The Object of Human Happiness

Father Pegues discusses the ultimate object of human happiness, man’s greatest good and final end, as presented by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Treatise on the Last End (Summa Theologica I-II, 1-5).

Father Pegues writes: “Man under the higher action of God and dependently upon this action, can fix for himself the end for which he acts; whereas other creatures of the material world put into execution blindly, naturally, or instinctively the end fixed to their action by God.” The reason for this difference between man and other creatures is because “man is endowed with mind, whereas other creatures are not.”

“There is always some supreme object or some last end man has in view whenever he acts; since without some such supreme object or last end he would be unable to will anything at all. Man ordains all to this supreme object or last end whenever he acts; if he does not do this consciously and explicitly, he does it at least implicitly. This last end or supreme object which man always has in view when he acts and to which he ordains all is happiness. Of necessity man desires to be happy.”

“Since he can seek his welfare among so many and divers good things, he can deceive himself as to the object of his true happiness. If man deceives himself as to the object of his true happiness, it follows that instead of finding happiness at the end of his life, he finds nought but the worst evil.”

“The object of the happiness of man is a good higher than himself and in which he can find his perfection.” The object is not riches, for “these are beneath man; nor are they sufficient to guarantee his entire welfare and his perfection.” Nor is it honors, for “honours do not bring perfection, but rather presuppose it.” Nor is it renown, for “these are of no worth unless they be merited; moreover among men these things are often foolish and ill-judged.” Nor is it power, because “power is for the good of others, and is subject to their whims and disobedience.” Nor is it health or beauty, because “these good things are too unstable; furthermore they belong only to the external perfection of man and not to his internal perfection or that of his soul.” Nor does the object of happiness consist in bodily pleasures, for “these are of small account in comparison with the higher pleasures of the mind which are proper to the soul.” Rather, the happiness of man consists in “some good of soul”; and this good is “God, the Supreme Good, Sovereign and Infinite.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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