Front Page Titles (by Subject) QUESTION III.: WHAT IS HAPPINESS? - Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1)
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QUESTION III.: WHAT IS HAPPINESS? - St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas, vol. 1 (Summa Theologica - Prima Secundae, Secunda Secundae Pt.1) 
Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the Second part of the Summa Theologica, with Notes by Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, 1892).
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WHAT IS HAPPINESS?
Article I.—Is happiness something uncreated?
R. The word end has two meanings. In one meaning it stands for the thing itself which we desire to gain: thus the miser’s end is money. In another meaning it stands for the mere attainment, or possession, or use, or enjoyment of the thing desired, as if one should say that the possession of money is the miser’s end, or the enjoyment of something pleasant the end of the sensualist. In the first meaning of the word, therefore, the end of man is the Uncreated Good, namely God, who alone of His infinite goodness can perfectly satisfy the will of man. But according to the second meaning the last end of man is something created, existing in himself, which is nothing else than the attainment or enjoyment of the last end. Now the last end is called happiness. If therefore the happiness of man is considered in its cause or object, in that way it is something uncreated; but if it is considered in essence, in that way happiness is a created thing.
§ 2. Happiness is said to be the sovereign good of man, because it is the attainment or enjoyment of the sovereign good.
Article II.—Is happiness an activity?1
R. So far as the happiness of man is something created, existing in the man himself, we must say that the happiness of man is an act. For happiness is the last perfection of man. But everything is perfect so far as it is in act; for potentiality without actuality is imperfect. Happiness therefore must consist in the last and crowning act of man. But it is manifest that activity is the last and crowning act of an active being: whence also it is called by the Philosopher “the second act.” And hence it is that each thing is said to be for the sake of its activity. It needs must be therefore that the happiness of man is a certain activity.
§ 1.Life has two meanings. One way it means the very being of the living, and in that way happiness is not life; for of God alone can it be said that His own being is His happiness. In another way life is taken to mean the activity on the part of the living thing by which activity the principle of life is reduced to act. Thus we speak of an active or contemplative life, or of a life of pleasure; and in this way the last end is called life everlasting, as is clear from the text: “This is life everlasting, that they know Thee, the only true God.”2
§ 2. By the definition of Boethius, that happiness is “a state made perfect by the aggregate sum of all things good,” nothing else is meant than that the happy man is in a state of perfect good. But Aristotle has expressed the proper essence of happiness, showing by what it is that man is constituted in such a state, namely, by a certain activity.
§ 3. Action is twofold. There is one variety that proceeds from the agent to exterior matter, as the action of cutting and burning, and such an activity cannot be happiness, for such activity is not an act and perfection of the agent, but rather of the patient.1 There is another action immanent, or remaining in the agent himself, as feeling, understanding, and willing. Such action is a perfection and act of the agent, and an activity of this sort possibly may be happiness.
§ 4. Since happiness means some manner of final perfection, happiness must have different meanings according to the different grades of perfection that there are attainable by different beings capable of happiness. In God is happiness by essence, because His very being is His activity, because He does not enjoy any other thing than Himself. In the angels final perfection is by way of a certain activity, whereby they are united to the Uncreated Good; and this activity is in them one and everlasting. In men, in the state of the present life, final perfection is by way of an activity whereby they are united to God. But this activity cannot be everlasting or continuous, and by consequence it is not one, because an act is multiplied by interruption; and therefore, in this state of the present life, perfect happiness is not to be had by man. Hence the Philosopher, placing the happiness of man in this life, says that it is imperfect, and after much discussion he comes to this conclusion: “We call them happy, so far as happiness can be predicated of men.” But we have a promise from God of perfect happiness, when we shall be “like the angels in Heaven.”1 As regards this perfect happiness, the objection drops, because in this state of happiness the mind of man is united to God by one continuous and everlasting activity. But in the present life, so far as we fall short of the unity and continuity of such an activity, so much do we lose of the perfection of happiness. There is, however, granted us a certain participation in happiness, and the more continuous and undivided the activity can be, the more will it come up to the idea of happiness. And therefore in the active life, which is busied with many things, there is less of the essence of happiness than in the contemplative life, which is busy with the one occupation of the contemplation of truth. Though at times the contemplative man is not actually engaged in contemplation, still, because he has it ready to hand, he is always able to engage in it; moreover, the very cessation for purposes of sleep or other natural occupation is ordered in his mind towards the aforesaid act of contemplation, and therefore that act seems in a manner continual.
Article III.—Is happiness an activity of sense or of pure intellect?
R. A thing may belong to happiness in three ways, essentially, antecedently, and consequently. Essentially indeed the activity of sense cannot belong to happiness. For man’s happiness consists essentially in his conjunction with the Uncreated Good, which is his last end, an end wherewith he cannot be conjoined by any activity of sense. The like conclusion follows from the fact that man’s happiness does not consist in goods of the body, which however are the only goods that we attain by the activity of sense. But activities of sense may belong to happiness both antecedently and consequently. Antecedently, in respect of imperfect happiness, such as can be had in this life: for the activity of intellect presupposes the activity of sense. Consequently, in the perfect happiness which is looked for in Heaven, because after the resurrection, “from the happiness of the soul,” as Augustine says, “there will be a certain reaction on the body and the senses of the body to perfect them in their activities.” But even then the activity whereby the human mind is united with God will not depend on sense.
Article IV.—Supposing happiness to belong to the intellectual faculty, is it an activity of the understanding or of the will?1
R. For happiness two things are requisite, one which is the essence of happiness, another which is a sort of proprium of it, namely, the delight attaching to it. I say then that as for that which is the very essence of happiness, it cannot possibly consist in an act of the will. For manifestly happiness is the gaining of the last end; but the gaining of the last end does not consist in any mere act of the will. The will reaches out both to an absent end, desiring it, and to a present end, resting in it with delight. But plainly the mere desire of an end is not the gaining of an end, but a movement in that direction. As for delight, that comes over the will from the fact of the end being present, but not conversely, i.e., a thing does not become present by the mere fact of the will delighting in it. It must therefore be by something else than the act of the will that the end itself becomes present to the will. And this manifestly appears in the case of sensible ends; for if it were possible to gain money by an act of the will, a covetous man would have made his money from the first, the instant that he wished to have it; but the fact is, at first the money is away from him, and he gets it by seizing it with his hand, or by some such means, and then he is at once delighted with the money got. So then it happens also in the case of an end of the intellectual order. For from the beginning we wish to gain this intellectual end; but we actually do gain it only by this, that it becomes present to us by an act of understanding, and then the will rests delighted in the end already gained. So therefore the essence of happiness consists in an act of understanding. But the delight that follows upon happiness belongs to the will. So Augustine says: “Happiness is joy in truth,” joy being properly the crown and complement of happiness.
§ 1. Peace belongs to the last end of man, not as being the very essence of happiness, but because it stands in relation to happiness as well antecedently as consequently. Antecedently, inasmuch as all perturbing and impeding causes are already removed from the way of the last end: consequently, inasmuch as man, when he has gained his last end, remains at peace with his desire at rest.
§ 2. The first object of the will is not its own act, as neither is the first object of sight vision, but a visible thing. Therefore from the fact that happiness belongs to the will as its first object, it follows that it does not belong to it as being its own act.
§ 4. Love ranks above knowledge in moving, but knowledge goes before love in attaining; for nothing is loved but what is known, and therefore an end of understanding is first attained by the action of understanding, even as an end of sense is first attained by the action of sense.
§ 5. To Augustine’s words, “He is happy, who has all that he wishes, and wishes nothing amiss,” it is to be said that he who has all that he wishes, is happy by having what he wishes, and that he has by something else than an act of the will. But to wish nothing amiss is required for happiness as a certain due disposition thereto.
Article V.—Is happiness an activity of the speculative or of the practical understanding?
R. Happiness consists rather in the activity of the speculative understanding than of the practical, as is evident from three considerations. First from this, that if the happiness of man is an activity, it must be the best activity of man. Now the best activity of man is that of the best power working upon the best object: but the best power is the understanding, and the best object thereof is the Divine Good, which is not the object of the practical understanding, but of the speculative. Secondly, the same appears from this, that contemplation is especially sought after for its own sake. But the act of the practical understanding is not sought after for its own sake, but for the sake of the action, and the actions themselves are directed to some end. Hence it is manifest that the last end cannot consist in the active life that is proper to the practical understanding. Thirdly, the same appears from this, that in the contemplative life man is partaker with his betters, namely, with God and the angels, to whom he is assimilated by happiness: but in what concerns the active life other animals also after a fashion are partakers with men, albeit imperfectly. And therefore the last and perfect happiness which is expected in the world to come, must consist mainly in contemplation. But imperfect happiness, such as can be had here, consists primarily and principally in contemplation, but secondarily in the activity of the practical understanding directing human actions and passions.
§ 2. The practical understanding has a good which is outside of itself, but the speculative understanding has good within itself, to wit, the contemplation of truth; and if that good be perfect, the whole man is perfected thereby and becomes good. This good within itself the practical understanding has not, but directs a man towards it.
Article VIII.—Does man’s happiness consist in the vision of the Divine Essence?
R. The last and perfect happiness of man cannot be otherwise than in the vision of the Divine Essence. In evidence of this statement two points are to be considered: first, that man is not perfectly happy, so long as there remains anything for him to desire and seek; secondly, that the perfection of every power is determined by the nature of its object. Now the object of the intellect is the essence of a thing: hence the intellect attains to perfection so far as it knows the essence of what is before it. And therefore, when a man knows an effect, and knows that it has a cause, there is in him an outstanding natural desire of knowing the essence of the cause. If therefore a human intellect knows the essence of a created effect without knowing aught of God beyond the fact of His existence, the perfection of that intellect does not yet adequately reach the First Cause, but the intellect has an outstanding natural desire of searching into the said Cause: hence it is not yet perfectly happy. For perfect happiness, therefore, it is necessary that the intellect shall reach as far as the very essence of the First Cause.1
[1 ]St. Thomas’s actus and operatio I have Englished usually as act and activity. The surgical associations that hang about our word operation are too strong to allow us ever to say that happiness consists in an operation. At the same time, as the English language is very deficient in the technicalities of philosophy, an English word must at times be used rather in an arbitrary and constrained sense, to make it equivalent to a technical term of scholastic Latin. See note on II-II. q. 37. art. 1. (Trl.)
[2 ]St. John xvii. 4.
[1 ]This sort of action is called transient. (Trl.)
[1 ]St. Matt. xii. 30.
[1 ]This is a much vexed question between Thomists and Scotists. St. Thomas certainly has Aristotle with him. See the Aristotelian definition of happiness explained and applied, Moral Philosophy, or Ethics and Natural Law, Stonyhurst Series, pp. 6—26. (Trl.)
[1 ]The reader should compare q. 5. art. 5, and consult theologians on the difficulties of this passage. For the natural end of man, the highest that he could have attained to by his unaided natura powers, see Ethics and Natural Law, pp. 23—26. (Trl.)