Happiness Of Aristotle And Aquinas That men do in fact seek different things under the name of happiness does not, according to Aristotle and Aquinas, alter the truth that the happiness they should seek must be something appropriate to the humanity which is common to them all, rather than something determined by their individually differing needs or temperaments. If it were the latter, then Aristotle and Aquinas would admit that questions about what men should do to achieve happiness would be answerable only by individual opinion or personal preference, not by scientific analysis or demonstration. Aquinas, for example, admits that happy is the man who has an he desires, or whose every wish is fulfilled, is a good and adequate definition only if it be understood in a certain way. It is an inadequate definition if understood in another. For if we understand it simply of all that man desires by his natural appetite, then it is true that he who has all that he desires is happy; since nothing satisfies man’s natural desire, except the perfect good which is Happiness.
But if we understand it of those things that man desires according to the apprehension of reason, Aquinas continues, then it does not belong to Happiness to have certain things that man desires; rather does it belong to unhappiness, in so far as the possession of such things hinders a man from having all that he desires naturally. For this reason, Aquinas points out, when Augustine approved the statement that happy is he who has all he desires, he added the words provided he desires nothing amiss. As men have the same complex nature, so they have the same set of natural desires. As they have the same natural desires, so the real goods which can fulfill their needs comprise the same variety for all. As different natural desires represent different parts of human nature – lower and higher – so the several kinds of good are not equally good.
And, according to Aquinas, if the natural object of the human will is the universal good, it follows that naught can satisfy man’s will save the universal good. This, he holds, is to be found, not in any created thing, but in God alone. Aquinas employs the conception of eternal beatitude not only to measure the imperfection of earthly life, but also to insist that temporal happiness is happiness at all only to the extent that it is a remote participation of true and perfect happiness. It cannot be said of temporal happiness that it excludes every evil and fulfills every desire. In this life every evil cannot be excluded – For this present life is subject to many unavoidable evils: to ignorance on the part of the intellect; to inordinate affection on the part of the appetite-; and to many penalties on the part of the body .. .
Likewise, Aquinas continues, neither can the desire for good be satiated in this life. For man naturally desires the good which he has to be abiding . Now the goods of the present life pass away since life itself passes away .. . Wherefore it is impossible to have true happiness in this life.
If perfect happiness consists in the vision of the Divine Essence, which men cannot obtain in this life, then, according to Aquinas, only the earthly life which somehow partakes of God has a measure of happiness in it. Earthly happiness, imperfect because of its temporal and bodily conditions, consists in a life devoted to God – a kind of inchoate participation here and now of the beatific vision hereafter. On earth there can be only a beginning in respect of that operation whereby man is united to God. .. In the present life, in as far as we fall short of the unity and continuity of that operation, so do we fall short of perfect happiness.
Nevertheless it is a participation of happiness; and so much the greater, as the operation can be more continuous and more one. Consequently the active life which is busy with many things, has less of happiness than the contemplative life, which is busied with one thing, i.e., the contemplation of truth. Philosophy Essays.