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CHAPTER XXXVIIIThat Human Happiness does not consist in such Knowledge of God as is common to the majority of Mankind

THERE is a certain general and vague knowledge of God in the minds of practically, all men, whether it be by the fact of God’s existence being a self-evident truth, as some think (B. I, Chap. X); or, as seems more likely, because natural reasoning leads a man promptly to some sort of knowledge of God: for men seeing that natural things follow a certain course and order, and further considering that order cannot be without an ordainer, they perceive generally that there is some ordainer of the things which we see. But who or what manner of being the ordainer of nature is, and whether He be one or many, cannot be gathered off-hand from this slight study. Thus, seeing a man move and do other acts, we perceive that there is in him a cause of these activities, which is not in other things; and this cause we call the soul; and still we do not yet know what the soul is, whether it is anything corporeal or not, or how it performs the aforesaid acts. Now such knowledge as this cannot possibly suffice for happiness.

1. For happiness must be an activity without defect. But this knowledge is susceptible of admixture of many errors: thus some have believed that the ordainer of mundane events is no other than the heavenly bodies: hence they have affirmed the heavenly bodies to be gods. Others have said the same of the elements, thinking that their natural movements and activities come not from any controlling power outside them, but that they control other things. Others, believing that human acts are not subject to any other than human control, have called those men who control other men gods. Such knowledge of God is not sufficient for happiness.

3. No one is blameworthy for not possessing happiness: nay, men who have it not, and go on tending to it, are praised. But lack of the aforesaid knowledge of God renders a man particularly blameworthy. It is a great indication of dulness of perception in a man, when he perceives not such manifest signs of God; just as any one would be counted lacking in perception, who, seeing a man, did not understand that he had a soul. Hence it is said in the Psalms (xiii and lii): The fool said in his heart: There is no God.

4. Knowledge of a thing in general, not descending into any details, is a very imperfect knowledge, as would be the knowledge of man merely as something that moves. By such knowledge a thing is known potentially only, for details are potentially contained in generalities. But happiness, being a perfect activity and the supreme good of man, must turn upon what is actual and not merely potential.

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