Saturday, January 25, 2020


I must expand my thoughts on the idea of the telos, the final cause, the proper end for human beings.  I will end this post with a request for help.

As a starting point, I offer what I have previously written on the ultimate telos for humans:

Beatitudo: (Beatitudo = happiness or blessedness). The happiness that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is, in essence, other-regarding action.

This needs some expansion.

For one to have acted well simply is for one to have done something that is good in every respect. There is one single ultimate human good that provides an ordering of all other human goods as partial in relation to it, namely, happiness or better in the Latin beatitudo.

It is this one single ultimate end that I am after, the one that gets to the core proper human action.  I understand that it is happiness or beatitudo.  But, like every term describing human behavior, it requires better definition.  This is what I am after.

The first job is to determine what ‘beatitudo’ meant simply as a matter of ordinary language, reserving til later the question of its learned definitions (rationes). There are three options: happiness, well-being, and fulfillment.

A fulfilled person is aware of being so, delighted in being so, etc. To be fulfilled is to be consciously well-off. …one’s best option in current English is to translate ‘beatitudo’ with ‘fulfillment’.

-          A Short Primer On Beatitudo In Aquinas, Dr. William H. Marshner

Rational activity sets human agents apart from all other creatures; therefore, one who performs rational activity well will be happy – or fulfilled.  However, “rational activity” is equally squishy – how is it defined, measured, judged?

That overarching goodness, what Thomas calls the ratio bonitatis, is the ultimate end. It follows that anything a human agent does is done for the sake of the ultimate end.

This isn’t sufficient; it is not satisfactory.  We each differ.  Is it fame, wealth, pleasure or power that we seek?  Will we find an ultimate good here?  If this is where we look, it is impossible to suggest that there is one common ultimate good for human agents. Yet, Thomas insists on this.

The great problem of life, as of course, is to know whether some such beliefs are more correct than others, and if so, which ones, so that one may know which concrete ideal to pursue.

-          A Short Primer On Beatitudo In Aquinas, Dr. William H. Marshner

Precisely – I want a concrete ideal, not something squishy.  How can we know?

Moreover, so long as the fulfillment under discussion is the sort people can have in this life, “the right answer” is not quite unique. … fulfillment can be found in an enormous variety of careers, vocations, states, stations, and conditions of life.

It is true enough, but not specific enough.  This was not sufficient for Aquinas.  He believed that there must be something common at the core of this “enormous variety.”

He thought that the requirements of virtue and the distinctives of human nature would combine to assure that every fulfilling way of life would resemble every other one in certain core features.

-          A Short Primer On Beatitudo In Aquinas, Dr. William H. Marshner

I keep finding the question, yet I am looking for the answer.  What is the core feature?

Since human desire is complicated and confused, the pursuit of fulfillment invites a further and crucial distinction: enlightened pursuit vs. unenlightened.

-          A Short Primer On Beatitudo In Aquinas, Dr. William H. Marshner

This could help bring focus.  What differentiates the enlightened pursuit from the unenlightened?

…what is it that the enlightened know? What is the correct standard of evaluation? The matter is controversial, of course, because people tend to overrate material or sensual goods at the expense of the goods of intellect and character, or they think that the goods of social approval substitute for those of character, or they take an eccentric view of what the goods of character are, etc., etc.

-          A Short Primer On Beatitudo In Aquinas, Dr. William H. Marshner

It is controversial; this is both the strength and weakness of natural law derived from human telos – human beings of goodwill have to work together in order to work it out. 

It is through the seven virtues that this issue of a “correct standard of evaluation” can be answered.  There are four natural virtues and three theological virtues: the natural virtues are Prudence, Courage, Temperance, and Justice; the theological virtues are Faith, Hope, and Love (or charity).

I understand that the three theological virtues might move into a realm not accepted by some.  I will come to this later; for now, I will only mention that Augustine found these four natural virtues infused with Love (charity).

·         Prudence: also Wisdom, the ability to discern the appropriate course of action to be taken in a given situation at the appropriate time.
·         Courage: also termed fortitude, forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation
·         Temperance: also known as restraint, the practice of self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation tempering the appetition. Sōphrosynē can also be translated as sound-mindedness.
·         Justice: also considered as fairness, the most extensive and most important virtue; the Greek word also having the meaning righteousness

Now we have a framework to begin understanding enlightened rational activity, and, therefore, bring some focus to the meaning of fulfillment and the proper telos for human beings.  This accords with Thomas and Aristotle:

Under the natural standard of evaluation, [Thomas] agreed with Aristotle that the essential core of fulfillment is a special case of “activity in accord with complete [intellectual and moral] virtue,” namely, a life endowed with the noblest understanding we can have.

… “fulfillment is the state made complete by compresence of all the goods” … … fulfillment as a cause is fulfillment as a final cause, an end, an ideal attracting the will. … a fulfilled man is in a state of all-around good.

-          A Short Primer On Beatitudo In Aquinas, Dr. William H. Marshner

Compresence: the quality or state of being present together.

One open question: does this remain sufficient without the three Theological Virtues, especially Love?

I don’t think so.

Using the four Natural Virtues, I can see making the case for a lifetime as spent by J.S. Bach.  One could use the same criteria and make the case for a lifetime spent perfecting the nuances of fantasy football in mom’s basement while eating Cheetos.  Maybe this qualifies as a lifetime fulfilled, but it seems to me lacking.  Maybe I am wrong.  Is it just my personal bias, my desire to find something more?  I really would like some thoughts here.

Further, absent the three Theological Virtues – especially Love, or other-regarding action in the most meaningful sense – what happens to the possibility of achieving liberty?  Again, I welcome your thoughts.


Happiness, fulfillment, or beatitudo is multi-faceted and perhaps too complex to summarize in a single phrase – whether “other-regarding action” or any other.  But it seems for the largest part it comes down to precisely this: other-regarding action.  From a lecture by Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP, at The Thomistic Institute (my paraphrase):

For Thomas, happiness is not to be found in wealth, power, bodily (material) goods: these things are finite.  The human intellect has a thirst for an infinite good.  Candidates for happiness will be good for the soul: friendship (willing the good for the other person), life in family and community, life animated by work and artistic creativity, the pursuit of the knowledge of truth – plus a few supernatural answers, without which we will never find full rest.

Most forms of happiness come from goods held in common: the shared life together.  A completely individualistic concept cannot lead to happiness as Thomas sees it.

Fr. White has made the case for other-regarding action, qualifying it with the words “Most forms.”

Fulfillment or other-regarding action?  If you had to pick the one specific core feature of human telos – the best definition for happiness – which one captures it better?  Why? 

Can you make the argument without leaning on the following?

Genesis 1: 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Matthew 22: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


  1. What is it that the enlightened know? This...

    "Earth's crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God,
    But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
    The rest sit round and pluck blackberries."

    — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  2. Other-regarding action: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13. Pouring one's self out in service. To God, to family, to friends. Sacrificial love.

  3. As I read Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Aquinas I have come to the following conclusions to your questions.

    God has created many kinds of beings. The human is a soul with attached body trapped in time for now. We can not know God as we would wish but we can do His will and try our best to be as Jesus was when he was on earth. We are to be full of happiness and to be fulfilled to the extent that we can given the cards God dealt us. To those who much is given, then a more deep beatitudo is possible and expected.

    Fulfillment comes from a constant communication with the Father and listening to Him rather than just asking for stuff. It comes from family, friends, acquaintances, and even from the way you deal with those who are not very likeable.

    We are to live in the present and do our very best to follow God's wishes for us each day knowing that all we have comes as gifts from God. You do plan for the future but remember you do that in the present. You learn from the past but we don't really know the past; only accounts of it or memories of it.

    Some people that I have met were given a gift of being able to sing like angels but I hurt people's ears if I sing in public. We work with our circumstances and our gifts. Be happy for others as they do well following God's plans for them and don't be full of Pride when you are able to follow, to some extent, his plan for you. Remember that He is the one helping you follow the plan, it is not your own work only.

    To sum up, we are to be full of joy as a Son of God even though we know we are only on the road to being as we should be and no one every really gets there all the way.

    Note: I am not sure I helped at all, but it helped me to write out a few thoughts this early in the morning. My mother has just had a major stroke and God and my own actions have been on my mind a lot this last week. God should be on my mind all the time, but I get lost in my activities too much.

    1. Mark, your comments are a wonderful witness. Thank you.

  4. Can someone truly serve themself without that action benefiting others? I'm not talking about self gratification. I'm Talking about serving one's self properly.

    I'll use this blog as an example of what I'm getting at here. The stated purposes of this blog, if I remember correctly, is for it's author to organize his thoughts, and to do so publicly in order to learn from others. This does not sound like "other-regarding action" and yet others benefit. I'd call this honest work. Whether it's a job or a personal pursuit, I can't think of something truly "fulfilling" that wouldn't benefit another.

    In every day life, this seems (to me) to be enough to satisfy the telos. But, "other-oriented action" is obviously necessary in emergency situations. When I've been around disaster, I've noticed that it brings out the best in people.

    Thinking about disasters, and those in need on an ongoing basis, brings to mind more questions; Are we obligated to seek them out, or is it enough to help those around you when needed? If we are obligated, is it enough to donate blood, or money, or food? Or, do we have to go get our hands dirty?

    I think "fulfillment" is the core feature of the telos. If everyone went round and round looking for others to help all day long, nothing would get done, and soon everyone would need help. Good can only start after true serving of one's self.

    1. BM, I wrote this with a bit of haste, and I hope that not addressing you directly does not dissuade you from responding to my thoughts.

    2. Jeff, no worries. I am purposely not responding on comments to this post for a few days. I want to properly absorb the feedback here (and in emails), before I interject my thoughts.

      I know that your comments, and those of the other regular commenters, are always sincere and meant to add and build, not subtract and destroy.

    3. Jeff, you are correct in my reasons for writing publicly; I also see that it results in a two-way street - we all, myself included, benefit from the dialogue, as witnessed by the appreciation often shown to each other.

      "When I've been around disaster, I've noticed that it brings out the best in people."

      I agree. I notice something else as well: when we are witness to others acting in such a manner - putting themselves out, even to the point of danger, to aid another in physical distress - we are often moved emotionally and deeply.

      I used to not understand why this was so. I understand better today.

  5. "Fulfillment or other-regarding action? If you had to pick the one specific core feature of human telos – the best definition for happiness – which one captures it better? Why?"

    Judging by the gist of your essay, I'm going to assume that 'fulfillment' is an encapsulation of the classical virtues (temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice), and 'other regarding action' is an encapsulation of the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity).

    I would say that the theological 3 are more important, but though these three perfectly executed in one's life would perhaps be proficient in making one a saint, I think they too would be insufficient in alone creating an order of liberty and justice for a community or a nation. Maybe if everyone lived perfectly by the theological virtues, there'd be no need for the classical ones, but this is certainly not reality.

    The classical virtues help us to fight against (by word or sword) those who'd use force against innocent people to further their own unbalanced ends; those who'd burn our churches to the ground or turn them into brothels or public bathrooms. The classical virtues also undergird the strength of the theological ones.

    What good is faith if it withers without fortitude in the face of adversity? What good is hope if we are never wise enough to choose the correct path to accomplish our ends? What good is love if we do not possess the temperance to restrain our appetite for the opposite sex?

    Or maybe I'm thinking about this all wrong. Maybe the theological virtues are infused with and inseparable from the classical virtues. It would be fairly easy to describe how exercising any one of the theological virtues could require any one of the classical virtues or even all of them.

    I guess my short answer is that you need all seven to attain beatitude. If forced to decide, however, I'd choose faith, hope, and love.

    1. ATL, I am finding that even the four classical virtues involve other-regarding action - two of them seem meaningless otherwise, two at least somewhat so. This examination was prompted by RMB's comment immediately below.

      My thoughts will be published later this week; there will be plenty of room to further offer advice and counsel, and I will welcome it gladly.

      As to considering the seven in two groups, your leaning seems correct to me given the post that I am working through; I don't know how one set survives without the other, or is put in action without the other. But here again, I will be quite open to other thoughts.

  6. The greek words I would associate with the 7 virtues are:

    The 4 natural virtues: sophia, hupomone, sophrosyne or sophron, dikaiosyne.

    The 3 theological virtues are: pistis, , elpis, and agape

    Look into how those words are used and the ideas Aquinas was getting at will probably become clear. Augustine probably had similar things in mind too.

    1. RMB,

      Thanks for the Greek words. I had fun looking them up (I was only familiar with 'agape' thanks to C.S. Lewis).

      I agree with all except for 'pistis', since I believe faith is more (or solely) directed towards God rather than our fidelity to each other. (Or maybe I found an incorrect definition of pistis)

      I've been putting together my own family 'lodestar' for a few years now. It's been a fun exercise. I've selected 7 personal virtues, 7 social manners, and 7 political principles (NAP not one of them surprisingly). I plan on writing a small book about it and giving a copy to my son and daughter when they each leave the house. (I like the number seven because in the Catholic numerology it means 'complete')

      For the virtues, I basically lifted the seven from the Catholic Church except that I combined hope and faith (because they are the same thing to me) and added fidelity. I think fidelity is a heavily underrated virtue.

      Faith to me is honoring our duties to and trusting in the word of God. Fidelity to me is honoring our duties to each other (those which God has laid down for us and those we make ourselves) and trusting in the word of others (those who've earned it, or at least those who've not yet proven themselves unfaithful). Faith and fidelity will probably often be coincident with one another, but then, I don't know that we can truly isolate any of the virtues.

    2. RMB, I will have a post on this later this week. Thank you for the thought.

  7. Being an engineer I think in terms of boundary conditions when I see these kinds of discussions. Living in a completely authoritarian society, or in a completely free one, I don't see any or all of the natural virtues as particularly fulfilling. Faith, hope and love, however would be a necessity for an individual to endure the former, and IMO for a society to achieve the later.

    It makes me wonder though, in what kind of society would one would be the most likely to achieve fulfillment, authoritarian, free or the fluctuating mixed society we have today?

    1. Excellent question, Jeff, but I don't think it matters. In every society there will be people with needs and there will people who can fill those needs. Those who practice 'other-regarding action' in a spirit of love will be fulfilled, regardless of the political and social climate of the society.

    2. Jeff,

      Your question is an interesting one. I want to say a free society would provide the best opportunity for fulfillment, but I'm not so sure this is the case.

      A free society would most likely 1) provide more options of employment and association, 2) result in a wealthier population, and 3) enjoy more leisure and vacation time, which increases the likelihood respectively that 1) one will find his 'calling' and enjoy good company in life, 2) he will enjoy a higher standard of living, and 3) he will have more time to devote toward education, religion, entertainment, and 'other-regarding behavior'.

      Anyone might say that what I list above as the results of a free society would be wonderful, but what about that pernicious little relationship between good times and corrupt (or unfulfilled) people and bad times and virtuous (or fulfilled) people?

      It seems that we often need adversity in our lives to build character and virtue. If everything is good, then where is this virtue supposed to come from? I'm hoping that open competition in the provision of goods and services, as well as the lack of a centralized authority usurping personal responsibility for our actions, will be enough to build some virtue.

      I'm just thinking n inking here, but what should be our goal if it turns out that Christianity is healthiest and most ardently accepted by a population when it is a minority under tyrannical conditions? Think the early church under Roman persecution, the Orthodox church under Soviet persecution, the Christians being persecuted by radical Muslims in Africa right now, etc.

      This relationship between nobility and adversity was also the justification of Michael's plot to unleash the forces of Hell on earth in the movie "Constantine". It's an interesting movie. (Not thrilled Shia Le-baffoon is in it, but hey, what can we do? Boycott all entertainment because it is made by awful people? Probably should, but I bet most of us [including me] won't.)

    3. ATL, those are all good points, especially the idea that we need adversity to build character.

      From what I've read of the Soviet Union and Mao's China, I would say too much adversity is not especially virtue building, if at all.

      Then I see the kids of wealthy parents wasting their university years protesting the very things that made them wealthy. Foul mouthed, violent and completely clueless. I have no idea how they could ever achieve anything like fulfillment.

      I think true Christianity will always be a minority, and true Christians will always be persecuted. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be, but I hope not!

    4. Jeff: "Faith, hope and love, however would be a necessity for an individual to endure the former, and IMO for a society to achieve the later."

      This is the view I am coming to.

      "... in what kind of society would one would be the most likely to achieve fulfillment, authoritarian, free or the fluctuating mixed society we have today?"

      ATL said it well. I will add a couple of thoughts: even in a wonderfully free society, there is adversity: sickness, natural disaster, poverty, etc. Love can still shine.

      In our mixed society, we remove the "necessity" for individual action because "the government will deal with these." In other words, complacency easily sets in to a population. We see homeless, and look to the city council; we see floods, and look to FEMA. Things like this.

      It seems true that Christianity best thrives in adversity. Maybe because it is in adversity that Christians can truly shine? But I would still take the "more liberty" side of this; as mentioned, even in such a condition, there is plenty of adversity - hence, plenty of opportunities for Christians to act. Meanwhile, the people aren't suffering in the gulag.

  8. "Fulfillment or other-regarding action? If you had to pick the one specific core feature of human telos – the best definition for happiness – which one captures it better? Why?"--BM

    I am not sure that fulfillment and other-regarding action can be separated so easily. I am quite sure they are not the same. I tend to think of 'fulfillment' as the end of the journey and 'other-regarding action' as the vehicle which gets me there.

    Fulfillment, at its most pure, would be knowing and understanding that, in any given situation, you had done and said everything that God wanted you to do and say in precisely the manner which pleased Him most. At that point, you would be full-filled, unable to eat another bite, so to speak. This is attainable, but may not be possible if we are deliberately trying to gain fulfillment for its own sake.

    I think fulfillment comes as a result of serving others out of a spirit of love for them. Other-regarding action in love is an attribute of Christ, which He selflessly performed while here and it brought Him to the highest pinnacle of fulfillment, the Throne of God. We cannot have fulfillment without the other-regarding action of love at work.

    "Further, absent the three Theological Virtues – especially Love, or other-regarding action in the most meaningful sense – what happens to the possibility of achieving liberty?"-BM

    Impossible to reach, my friend. With the absence of Faith, nothing is believable. With the absence of Hope, nothing is worth risking. With the absence of Love, all personality is selfish and concerned only with myself, my wants, my desires, and how I can use everyone else to reach those ends. In such a society, there will only be those who are slaves and those who rule over them. No one will be free.

    "God is love." "You shall know the truth and it shall set you free." As we learn of God's love for us, we become free--free to love God, to love ourselves and to love those around us, acting towards them in the same manner that God has already acted toward us.

    This brings fulfillment AND freedom. Nothing else even comes close.

    1. Roger: "Impossible to reach, my friend."

      I am coming to such a view.

  9. Pistis is used in the bible broadly. Faith toward God is within scope.

    That is really cool what you are doing for your children. I think I may copy that idea from you. I have done something similar in the past but not as developed.

    My thought was faith produces righteousness which gives a path for freedom. Freedom's ultimate fruit is beauty.

    But that is coming from a Protestant.

    1. RMB,

      Okay. I kinda figured I had looked up an inadequate definition. Thanks again, and I'm probably going to use those Greek words you listed in my book as a reference to the ancient origins of these virtues!

      "But that is coming from a Protestant."

      Well coming from this independent Catholic, that's just fine because, as I've mentioned before, I'm a 'hallway' kinda guy in C.S. Lewis' sense. The only forms of Christianity that I have problems with are Progressive Christianity (because it's basically secular Christianity) and Evangelical Christianity (because of its relentless support of aggressive wars).

    2. "I think I may copy that idea from you."

      Please do! I'll get you started with my outline.

      The Virtues:
      1. Temperance
      2. Fortitude
      3. Justice
      4. Wisdom
      5. Fidelity
      6. Charity
      7. Faith
      The Manners:
      1. Honor (Temperance + Fortitude)
      2. Chivalry (Fortitude + Justice)
      3. Privacy (Justice + Wisdom)
      4. Reverence (Wisdom + Fidelity)
      5. Conviviality (Fidelity + Charity)
      6. Generosity (Charity + Faith) 
      7. Serenity (Faith + Temperance)
      The Principles:
      1. Aristocracy [(Temperance + Fortitude) + Chivalry]
      2. Polycentricity [(Fortitude + Justice) + Honor]
      3. Reciprocity [(Justice + Wisdom) + Privacy]
      4. Responsibility [(Wisdom + Fidelity) + Reverence]
      5. Solidarity [(Fidelity + Charity) + Conviviality]
      6. Mercy [(Charity + Faith) + Generosity]
      7. Harmony [(Faith + Temperance) + Serenity]

      Some of these may sound similar, but I think I can differentiate between them if you have any questions. It's still a work in progress, so if you or anyone on here has any notes for me, please offer them!

    3. I should add that their are probably many Evangelical Christians out there who I'd love and who are probably much better Christians than I am. Many good folks get bamboozled into supporting these wars because they want to support the troops; they don't want to be ungrateful for what they believe is their sacrifice.

    4. I've been working on a symbol (not an idol, but a mental tool), to encompass the virtues, the manners, and the principles above. I see it as a seven pointed star with rays emanating from between the points and banners encircling the the star (under the points, but over the rays). In this symbol, the virtues are each of the points of the star (with Faith pointing straight up to orient the star - in the right direction), the manners are each of the rays, and the principles are written on the banners between the points. You can build the star yourself based on the order of the virtues and my comments next to the principles and manners above.

      The imagery is probably unnecessary, but I wanted to create something that would have a lasting impression in my children's minds. Something they could recall in an instant, a map of sorts.

      Not included in the imagery of the star, but something I want to include in the book is that there is one overriding virtue, one overriding manner, and one overriding principle, of which the others are only constituent parts. The virtue is gratitude, the manner is grace, and the principle is self-government.

      The manners I got mostly from my upbringing in South Texas but also significantly from articulations of 'Southern manners' by Don Livingston and Co. down at the Abbeville Institute. The virtues are, as I've said, pretty much straight from the Catechism with slight modification to bring Fidelity to the fore. The principles are the culmination of everything I've learned regarding the pursuit of a just political order from Hoppe, Bastiat, Rothbard, Rockwell, Mises, Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Kirk, and so many others, including many of you here, and of course Bionic Mosquito!

      Thank you to all of you for the wonderful discussions we've had, and I hope to have many more.

    5. Thank you, ATL. You are, and have been, a large part of the discussions; I am better for your participation.

  10. All, I must say that I am overwhelmed with the thought that you have put into the comments (to include emails I have received).

    I will address some / many of these, but will do so primarily or exclusively through subsequent posts over the next week(s). This dialogue will continue for a time; it will be a dialogue more extensive than the comments section will allow.

    I really do thank you all.

  11. Dear Bionic,

    I want to add my own words of appreciation for your blog. I read it regularly, and always discover gems worth thinking about. Admittedly, often enough the topics are over my head in education and knowledge, but I’ve been grateful for the book titles discussed and have read some of them independently.

    Admittedly, I also selfishly hope you are in excellent health such that you will continue to write for a long time to come.

    Even though I’m myself not a believer, I nevertheless find much of the discussion around religion, and the philosophy supporting it, to be thought-provoking. As you’ve mentioned, many of your commenters’ remarks are likewise compelling. On that note, kudos to ATL as I very much enjoy reading his thoughts in the discussions.

    Thank you once more, Peggy