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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Some detail on The Four Cardinal Natural Virtues
· 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.
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.”