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CHAPTER XXVIIThat the Happiness of Man does not consist in Bodily Pleasures

ACCORDING to the order of nature, pleasure is for the sake of activity, and not the other way about. If therefore certain activities are not the final end, the pleasures ensuing upon these activities are neither the final end nor accessories of the final end. But certainly the activities on which bodily pleasures follow are not the final end: for they are directed to other obvious ends, the preservation of the body and the begetting of offspring. Therefore the aforesaid pleasures are not the final end, nor accessories of the final end, and happiness is not to be placed in them.


3. Happiness is a good proper to man: dumb animals cannot be called happy except by an abuse of language.558558“With reason we refuse to pronounce either ox or horse or any other animal happy: for none of them is able to take part in such activity as makes happiness” (Eth. Nic. I, ix, 9). But bodily pleasures are common to man and brute: happiness therefore cannot consist in them.559559It is to be considered however that bodily pleasures in man commonly are not merely bodily, they are coloured by imagination, art, sentiment, poetry.

4. The final end of a thing is noblest and best of all that appertains to the thing.560560e.g., the final end of oxen, to be eaten by man. Oxen however do not exist for themselves. Sic vos non vobis fertis aratra, boves. In man at least his final end ought to be the realisation of his noblest attribute. But bodily delights do not appertain to a man in respect of what is noblest in him.

5. The highest perfection of man cannot consist in his being conjoined with things lower than himself, but in his conjunction with something above him.

7. In all things that are said to be ‘ordinarily’ (per se), ‘more’ follows upon ‘more,’ if ‘absolutely’ goes with ‘absolutely.’ If then bodily pleasures were good in themselves,561561That is to say, if they were good ‘absolutely,’ irrespectively of limiting conditions. If pleasure were ‘absolutely’ and ‘ordinarily’ one thing with goodness, the more pleasure one got, the better would he be for it; and the most pleasant pleasure would be the best pleasure. Pressed by this argument, some utilitarians, e.g., J. S. Mill, have admitted a difference of kind, or quality, in pleasures, a concession fatal to hedonism, and thereby ultimately to utilitarianism. to take them to the utmost would be the best way of taking them. But this is manifestly false: for excessive use of such things is accounted a vice, injures the body, and bars further enjoyments of the same sort.562562So does excessive contemplation and study injure the body, but not so fearfully: it does not make such a wreck of the whole man. But, it must be owned, in this world contemplation is not absolutely the end of man.

8. If human happiness consisted in bodily pleasures, it would be a more praiseworthy act of virtue to take such pleasures than to abstain from them.563563The rule of the golden mean does not apply to the last end. “Every art seeks the end to infinity, wishing to secure it to the utmost; but the means not to infinity, for the end in view limits all arts” (Aristotle, Politics, I, x, 13). But this is manifestly false, for it is the special praise of the act of temperance to abstain from such pleasures.564564In Ethics and Natural Law, p. 91, it is shown why the whole business of temperance is to restrain. There is however an Epicurean temperance, which, taking pleasure to be happiness and the last end of man, at the same time recognises it to be attainable only under limitations, and so economises what it takes to to be the good wine of life, that it may not run out too fast. Temperance is quite intelligible even in the enjoyment of the last end, on the assumption that the last end is attainable only in small amounts, and may be exhausted by greediness. This view allows that the last end is in itself and in the abstract desirable εἰς ἄπειρον, but only in the abstract; there being limits to its practical attainability. It is a point not to be taken for granted, that happiness, adequate to desire, is attainable at all. The attainability of perfect happiness is a theorem requiring proof; and proof of it is impossible, if the life of the world to come is not to enter into the discussion. See Chap. XLVIII: also Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 13-20. Waiving that discussion, however, the previous arguments, nn. 1, 3, 4, 5, avail to show that bodily pleasures are not the chief ingredient of the limited happiness possible to man on earth.

9. The last end of everything is God (Chap. XVIII). That then must be laid down to be the last end of man, whereby he most closely approaches to God. But bodily pleasures injure a man from any close approach to God: for God is approached by contemplation, and the aforesaid pleasures are a hindrance to contemplation.

Hereby is excluded the error of the Epicureans, who placed the happiness of man in these pleasures: in whose person Solomon says: This seemed to me good, that man should eat and drink and make merry on the fruit of his toil (Eccles. V, 17). Everywhere let us leave behind us signs of mirth, for this is our portion and this our lot (Wisd. ii, 9). Also the error of the followers of Cerinthus is excluded, who spread the fable of a thousand years of the pleasures of the belly as an element in the kingdom of Christ after the resurrection, 209hence they are called Chiliasts, or Millennarians. Also the fables of the Saracens, who place the rewards of the just in the aforesaid pleasures.

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