Lecture 3: Ultimate End


    What is the subject matter of moral philosophy? Human acts. What are human acts. Acts of a man and human acts. Acts undertaken for the sake of an end. Why did you do that? This question presupposes what one did, of course, and that can be another kind of answer to the why? So too mention of the circumstances in which we found ourselves can be another answer.

    A close reading of ST, IaIIae.1.1


    This has seemed to many to be an impermissible leap. The overarching point of what we do. Aristotle -- architecture and the military. An act or kind of act can have its end and still be subordinated to a higher more inclusive end. But is there an all- inclusive or ultimate end. A negative answer attracts. Not only does there not seem to be a single goal of every human activity, there does not seem to be a single goal of everything an individual does. There is this good and that good and the other good we seek, but no GOOD. The statement of the difficulty provides a way out it. Particular goods are unlikely to be identified with my good tout court. And all particular goods share in what is meant by good, the ratio boni, as Thomas calls it. And what is that ratio boni? The completely fulfilling. Particular goods are goods to the degree that they come under that formality. If the complete good is what we ultimately seek, there is an ultimate end. That for the sake of which we do whatever we do is our complete fulfillment or perfection.


    If no particular good -- a tasty meal -- exhausts the good as such and is not identical with what-completely-fulfills us, it seems that the sum total of such goods will also fall short of filling the bill. Can the ultimate end be attained? Aristotle, as Thomas reads him, thought that only an imperfect achievement was possible -- that we could become happy as human beings are happy, that is, imperfectly. Anything attainable falls short of Aristotle's ideal of happiness.

    Thomas of course seizes on this recognition to show that the end to which we are called in the Christian dispensation, permanent union with God who is truth and beauty and goodness, alone fills the bill so far as Aristotle's ideal of happiness goes. The philosophical and the Christian conception of goodness are thus not rivals, they relate to one another, not as A to -A, but as imperfectly A to perfectly A. They complement one another.


    While the believer's faith should and does influence his philosophizing, it does not become part of the arguments he expects nonbelievers to follow or understand. I approach an argument purporting to show that humans are mere matter and utterly cease to be at death knowing it is flawed. How? Because if it worked it would disprove a truth that God has revealed. This conviction governs my own analysis of the proof as well as my initial attitude toward it, but my belief in a human destiny beyond the grave is not part of my refutation or counter argument. When the truths of faith become part of discourse, its premisses, so to speak, we know that we are in theology. The theologian begins with the faith and ends with the faith, seeking to clarify and deepen our understanding of it, an understanding that always falls short of comprehension. The faith guides our actions in a way that goes far beyond the philosophical. Moral philosophy, if successful, is valid for every human agent. Moral theology can only be relevant for believers -- although of course God wants all men to be saved.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IaIIae, 1-5
John Oesterle, Treatise on Happiness (trans, of above)
Ralph McInerny, The Question of Christian Philosophy


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