living who is not at times disturbed by inordinate passions, who does not at times overstep the mean in which virtue consists, or fall short of it, who is not in some things deceived, or ignorant of what he wishes to know, or driven to weak surmises on points where he would like absolute certainty.
6. Man naturally shrinks from death, and is sad at the thought of it. Yet man must die, and therefore cannot be perfectly happy while here he lives.590590Because to every Here liveth there answers a Here lieth.
7. Happiness consists, not in habit, but in activity: for habits are for the sake of acts. But it is impossible in this life to do any act continually.591591Understand, any ‘human act.’ No man is happy by the beating of his heart. The proof that happiness consists in an activity of the best in man may be put scholastically thus. — Being is good. Every being, according to its kind and capacity, asserts itself and aims at maintaining itself: this we may call the self-preservative nisus. Every being, that is capable of development, aims, not at mere maintenance, but at development of self. This effort after development is the Aristotelian φύσις. In a conscious and intelligent being, the successful maintenance and development of self is happiness, which might be defined conscia plenitudo essendi. Being (esse) carries power (posse), and power carries act (agere). Power is called by Aristotle the first actuality, and act the second actuality. Being is in its full development when it reaches the second actuality. Man therefore is in the fullness of being, and therefore man is happy, when he is in the best second actuality of which his nature is capable; and that, as Aristotle proves, and St Thomas after him (Chapp. XXVI, XXXVII), is the act of contemplation. — Whether this demonstration is sufficiently observant of the essential sociableness of human nature, is a point to consider. Is self complete in the individual, and not rather in society? Heaven is the New Jerusalem (Apoc. xxi, 2) and Jerusalem is the city of the great King (Matt. v, 35).
8. The more a thing is desired and loved, the greater grief and sadness does its loss bring. But if final happiness be in this world, it will certainly be lost, at least by death; and it is uncertain whether it will last till death, since to any man there may possibly happen in this life diseases totally debarring him from any virtuous activity, such as insanity. Such happiness therefore must always have a natural pendent of sadness.
But it may be replied that whereas happiness is the good of an intelligent nature, true and perfect happiness belongs to those in whom intelligent nature is found in its perfection, that is, in pure spirits;592592In substantiis separatis. Include under that term disembodied human spirits, and this whole reply is not amiss. but in man it is found imperfectly by way of a limited participation. And this seems to have been the mind of Aristotle: hence, enquiring whether misfortunes take away happiness, after showing that happiness lies in virtuous activities, which are the most permanent things in this life, he concludes that they who enjoy such perfection in this life are “happy for men,” meaning that they do not absolutely attain happiness, but only in a human way.593593Nic. Eth. I, x, 16: “We will call them happy in life who have and shall have the specified qualifications, — I mean, they are happy men.” In X, vii, 8, he bids us aim at a happiness “too good for man”; and concludes (X, viii, 8): “For heavenly beings, all their life is happy: for men, life is happy so far as they have any likeness of this blissful activity of contemplation: of other animals, none is happy, since they have no part in contemplation.
Now it is demonstrable that the aforesaid answer is not to the undoing of the arguments above alleged.594594As there is a difference between the work that a machine is theoretically capable of doing, and the work that under actual circumstances can be got out of it, — one such circumstance being, e.g., the strength of the stoker’s arm; — so there is a difference between the happiness that man is absolutely capable of and the happiness that he can attain relatively to the conditions of this life. None knew better than Aristotle how far the latter grade of happiness falls short of the former. He would therefore fall in with all that has been argued about happiness in this chapter, except with the conclusion implied in the fourth argument. Even that argument is borrowed from Aristotle, who is said however to have made it matter of lamentation, not of hope. The Aristotelian text holds out no hope of everlasting and perfect happiness for the human soul after death, — as Plato in two places (Phaedo, 114c: Phaedrus, 248c) does for the departed soul of the philosopher. For (a) though man is inferior in the order 220of nature to pure spirits, yet he is superior to irrational creatures; and therefore he must gain his final end in a more perfect way than they. But they gain their final end so perfectly as to seek nothing further. Thus the natural desire of dumb animals is at rest in the enjoyment of sensual delights. Much more must the natural desire of man be put to rest by his arrival at his last end. But that is impossible in this life: therefore it must be attained after this life.595595“It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied ” (J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism, pp. 11-16 ed. 2). St Thomas argues that as there is something within the pig’s reach which will satisfy the pig, there must be something within Socrates’s reach which will satisfy Socrates. Though Socrates dissatisfied is better off than the pig, yet he is not well off — for Socrates.
(b) It is impossible for a natural desire to be empty and vain: for nature does nothing in vain. But the desire of nature (for happiness) would be empty and vain, if it never possibly could be fulfilled. Therefore this natural desire of man is fulfillable. But not in this life. Therefore it must be fulfilled after this life.596596I have been at considerable pains to explain and vindicate this argument in my Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 13-21. The alternative to the acceptance of it is the view of Professor Stewart, — and, no doubt, of Aristotle: — “The θεωρητικὸς βίος is an ideal: it cannot be realised by man, for he is concrete. But the effort to realise it, so far as possible, is all important in human life. The effort to realise it co-ordinates man’s powers, it gives him élan, and carries him on to the attainment of many things within his reach, which he would not otherwise aspire to” (Stewart’s Notes on Nicomachean Ethics, II, 448). Is man then a lusus naturae, who wins an insufficient pittance in repeated doles by ever asking for more? Is this what Ecclesiastes xii calls all man? We have then the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer granted to the rejection of the second, which scarcely looks like the fulfilment of the third. We have daily bread, but no kingdom come. We have the race progressing indefinitely, but all individual progress ending at no long time in a plunge into nothingness. Is not the case the same with all other animal life and with the whole vegetable world? To be sure it is, but man alone knows it, and his knowledge is his misfortune.
Alexander and Averroes laid it down that the final happiness of man is not in such knowledge as is possible to man through the speculative sciences, but in a knowledge gained by conjunction with a separately subsistent intelligence, which conjunction they conceived to be possible to man in this life. But because Aristotle saw that there was no other knowledge for man in this life than that which is through the speculative sciences, he supposed man not to gain perfect happiness, but a limited measure of happiness suited to his state. In all which investigation it sufficiently appears how hard pressed on this side and on that these fine geniuses (praeclara ingenia) were. From this stress of difficulty we shall find escape in positing, according to the proofs already given, that man can arrive at true happiness after this life, the soul of man being immortal.597597To the cavil that the soul of man is not man, we may reply in the words of Aristotle: “Every man may be reckoned to be that, which is the controlling and better part of him” (Nic. Eth. X, vii, 9). The controlling and better part of man is his immortal soul: the soul then is the man. In this disembodied state the soul will understand in the way in which pure spirits understand (B. II, Chapp. XCVI, sq.) The final happiness of man then will be in the knowledge of God, which the human soul has after this life according to the manner in which pure spirits know Him.221
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