Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Leads to Happiness (Part 2 of 2)

Today, we continue discussing the question of what leads to happiness.  Here are answers that people usually give to that question:

1.      Wealth
2.      Honor
3.      Fame or glory
4.      Power
5.      Pleasure
6.      Bodily goods
7.      Spiritual goods
8.      Any created good

We examined the first four answers and found them lacking.  Today, let's examine the second four answers and see if any of them is the source of happiness.


Pleasure seems to lead to happiness, because all humans seek pleasure and delight.  Like happiness, these things are desired for their own sake, and they are not desired for anything else.  Secondly, science has proven that pleasure moves the appetite more than anything else, to the point where people will choose pleasure over everything else, including life itself.  Clearly, pleasure acts like a final end, just like happiness does.  Third, since desire is good, the thing that everyone desires must be best.  Everyone desires pleasure, including the wise and foolish, and even irrational animals.  Therefore, happiness, which is the supreme good, consists in pleasure.

However, happiness does not consist in pleasure.  It is possible for a person to be unhappy, while enjoying something pleasurable, such as eating cake.  On the other hand, it is possible for a person to be happy, while undergoing pain, the opposite of pleasure.  This is the case with a bride who has a toothache on her wedding day; she is suffering from pain, but she is still exceedingly happy.  And because pleasure and happiness can exist independent of each other, happiness does not consist of pleasure.

To respond to the objections.  First, we see that goodness and happiness are both desired for their own sakes.  However, pleasure is not desired for its own sake.  Pleasure is desired for the good, which is the object of pleasure.  Consequently, good is the principle of pleasure, from which pleasure gets its form.  Second, the reason that pleasure and sensible delights move people more than anything else is not because pleasure is the final end or because pleasure is the greatest of all things.  No, the reason that people are moved by sensible delights is because our senses are our principles of knowledge.  In other words, we get knowledge through the senses, and that is why sensible delights have such a powerful hold over people.  Third, people desire pleasure in the same way they desire good.  But, as stated in the first response, people desire pleasure by reason of the good, and not the other way around.  Hence, it does not follow that pleasure is the supreme good.

Bodily Goods seem to lead to happiness.  First, the Bible teaches us that this is so; in the Book of Sirach, there is a section about bodily health which reads "There is no treasure greater than a healthy body, and there is no happiness greater than a joyful heart" (Sirach 30:16).  Second, the health of the body is more necessary for living than anything else, so it must have a larger role to play in happiness than anything else does.  Third, being is the highest of all goods, because you can have no goods, if you do not first have being.  Therefore, man's happiness consists primarily in all the things that pertain to his being, and the health of the body is first among these. 

On the contrary, humans surpass all other animals, as far as happiness is concerned.  However, as far as bodily goods go, humans are surpassed by many animals; elephants live longer, lions are stronger, deer are faster, etc.  Therefore, human happiness does not consist in goods of the body.

There are two reasons why happiness cannot consist in bodily goods.  First, it contradicts the previously-discussed notion that happiness is a human goal.  A goal is something you work towards, not something you already have.  If the goal of happiness is fulfilled in bodily goods, then every person has already fulfilled that goal, because they all have bodies.  But this is not the case.

To put this in more philosophical terms, whenever a thing has something else as its end, it cannot reach its end while completely preserving itself.  The fact that humans are ordained towards something else as a last end makes it impossible for humans themselves to be the last end.

The second reason that happiness cannot consist in bodily goods is that human beings are more than just bodies.  Humans are made up of body and soul, and therefore, any argument about happiness which completely ignores either body or soul is bound to be incomplete.  When we examine the relationship between the body and the soul, we see that the being of the body depends on the soul, but the being of the soul does not depend on the body.  The body's dependence on the soul makes it impossible for happiness to consist in bodily goods alone.  Bodies without souls, which are corpses, are incapable of happiness, no matter how many bodily goods they possess.  Therefore, happiness does not consist solely in bodily goods.

To respond to the objections.  First, the Book of Sirach is explaining that riches, which is the book's word for external goods, are designed for the purposes of bodily goods.  This is why Sirach says bodily goods are better than riches.  In the exact same way, the goods of the body are designed for the purposes of the good of soul; therefore, the soul's goods are better than the body's goods.  Second, this argument makes the mistake of thinking that the body is necessary for happiness.  We know that this is untrue, because we speak of incorporeal things—namely, God and his angels—as being happy, despite the fact that they do not have physical bodies.  Further, we have the example of disabled people who have lost body parts, such as people with only one leg or people who are blind.  It is possible for these people to be happy, even though they have lost parts of their bodies; therefore, body parts are not completely necessary for happiness.  Third, this argument from being is partially correct, but it forgets the fact that humans have imperfect being.  The focus of the search should shift to the source of being as the grounds for existence, rather than focusing on the existence of being as the ground for goods.

Spiritual Goods seem to lead to happiness.  First, in our above arguments, we ruled out external goods and goods of the body as the possible sources of happiness.  Spiritual goods are the only other option left to us.  Second, when we desire something good, we love what gives us the good more than the good itself.  For example, if I desire a friend to give me money, even though I desire the money, I love the friend more than the money.  When we apply this principle to someone who desires goodness for himself, it means that person must love himself more than goodness.  Since people love themselves above all things, and they desire goodness only in respect to themselves, ultimate fulfillment must be found in the self, specifically, the soul.  Third, happiness belongs to humans, but as said earlier, it does not belong to the body.  Therefore, it belongs to the soul.

However, happiness cannot consist in goods of the soul.  The first reason is similar to why happiness cannot consist in goods of the body.  The soul is the guiding principle, the thing which causes people to move towards their final end of happiness.  If happiness consisted of the soul, that would mean people are guided, by their souls, in order to possess souls.  And this is contradictory; it results in people having happiness in its entirety while still seeking after happiness as if they did not already possess it.

The second reason happiness cannot consist of the soul is that the soul has the ability to change.  Now, true happiness must rest in something that does not have the potential for change.  Otherwise, it might change into something which does not create happiness, or it might change from being present to us into being completely lost to us.  But since the soul can change, and true happiness cannot, happiness does not consist of the soul.

It is true that happiness is something which belongs to the soul.  But when we examine the goods of the soul, we see that they are what philosophers call "goods by participation".  In other words, the soul does not create its own goods, but instead, the goods of the soul have their source in something other than the soul.  Therefore, we have to say that happiness is a good which belongs to the soul, but the thing which constitutes happiness is something outside the soul.

To respond to the objections.  First, this argument divides all human desires into three categories: external goods, goods of the body and goods of the soul.  Looking at it from this way, it is possible to say that what constitutes happiness is a good of the soul, because the desire for happiness falls better into that category than the other two.  However, it is still inaccurate to say that goods of the soul are the source of happiness.  Second, the argument fails to distinguish between two types of love.  Happiness is loved and desired for itself, not for the sake of something else.  But you can also love and desire something not for itself, but for the sake of something else; the argument says this is the case when you love a friend, only because you desire to get money from him.  Consequently, the argument falls apart, because it is not the same kind of love in both cases.  Third, happiness itself, since it is a perfection of the soul, is an inherent good of the soul; but that which constitutes happiness (namely, what makes a person happy) is something outside of his soul, as stated above.

Finally, Created Goods seem to lead to happiness.  First, it seems that this whole discussion of happiness is building up to a discussion of angels.  This is because angels are eternally happy and because they are better than humans by nature.  Therefore, happiness consists in humans becoming angels.  Second, the way a thing reaches is final end is by achieving perfection.  For example, a part reaches its perfection by becoming a whole.  Since humans are part of the universe, it has to be the case that we reach the final end of happiness in the whole universe of creatures.  Third, humans naturally do not desire things which surpass their capacity.  Human capacity does not include the good which surpasses the limits of all creation, so it seems that man can be made happy by some created good.

However, happiness cannot consist of any created good, and the reasons why this is true have been discussed in relation to other things.  For one, anything which is created can be destroyed, and the possibility of being destroyed prevents a thing from being the source of perfect happiness.  For another, anything that is created does not create itself, but rather, it depends on something else as the source of its existence, while true happiness exists in and of itself.  And finally, we can say that happiness is the ultimate good, and this has to be uncreated, because all created goods have their goodness from a sharing in the ultimate good.

Let us take a step back now and join together all the various arguments we have seen so far.  What do we know about the ultimate good?  It cannot be desired for the sake of something else, but it must be desired in and of itself.  It cannot be limited, and it cannot be able to change into something else.  It cannot be temporary, but it must be eternal.  It cannot depend on something else for its source, but it must be the source of its own existence.

What, then, fulfills these criteria?  What is the ultimate good, the source of happiness?  God, who is the source of all good, who is eternal, who cannot change and who is the source of his own existence.  Happiness consists in God.  This is the logical conclusion of our arguments; we showed that happiness does not consist of any created good.  Therefore, it consists of the only uncreated good, which is God.

To respond to the objections.  First, it is true that angels have a higher nature than humans, and it is true that human nature has a desire to reach upwards towards better things.  However, this desire does not stop at the angels, but it continues onto God, so angels cannot be the last end of humans.  Second, it is not always the case that a part reaches its final end by becoming whole; it is possible for the whole itself to be ordained towards a further end.  This is the case with babies, who begin life as a couple of cells, but they grow and become fully independent creatures.  Changing to a whole, complete body is not the final end of the process; the child continues to grow and become bigger afterwards.  Therefore, reaching the whole is not the same as reaching the end.  Third, when we talk of goodness and human capacities, it is true that humans are limited when it comes to the good of which we are the subject.  However, we are not limited when it comes to the good of which we are the object.


Philip said...

Happiness is a warm puppy.

But seriously. I think basically what you need to do to get true happiness is to just have total peace between you and God. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't really get your arguments for God. I mean, what if someone doesn't believe in God, or believes in God but hates him (for some reason or another)? Or believes in a different God? Or multiple Gods? Sorry, just confused.

My opinion is that "happiness" is thanks to chemicals in the brain, but the topic is obviously hugely subjective. Even the term itself is subjective. And clouded by semantics.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:21 p.m. asked a good question. I'd have to say truly, if there is no God and human beings are a product of random chance in a random-chance universe, what does "happiness" even mean? If happiness is just a chemical reaction in the brain, what makes the chemical reaction "happiness" good, and the chemical reaction "pain" bad? What does "bad" or "good" mean? Is there any reason that human beings should be happy?

Those who do not believe in God cannot justify why people should be happy, or why people should do certain things, or why they should not do certain things. I'm sure these individuals believe that moral rules exist and that people should be happy, but...who says? If there is no Law-Giver, no ultimate standard, who decides?