Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Role of the Senses and the Intellect in Happiness

Welcome back to the discussion about happiness.  After taking a close look at what happiness consists of, we came to the conclusion that happiness consists of union with God.  That is the final end, the ultimate goal of humanity.  True happiness cannot consist of anything other than God, because God is the perfect good, which is not limited in any way.

All things other than God can only give us an imperfect happiness.  This happiness is always limited in that it is temporary, and it does not last forever.  Things are also limited in the amount of happiness they can give us, and what kind of happiness they can provide.

Today, we will discuss the respective roles that the senses and the intellect play, in regards to happiness.  It is apparent that people in all ages have mistaken sensual pleasures for happiness.  However, happiness is an operation of the intellect, not the senses.  That is, in its essence, happiness does not belong to the senses.  This is because happiness consists essentially in being united to the uncreated good, and the senses cannot make this union happen.  Also, as we pointed out earlier, happiness does not consists in bodily goods, which are obtained through the senses.

Then, what is the role of the senses, in regards to happiness?  In regards to the imperfect happiness we receive in this life, the use of the senses always comes before happiness.  That is because happiness is an operation of the intellect, which always comes after an operation of the senses.  It is impossible to know something in the intellect, without having first encountered it in the senses.  (Please note that this does not mean all knowledge is sense knowledge--the relationship between the senses, the intellect and knowledge is a completely different topic we can discuss at a later time).

Now, in regards to the perfect happiness that awaits us in Heaven, the bodily senses play a larger role.  All our eschatological studies confirm that, in the resurrection of the dead, we shall receive new bodies.  In these bodies, the senses will receive an overflow and become perfected, as a preparation for the Beatific Vision.  But while the senses play a role in apprehending the Beatific Vision, the operation whereby the human mind is united to God does not depend on the senses.

So, happiness is an operation of the intellect, not the senses.  What kind of intellect, the speculative intellect or the practical intellect?  It is the speculative intellect, which is higher than the practical intellect.  We know this, because the speculative intellect is sought for its own sake, while the practical intellect is sought for the sake of something else, namely, action.  Jesus himself testifies to this truth, when he praises the contemplative life more than the active life, during his visit to Saint Mary Magdalene and her sister Saint Martha.

The last and perfect happiness consists entirely in contemplation.  But we cannot say the same thing about the imperfect happiness we have here on Earth.  True, this imperfect happiness consists primarily in the use of the speculative intellect, but it consists secondarily in the use of the practical intellect.  Specifically, a person must use the practical intellect to direct human actions and passions; that is the use of the practical intellect which secondarily leads to happiness.

To conclude today, let us say more about the role in the intellect in the Beatific Vision.  We can see that there are different levels of knowledge.  For example, the knowledge of someone who knows a thing's name and what it looks like is higher knowledge that the knowledge of someone who only knows a thing's name.  Knowing the cause and the effect is higher than knowing the effect alone, and knowing the essence of a thing is higher than knowing its properties.  Applying these principles to the knowledge of God, it is clear that the highest knowledge of God is knowing the essence of God as the First Cause.  Perfect happiness, of course, comes from this highest form of knowledge of God.  A lesser knowledge of God results in incomplete happiness, because there is still more that is left to know.

1 comment:

Sparksbet said...

This whole series on happiness has been very interesting to me. There are a few things i don't quite agree with, but I agree that God is the source of true happiness. However, I'm confused when you mentiont the Beatific Vision. Maybe it's a Catholic thing (I'm Protestant), but I've never heard of it. Perhaps you could explain that?