In this paper I will look at Thomas Aquinas’ discussion from the Summa Contra Gentiles Book III Chapters 27 to 37 examining the pursuit of happiness and the ultimate source of happiness. I will first discuss the various kinds of happiness which Aquinas describes in the Contra Gentiles and how they may appear at first sight to satisfy the definition of happiness. I will then look at why he refutes these pursuits as the true source of happiness. Secondly, I will look at how the knowledge of God, to Aquinas is the ultimate source of happiness for man even though a full understanding is unattainable in this life. I will then defend this argument which I feel supports that happiness is linked to God and why I believe it is a valid argument.
In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, Chapters 27 to 37, Thomas Aquinas in a very systematic fashion describes various pursuits of mankind that although they may be pleasurable they fail to meet the ultimate definition of happiness of which Aquinas speaks. He describes these various pursuits and then explains why they fail to meet the criteria required to be true happiness. To Aquinas the ultimate and most desirable kind of happiness is that which is found in the knowledge of God. These various pursuits’ progress from our most instinctive nature and progress towards more reason based assertions and pursuits.
Beginning with chapter 27, paragraph 1 of the Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas states, “it is impossible for human felicity to consist in bodily pleasures, the chief of which are those of food and sex” (Aquinas, 1264) Although, food and sex may indeed be forms of pleasure, they ultimately have a more important purpose than pleasure alone. Food is required in order for the individual to survive and while not always the case, sex is for procreation and results in continued existence. So while one may call them pleasures, as Aquinas does, they are also very basic instincts which man also shares in common with brute animals who Aquinas asserts cannot have the same pleasure response as humans to these acts. (Aquinas, 1264) We therefore should not equate our highest pleasure with an attribute that we share in common with animals, which lack the same knowledge and understanding possessed by mankind. True happiness and pleasure must come from a higher knowledge and understanding than our basic human instincts and primal desires.
In chapter 28 concerning honours and chapter 29 concerning glory, I believe that Aquinas is escalating the type of pleasure sought by mankind which is above that level of basic instinct and desire. In seeking honours and glory man is looking for and seeking out the approval of others to satisfy his own pleasure. Unlike animals, man looks for admiration and respect from his comrades. This is indeed one step higher than the basic needs of food and sex and is one step closer to ultimate pleasure and happiness but it is not the ultimate in pleasure or happiness. One reason for...