Can One Be Happy In This Life?

St Thomas Aquinas

Edited by J E Bradburn

Job 14:1 KJV Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.


But happiness excludes misery. Therefore man cannot be happy in this life. A certain participation of Happiness can be had in this life: but perfect and true Happiness cannot be had in this life. This may be seen from a twofold consideration.


1.      First, from the general notion of happiness is a perfect and sufficient good, it excludes every evil, and fulfils every desire. But in this life (in this fallen world we are now on) every evil cannot be excluded. Why? Ephesians 2:2 (KJV) Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Unfortunately, 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 penal ties on the part of the body; Likewise 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, which we naturally desire to have, and would wish to hold abidingly, for man naturally shrinks from death. Wherefore it is impossible to have true Happiness in this life.

2.      Secondly, from a consideration of the specific nature of Happiness, viz., the vision of the Divine Essence, which man cannot obtain in this life. Hence it is evident that none can attain true and perfect Happiness in this life.


Whether Man Attains Happiness through the Action of Some Higher Creature?


Psalm 84:11 (KJV) For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly. 


Since every creature is subject to the laws of nature, from the very fact that its power and action are limited: that which surpasses created nature, cannot be done by the power of any creature Consequently if anything needs to be done that is above nature, it is done by God immediately; such as raising the dead to life, restoring sight to the blind, and such like. Now it has been shown that Happiness is a good surpassing created nature. Therefore it is impossible that it be bestowed through the action of any creature (here on this fallen earth) but by God alone is man made happy,—if we speak of perfect happiness. If, however, we speak of imperfect happiness, the same is to be said of it as of the virtue, in whose act it consists.


Whether Everyman Desires Happiness?

‘If the actor had said, “You all wish to be happy; you do not wish to be unhappy,” ‘he would have said that, none would have failed to acknowledge [Happiness] in his will.’  Therefore, everyone desires to be happy. Happiness can be considered

 in two ways:


1.      First according to the general notion of happiness: and thus, of necessity, every man desires happiness. For the general notion of happiness consists in the perfect good, as stated above. But since good is the object of the will, the perfect good of man is that which entirely satisfies his will. Consequently, to desire happiness is nothing else than to desire one’s will be satisfied. And this everyone desires.

2.      Secondly we may speak of Happiness according to its specific notion, as to that in which it consists.


And thus all do not know Happiness; because they know not in what thing the general notion of happiness is found. And consequently, in this this respect, not all desire it.  especially the Tares: Wherefore the reply to this objection is clear


Objection 1: It would seem that not all desire Happiness. For no man can desire what he knows not; since the apprehended good, is the object of the appetite. But many know not what Happiness is. This is evident from the fact that, some thought that happiness consists in pleasures of the body; some, in a virtue of the soul; some in other things. Therefore, not all desire Happiness.


Revelation 16:10 (KJV) And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, 


Of the Voluntary and the Involuntary

Since therefore Happiness is to be gained by means of certain acts, we must in due sequence consider human acts, in order to know by what acts we may obtain Happiness, and by what acts we are prevented from obtaining it. But because operations and acts are concerned with things singular, consequently all practical knowledge is incomplete unless it takes account of things in detail. The study of Morals, therefore, since it treats of human acts, should consider first the general principles; and secondly matters of detail. In treating of the general principles, the points that offer themselves  for our consideration are:


1.      Human acts themselves.

2.      Their principles.


Now of human acts some are proper to man; others are common to man and animals. And since Happiness is man’s proper good, those acts which are proper to man have a closer connection with Happiness than are those which are common to man and other animals.


1.      First, then, we must consider the voluntary and involuntary in general.

2.      Secondly, those acts which are voluntary, as being elicited by the will, and as issuing from the will immediately.

3.      thirdly, those acts which are voluntary, as being commanded by the will, which issue from the will through the medium of the other powers.


And because voluntary acts have certain circumstances, according to which we form our judgement concerning them, we must first consider the voluntary and the involuntary, and afterwards, the circumstances of those acts which are found to be voluntary or involuntary.


Whether there is anything voluntary in human acts?


The voluntary is an act consisting in a rational operation. Such are human acts. Therefore there is something voluntary in human acts.

·        There must needs be something voluntary in human acts. In order to make this clear, we must take note that that the principle of some acts or movements is within the agent or that which is moved; whereas the principle of some movements or acts is outside. For when a stone is (picked up and,) moved upwards, the principle of this movement is outside the stone: whereas when it is moved downwards, the principle of this movement is the stone. 


Now of those things that are moved by an intrinsic, some move themselves, some not. For since every agent of thing moved, acts or is moved for an end, those are perfectly moved by an intrinsic principle (belonging to a thing by its very nature), whose intrinsic principle is one not only of movement but of movement for an end.

Now in order for a thing to be done for an end, some knowledge of the end is necessary Therefore, whatever so acts or is moved by an intrinsic principle (God), has some knowledge of the end, it has within itself the principle of its act, so that it not only acts, but acts for an end (This is very important; if you do not understand, read it again until you do). 


·        On the other hand, if a thing has no knowledge of the end, even though it has an intrinsic principle of action or movement, nevertheless the principle of acting or being moved for an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an end is imprinted on it Wherefore such like things are not said to move themselves, but to be moved by others.


·        But those things which have knowledge of the end are said to move themselves because there is in them a principle by which they not only act but also act for an end, the movements of such things are said to be voluntary: for the word voluntary implies that their movements and acts are from their own inclination Hence it is that, the voluntary is defined not only as having a principle within the agent, but also as implying knowledge. Therefore, since man especially knows the end of his work, and moves himself, in his acts especially are the voluntary to be found.


Whether Fear Causes Involuntariness Simply?

‘…such things are done through fear are of a mixed character’, being partly voluntary and partly involuntary.

For that which is done through fear, considered in itself, is not voluntary; but it becomes voluntary in this particular case, in order, namely, to avoid the evil feared.


But if the matter be considered aright, such things are voluntary rather than involuntary in a certain respect. For if a thing is said to be simply, according as it is in act; but according only as it is in only in the apprehension, it is not simply, but in a certain respect. Now that which is done through fear, is in act in so far as it is done. For, since acts are concerned with singulars; and the singular, as such, is here and now; that which is done is in act, in so far as it is here and now and under other individuating circumstances (describes the manner in which a thing is identified as distinguished from other things) And that which is done through fear, is voluntary, inasmuch as it is here and now, that is to say, in so far as, under the circumstances, it hinders a greater evil which was feared; thus the throwing of the cargo into the sea becomes voluntary during the storm, through fear of the danger: wherefore it is clear that it is voluntary simply. And hence it is that which is done out of fear is essentially voluntary, because its principle is within.—But if we consider what is done through fear, as outside this particular case, and inasmuch as it is repugnant to the will, this is merely a consideration of the mind. And consequently what is done through fear is involuntary, considered in that respect, that is to say, outside the actual circumstances of the case.


I will try to explain:

There was a Western movie I saw some time back. In one scene there was a fugitive trying his hardest to escape from three desperadoes; by putting as much distance between himself, and them. He came to a church in Texas where he requested water and food from the Padre. When he had received this he went his way after giving thanks. Later; the three desperadoes came into the church and asked the Padre for information as to what direction the fugitive had taken, and when. The Padre refused to reveal the information requested suspecting they were out to kill him; and one of the desperadoes drew his six gun, pointed it at the Padre; and said, “If you do not tell us what we wish to know I will shoot you.” The Padre replied to the desperado, “Is that all you can threaten me with; death! the desperadoes did not know, but it was obvious the Padre’s faith was stronger. By the way the Padre lived.

Whether Ignorance Causes Involuntariness?

What is done through ignorance is Involuntariness


If ignorance causes Involuntariness, it is in so far as it deprives one of knowledge, which is a necessary condition of involuntariness, as was declared. But it is not every ignorance that deprives one of this knowledge. Accordingly, we must take note that ignorance has a threefold relationship to the act of the will.


1.      In one way, comitantly;

2.      In another, consequently;

3.      In a third way, antecedently.


Concomitantly (existing or occurring with something else), when there is ignorance of what is done; but, so that even if it were known, it would be done. For then, ignorance does not induce one to wish this to be done, but it just happens that a thing is at the same time done and not known: thus in the example given above; the desperadoes did wish to kill the fugitive, but killed him in ignorance as the wrong man. And ignorance of this kind does not cause involuntariness, since it is not the cause of anything that is repugnant to the will: but it causes non-voluntariness, since that which is unknown cannot be actually willed (taking the law into one’s own hand). Ignorance is consequent to the act of the will, in so far as ignorance itself is voluntary: and this happens in two ways, in accordance with the two aforesaid modes of voluntary.


1.      First, because the act or the will is brought to bear on the ignorance: as when a man wishes not to know, that he may have an excuse for sin, or that he may be withheld from sin; Job 21: 14 KJV Therefore they say unto God, ‘Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.’ And this is called affected ignorance—or not wishing to understand God’s Word

2.      Secondly, ignorance  is said to be voluntary , when it regards that which one can and ought to know: for in this sense not to act and not to will are said to be voluntary, as stated above.

3.      Thirdly,  Ignorance of this kind happens, either when one does not actually consider what one can and ought to consider;- this is called ignorance of evil choice, and arises from some passion or habit: or when one does not take the trouble to acquire the  knowledge which one ought to know, is voluntary as being due to ignorance.


Accordingly, if in either of these ways, ignorance is voluntary, it cannot cause involuntariness simply. Nevertheless it causes involuntariness in a certain respect, inasmuch as it precedes the movement of the will towards the act, which movement would not be, if there were knowledge.

Ignorance is antecedent (prior) to the act of the will, when it is not voluntary, and yet is the cause of man’s willing what he would not will otherwise. Thus a man may be ignorant of some circumstance of his act, which he was not bound to know, the result being that he does that which he would not do, if he knew of the circumstance; for instance, a man, after taking proper precaution, may not know that someone is coming along the road, so that he shoots and slays a passer-by. Such ignorance causes involuntariness simply.

From this may be gathered the solution of the objections.

1.      For the first objection dealt with ignorance of what a man is bound to know.

2.      The second, with ignorance of choice which is voluntary to a certain extent, as stated above.

3.      The third, with that ignorance which is concomitant (existing or occurring with something else, often in a lesser way), with the act of the will.



Whether Enjoyment is only of the Last End?

‘A man does not enjoy that which he desires for the sake of something else.’


But the last end alone is that which man does not desire for the sake of something else Therefore enjoyment is of the last end alone. The notion of fruit implies two things:


1.      That it should come last.

2.      That it should calm the appetite with a certain sweetness and delight.


Now a thing is last either simply or relatively, if it is the last in a particular series Therefore that which is last simply, and in which one delights as in the last end, is properly called fruit; and this it is that one is properly to enjoy.—But that which is delightful not in itself, but is desired, only as referred to something else, e.g., a bitter potion for the sake of health, can nowise be called fruit.—And that which has something delightful about it, to which a number of preceding things are referred, may indeed be called fruit in a certain manner; but we cannot be said to enjoy it properly or as though it answered perfectly to the notion of fruit. ‘We enjoy what we know, when the delighted will is at rest therein.’

But its rest is not absolute save in the possession of the Last end: for as long as something is looked for, the movement of the will remains in suspense, although it has reached something. Thus in local movement, although any point between the two terms is a beginning and an end, yet it is not considered as an actual end (to life), except when the movement stops there.


Of Choice, This is an Act of the Will with Regard to the Means

Choice is the desire of things in our power.’


Whether Choice is an Act of Will or of Reason? The word choice implies something belonging to the reason or intellect, and something belonging to the will:  the philosopher says that choice is either, ‘intellect influenced by appetite, or appetite influenced by intellect.’ Now whenever two things concur to make one, one of them is formal to the other. Gregory says that choice ‘is neither desire only, nor counsel only, but a combination of the two. For just as we say that an animal is composed of soul and body, and that it is neither a mere body, nor a mere soul, but both; so is it with choice.

Now we must observe, as regards the acts of a soul, that an act belonging essentially to some power or habit, receives a form of species from a higher power or habit, according as an inferior is ordained by a superior: for if a man were to perform an act of fortitude (strong faith) for the love of God, that act is materially an act of fortitude, but formally, and act of charity. Now it is evident that, in a sense, reason precedes the will and ordains its act: in so far as the will tends to its object, according to the order of reason, since the apprehensive power presents the object to the appetite. Accordingly, the act by whereby the will tends to something proposed to it as being good, through being ordained to the end by the reason, is materially the act of the will, but formally an act of reason. Now in such like matters the substance of the act is as the matter in comparison to the order imposed by the higher power. Wherefore choice is substantially not an act of the reason but of the will: for choice is accomplished in a certain movement of the soul towards the good which is chosen. Consequently it is evidently an act of the appetitive (appetite) power. 


It is quite true that it is for the reason to draw the conclusion of a practical syllogism (argument in logic that is formed by two statements and a conclusion). An example of a syllogism is: “All men are human; all humans are mortal; therefore all men are mortal.”


Romans 1:25-26 (KJV)

25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:


Whether Man or Woman Choose of Necessity or Freely?

Choice is an act of a rational power.’


Man does not choose of necessity. And this is because that which is possible not to be is not of necessity. Now the reason why it is possible not to choose, or to choose, may be gathered from a twofold power in man. For man can will and not will, act and not act; again, he can will this or that, and do this or that. The reason for this is seated in the very power of reason. For the will can tend to whatever the reason can apprehend as good. Now the reason can apprehend as good not only this, viz., to will or to act, but also this, viz., not to will or not to act. Again, in all particular goods the reason can consider an aspect of some good, and the lack of some good, which has the aspect of some evil: and in this respect it can apprehend any single one of such goods as to be chosen or to be avoided

The perfect good alone, which is Happiness, cannot be apprehended by the reason as an evil, or as lacking in any way. Consequently, man does not will Happiness of necessity, nor can he will not to be happy, or to be unhappy. Now since choice is not of the end, but of the means; it is not of the perfect good, which is Happiness, but of other particular goods. Therefore man chooses not of necessity, but freely.


Whether a Man or Woman can Hate the TRUTH?


Galatians 4:16 (KJV) Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?


Good, true and being are the same in reality, but differ as considered by reason. For good is considered in the light of something desirable, while being and true are not so considered: because good is what all things seek. Wherefore good, as such, cannot be the object of hatred, neither in general nor in particular—being and truth in general cannot be the object of hatred: because disagreement is the cause of hatred, and agreement is the cause of love.


John 18:28-40 (KJV)

28 Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover.

29 Pilate then went out unto them, and said, “What accusation bring ye against this man?”

30 They answered and said unto him, “If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up unto thee.”

31 Then said Pilate unto them, “Take ye Him, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews therefore said unto him, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:”

32 That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spake, signifying what death He should die.

33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered him, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?”

35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me: what hast Thou done?”

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence.”

37 Pilate therefore said unto Him, “Art thou a king then?” Jesus answered, “Thou sayest that I am a king.”  “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.”

38 Pilate saith unto Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, “I find in Him no fault at all.”

39 “But ye have a custom that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?”

40 Then cried they all again, saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.


Now it may happen in three ways that some particular truth is repugnant or hurtful to the good we love.

1.      According as truth is in things as in its cause and origin. And thus man sometimes hates a particular truth, when he wishes that what is true were not true.

2.      According as truth is in man’s knowledge, which hinders him from gaining the object loved: such is those who do not wish not to know the truth of faith, that, they may sin freely; in whose person it is said Job 21:14 KJV.

3.      A particular truth is hated, as being repugnant, inasmuch as it is in the intellect of another man: as, for instance, when a man wishes to remain hidden in his sin, he hates that anyone should know about his sin. In this respect, ‘men love truth when it enlightens, they hate it when it reproves.”


Genesis 49:10 (KJV) The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between His feet, until Shiloh (Christ) come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.