The final part of out Shadows and Thomas Aquinas series on this episode of the Sci Phi Show. Lets see if we can find out what we want.
- Babylon 5
- The Shadows
- Mr Morden
- Londo Mollari
- Vir Cotto
- Thomas Aquinas
- Summa Theologicae
- Augustine of Hippo
- What does a mans happiness consist in?
Worth picking up
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What do you want? Hopefully you have some idea how not to answer Mr Morden's question and we will have a look at the last of Thomas' possibilities on this episode of the Sci Phi Show.
So where were we? Mt Morden would like to know what we want and we have been looking at some of the possibilities with the help of the Medieval Philosopher Thomas Aquinas. So far we have looked at a collection of different material possibilities, Wealth, Honor, Fame, Power and “any bodily good” and each time we have come up short. All of these will end up being means to getting to what we want and not what we actually want. So this leaves us with “soulish” goods instead of material ones to consider. As I said in the last episode if you don't like the term “soul” then you can substitute a word like “mind” instead, although I dont like the word “mindish” so I will stick with “soulish”.
The first of the soulish goods to consider is a familar one, “pleasure”. If you remember back to the episode on “Utiliatarianism” this is the measure of the good that they wanted to use. So can pleasure provide us with what we seek? It would seem that it is a likely candidate. You don't seek pleasure as a means to some other end, it is an end in itself. It doesn't make sense to ask “what do you seek a pleasure for?”, pleasure is the reward. Thomas also observes that desire is good and so if everybody desires something that must be the best thing and everybody desires “delight”, both the wise and the foolish. Therefore happiness consists in pleasure. Never let it be said that Thomas doesn't tackle the best objections to his positions.
So why does pleasure fall short? If it was the end we wouldn't have a few more to do so why doesn't Thomas thinks this works? He first cites the philosopher Boethius who says, “Any one that looks back on his past excesses, will perceive that pleasures had a sad ending and if they can render a man happy, there is no reason why we should not say that the very beasts are happy too”, and perhaps we would say that. Although it is worth remembering that Thomas when he speaks of happiness is speaking of a fulfilled and worthwhile life not just a transitory emotional state. So pigs rolling in the mud can enjoy themselves, they certain;y seem too, but they cannot be happy in the appropriate sense.
But why does Thomas think that happiness cannot consist in pleasure even when we look at it in the right sense? It isn't because pleasure isn't good, it is, and it isn't because pleasure is a means to something else. Actually it is the reverse of that, Pleasure is a reward for obtaining the good. It is like honor in that regard but more intimate. Pleasure can't be the goal because pleasure is the reward for achieving the goal. It is an accident of the good not its essence and we are seeking its essence. This idea explains one of the strange paradoxes of pleasure seeking. If you chase pleasurable experience because it is a pleasurable experience you will find yourself always chasing it and never finding it. Trying to make pleasure the end fails for the same reason all the other sources of happiness do. It isn't the source of happiness but a means toward it or a result of it. You can't substitute a product for its source it seems.
Perhaps out next attempt will fare better. Thomas asks if some good of the soul can constitute mans happiness. I'm not sure Mr Morden could provide these but we should consider the possibility anyway. Perhaps we will need to conclude Mr Morden can't really offer us anything of value at all.
Thomas' first line of thought about why some good of the soul might suffice is because he has already eliminated the other competitors. Material and bodily goods wont suffice so what else is left? Thomas other objections revolve around this same theme. We know what a persons happiness cannot consist in so, having eliminated all the other possibilities this is what we are left with. Happiness is a perfection of man, but it isn't a bodily perfection, so it must be a soulish perfection.
Unsurprisingly Thomas disagree with this, though it does get a little complicated. Given even philosophers as great as Aristotle and Plato didn't make it past this one, it is probably reasonable to expect it to be difficult. But lets press on.
Thomas says that a good of the soul can't be mans happiness, his final end, because it is a participated and not a universal good. This means that they can only have goods in some finite amount. The good is apportioned them. But the true good, that which will make us happy is the right sense cannot be something limited in such a manner. The soul is limited in such a manner so it cannot be the source we are looking for.
This isn't to say that happiness isn't a good of the soul, just that it isn't that source of final happiness we seek. A perfected soul, a good soul, will be happy, but that happiness will not be contained within it.
So this brings us to Thomas' final possibility. Can happiness be found in any created good at all? You can probably guess the answer at this point but lets flesh it out. The final objection here are a little esoteric. The first one involves man reaching out to a higher created being an Angel. Which in light of the Babylon 5 universe would suggest that Vorlons are our highest good! His second objection points to man as a part of the whole universe and the universe, the whole of creation as the highest good, and finally that mans satisfaction is found in that which he can desire, but man cannot desire any uncreated goods, so there must be one that satisfies.
Now Thomas concludes with the idea that no created good can be mans happiness because true happiness will satisfy forever and satisfy completely. When we find the source of happiness we will be completely satiated by it. But there is nothing created that can fit that bill because they are all finite. The only thing that can satisfy in the required way must be the universal good, and that, according to Thomas is God.
This shouldn't be completely surprising, Thomas was a medieval scholastic philosopher and a Christian monk. Thomas agreed with his forebear Augustine of Hippo that “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” This brings up an interesting anecdote in the life of Thomas, near the end of his life. His life's master work, the 4000 or so pages of the Summa Theologicae is an unfinished work that he stopped writing just before he died. Thomas had a vision of God towards the end of life and it put the Summa in a new perspective for him. He regarded this amazing work of wisdom as mere “straw”. To put this in perspective, straw was what was used to contain animal dung. So Thomas is saying he regards this master lifes work as toilet paper.
So where does this leave us? Is Thomas right? Can Mr Morden really offer us nothing at all that will make us happy? Will we search in vain for some created good to make us happy because the source of happiness is the same as the source of all created goods?
This suggests something of a conundrum. I think Thomas is right, that the source of our happiness cannot be found in this life, that his argument against any created good being able to satisfy is sound. But what if you deny that such a thing exiusts? What if there is no “non created goods”? Where would that leave us? Just as the butt of a gigantic cosmic practical joke? Forever cast adrift in the void to search and long after a happiness that can never be attained? The 20th century atheist philosopher Albert Camus ran up against this problem and struggles with the problem in his novel The Plague. In it the hero, Doctor Bernard Rieux knows three things for certain. That the purpose of life is to be a saint, that to be saint requires God and that God doesn't exist. What do you do in such a circumstance? What is the way out? If true happiness involves becoming a saint and not some unrelated good and no such thing exists because you require God to become a saint in the required fashion, there seems to be no solution. Existence is absurd. I'm not sure how to resolve it without denying the third premise and admitting the existence of God.
I hope you have found this exploration of Mr Mordens question interesting and it has given you some food for though. To puzzle over whether or not Thomas was right, whether nor Mr Morden could provide you with something you really want. of this leads into the next episode where we explore the other great question in Bablyon 5. “Who are you?” that the Vorlons and their emissaries ask over and over and dives into the realms of Philosophical Anthropology.
Until then you can find more information on the different ideas contained in this episode in the show notes on sciphishow.com and if you missed Babylon 5 when it aired you can find links to purchase it from Amazon in the show notes. I can be reached with comments via firstname.lastname@example.org, you can leave comment in the show notes at sciphishow.com and you can also leave comments on our Facebook page Facebook.com/sciphishow, you can also follow the show via thesciphishow on twitter. If you do enjoy the show please go over to our facebook page and click like. If there is a topic you would like me to look into please don”t hesitate to ask. And don't forget, it's Phi with a P H.
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