CHAPTER 2, HUMAN ACTS:
STEPS TO HAPPINESS
MAN'S FINAL GOAL is the vision of God. Human life is a journey from earth to Heaven, a journey from this world of time and space to the timeless world of the vision of God. To arrive safely at this destination man must have a means of traveling there and know the proper road or course to follow. If we imagine man's journey to God as a walking trip, then we can say that man walks to God by his human acts. Every creature reaches its own perfection by its own activity. Men reach God by their own actions. The proper road is the path of goodness and virtue. For how can a man reach God, the Perfect Good, except by seeking the good? The wrong road is evil and sin. The road-map which enables man to distinguish the right from the wrong road is law. The Divine invitation which prompts man to the journey is God's grace.
To ACCOMPLISH THE JOURNEY successfully we must understand all these things. In the present chapter we shall consider human acts, man's steps to happiness in God. In later chapters we shall be concerned with the proper path to God, the road-map which outlines this path, and with God's invitation to the journey.
MAN WALKS TO GOD by his human acts. Since, as we have seen, no creature below man can reach the vision of God, it is obvious that man can reach this vision only by acts that are truly human, acts that are superior to the actions, e.g., of rivers or roses or rabbits. What is it that distinguishes man's truly human activities from the activity of the creatures below him?
MAN IS DIFFERENT from everything else in the world of nature because he is free. He has control of his actions. If a stone is unbalanced on a mountain side it must roll down. If a tomato plant is planted in good ground and given sufficient nourishment, light, and moisture it must grow. If a hungry dog is given food he must eat. But if the agents of a foreign country offer a hungry prisoner food on condition that he betray the military secrets of his own country, he can accept or refuse. This is because man is the only agent in nature who can know a goal as a goal and recognize the relation of suitability between a means to a goal and the goal itself. Because man can know that his filial goal is the good in general or happiness in general, no temporary, partial good can force him to act. Because a man can know that treason will not bring him perfect happiness, he can refuse the bread which is the price of treason. Man not only moves himself to his own acts, as the dog may be said to do, but he can move himself to his acts with the knowledge that they will lead him to his goal or turn him away from his goal. In his truly human acts man enjoys freedom.
THE SECRET OF EACH MAN'S FINAL DESTINY lies in the proper use of his freedom, in the proper direction of his control over his own acts. If men won the vision of God by one act, the story of man's journey to God could be told simply and quickly. But, as experience shows us, men normally must make innumerable free choices in the course of a lifetime. And the proper direction of freedom is either hampered by opposing force or given direction by the conditions in which the free act is made. If freedom is to be used properly these forces or conditions must be recognized and their bearing on the direction of man's acts evaluated.
FREEDOM IS A SPIRITUAL PREROGATIVE. It frees man from the restraint of matter. It is like the flight of a bird whose wings free it from the earth and give it the limitless horizons of the upper air. A prisoner freed from jail, or a sick man finally released from the relentless routine of a hospital feel light and light-hearted and free. But this spiritualizing effect of freedom is neither easily won nor easily preserved. The bird must work at flying or he will fall back to the earth and be broken. The released criminal must keep the law or he will find himself back in prison. The convalescent must guard his health or he will be back in the hospital. Freedom of will must be won and preserved against the forces in the world that oppose man's freedom.
FREEDOM HAS ENEMIES both within and outside of a man. Outside a man there is force or violence used against a man's will. Within a man there are fear, concupiscence and ignorance which can weaken or destroy man's freedom.
THE MOST OBVIOUS ENEMY of man's freedom, though in reality it is the weakest, is violence---force applied to man from outside himself. A gorilla, with its great physical strength, might lay hold on a man and drag him into the jungle. Force prevents the man from running away. But force cannot prevent his will from wishing to run away. Force can prevent a man from accomplishing his desires by his external actions. But force alone cannot destroy the freedom of his will.
THE REALLY DANGEROUS ENEMIES of man's freedom come from within himself. They are fear, concupiscence and ignorance.
THE CAPTURED SOLDIER who is threatened with physical torture may, through fear of suffering, betray the military secrets of his own army. Fear has made him do something he would not wish to do in ordinary circumstances. But his act is still voluntary. He is willfully seeking his own safety. Only a fear so great that it destroyed his power to know what he was doing would completely destroy his freedom.
THROUGH CONCUPISCENCE, or desire, a poor man in desperate circumstances, may steal five thousand dollars. The urgency of his desire has influenced his will. But his act of theft is voluntary. He wants the money. Desire can destroy freedom only when its strength and vehemence destroy a man's power to know what he is doing.
THE WORST ENEMY of freedom is ignorance. Freedom is based on man's ability to know his goal and the means that lead to the goal. Ignorance prevents a man from seeking either the proper goal or the right means to the goal. Sometimes, it is true, the ignorance may be involuntary and inescapable. The driver of an automobile crosses an intersection after observing all the proper precautions. But suddenly a child runs into his path against the traffic light. The ignorance of the driver in running down the child is involuntary and so blameless. But sometimes the ignorance is voluntary. A man can refuse to learn or neglect to learn the income tax regulation of his country because he wishes to act against or outside the law. In this case ignorance does not destroy his freedom but leads him to abuse his freedom.
IN THE SEARCH for perfect happiness man must conquer these enemies of his freedom. Only knowledge of the true significance of his acts will give man the mastery of his acts. Only the proper mastery of his acts will lead man to his ultimate goal. The true meaning of a man's acts is determined not only by the inner freedom of his decisions but also by the concrete conditions in which he acts. It may be correct for an engineer to blast rock from a hillside in order to build a road. But it is wrong if a party of picnickers is sitting on the rock at the time. It may be right to practice shooting a rifle in order to be a marksman. But it is wrong to do the practicing in a crowded street. The actual condition in which a human act is done can influence the direction of the act to man's ultimate goal. The chief circumstances which affect the significance of a human act for happiness are found in the answers to the questions "Who, what, where, by what aids, why, how, and when?" So, for example: it is a good thing to celebrate Mass, but only for a priest, since he alone has the power; for anyone else to attempt to do so would be sacrilege. It is a bad thing to steal. It may be a good thing to take a bath, but not in the middle of Times Square. It is a good thing to give alms to the poor, but not when it is someone else's money. It may be a good thing to go to church, but not when your intention is to steal the money from the poor boxes. It may be a good thing to pat a little boy on the back, but not if you hit him so hard you break his backbone. It may be a good thing to play the organ in church, but not when the priest is preaching the sermon.
SO FAR WE HAVE SEEN that man achieves perfect happiness by his free, deliberate, controlled actions. The use man makes of his free will determines his final destiny. The direction in which his free will takes him can be influenced by fear, concupiscence, and ignorance within him and by the actual circumstances in which his acts are done.
BUT TO UNDERSTAND man's freedom better we must consider the details of any human act. Any free human act, any deliberate, controlled act of a man involves the activity of both his reason and his will. It is necessary to see the interaction of reason and will in a human act in order to understand human freedom.
LET us TAKE an individual human act and examine it closely. A husband gives his wife fifty dollars for her birthday with the command to buy something for herself. The wife realizes that the money is to be spent on something that will make her happy. She wants to be happy. She intends to be happy through the spending of the money. But should she buy the wrist watch she has wanted for a long time or a new Easter outfit? Either one would bring her happiness for the time being. She decides to buy the watch. So she goes to the jeweler's, pays for the watch and puts it on her wrist. For the rest of the day she looks at the watch frequently, enjoying the possession of it.
IN THIS LONG SERIES of actions the reason and the will of the wife have each in their turn contributed to the accomplishment of her desire. When she first received the money her reason recognized that something good was within her power. Her will responded by wishing this good. This is simple volition, the turning of the will to good. Then her reason judged that this good that could be bought with money should be bought. Her will replied by intending to take some means to achieve this possible good. Her reason took counsel with itself about the means of achieving the desired good. It proposed that the desired happiness might be found in either a wrist watch or a new Easter outfit. Her will consented to the good in both of these means. Her intellect then made a preferential judgment in favor of the watch. Her will freely chose to purchase the watch. Her reason intimated to the will that she would have to go to the jeweler's to get the watch. Her will commanded her to walk to the store, ask for the watch, pay the purchase price and put the watch on her wrist. When the watch was hers, her will rejoiced in the possession of this good thing, and in the happiness it brought her.
IN THE LONG SERIES of actions on the part of human reason and will there are four things that are especially important in this chapter on the direction of human actions to the pursuit of happiness. First, the will always follows the intellect. Second, the will always seeks what is good. Third, freedom is found chiefly in the act of choice. Fourth, command is the guiding force of the human act.
THE WILL ALWAYS FOLLOWS THE INTELLECT. By itself the will is blind. It is an appetite for what is good, a tendency to what is good. But until a man recognizes what is good by his intellect or reason, the will cannot reach out to the good. It might be said that even the intellect needs to be moved by the will to its activity. Therefore, we have an impossible situation: the will cannot move without reason and reason cannot move without an impulse from the will. The answer to the difficulty is found in nature and in God the Author of nature. The first movement of the intellect or reason in man is due to nature itself. Man is plunged body and soul into the activity of the world. He cannot escape the impact of the world and of his own body on his consciousness. The pangs of hunger in the body of an infant force themselves into his consciousness, such as it may be, and he cries aloud for food. Thus, at the dawn of reason in the child he apprehends that there are things, such as food, clothing, parental love, etc., which are good for him and his will which is made for good tends to these goods. From then on in his life we find the constantly repeated interaction of the reason and will---reason recognizing the good in things and the will reaching out to these goods.
THE WILL ALWAYS SEEKS GOOD. It is a power made for the good, a constant tendency to the good. When we reflect that in fact men often seek what is harmful to them it might seem a begging of the question to say that the will always seeks the good. The solution lies in the nature of the will. The will is a rational appetite. As an appetite it is an inclination to something. When we will anything we are inclined to it, we seek it. But every inclination is toward something suitable to the being with the inclination. The good is what is suitable to a thing. But the will is not only an inclination. It is a rational appetite. It seeks what is suitable insofar as reason recognizes something as suitable to man, as good for man. The will seeks therefore not simply the good, but the good as apprehended, as recognized as good by human reason. Hence, though the will seeks only the good, it is possible for man to seek something harmful to him because it appears to him to be good. So theft is really harmful to a man because it detours him off the road to perfect happiness, but it appears good to the thief in one way at least for it brings him the money he desires.
IN ITS TENDENCY TOWARD GOOD the will moves naturally and spontaneously. Good in general is the object of the will. In this respect man's will is not free. Man's will can only move toward a good or at least something apprehended as good in some way. It is God, the Supreme Good and the Author of all the good in the universe Who moves man's will naturally to the good. Freedom then is not found in the will's spontaneous tendency to what is good.
RATHER FREEDOM IS FOUND in the choices man makes in selecting the means of achieving the good. In the example given above the wife naturally and spontaneously sought the good which the money meant to her. But in the choice she made to purchase a watch as a means of achieving good, of attaining some imperfect happiness, she was free. If her husband, instead of giving her money, could have given her the vision of God, she would have accepted it spontaneously but necessarily. In that case her will could not have refused the perfect satisfaction of all its desires. But her husband could not make such a gift. Only God can make this gift. In this present life only particular good things---not the good in general nor the Supreme Good which is God---can be attained by men. But since no one of the good things or even the collection of all the good things in this life can perfectly satisfy the will, man's will is free to seek or not to seek any particular good. The freedom of man's actions is found in his choice of means to attain the good.
WHAT IS IT that gives the will the impulse to set about the business of achieving the ends of desire? What moved the wife to go to the jeweler and purchase the watch? It is command, the message the human reason gives to the will that such and such is to be done in order to satisfy the tendency of the will to the good it desires. Command is the general, the guiding force of human activity. If a man did not command himself to act he would never achieve his ends. We all know the ineffectiveness of the man who can never bring himself to do what he wants to do. Without the command of reason telling the will to take the steps necessary to accomplish its desires man would never achieve his happiness through his actions. Through the command of reason the will sets in motion the action of all the powers of man needed to accomplish the desired end or goal. Because the wife desires in her will to find imperfect happiness through the possession of a watch her reason commands the will to set in motion the movements of her body in walking to the store, the actions of her reason in talking intelligently to the jeweler in making the purchase, the actions of her eyes and hands in paying the money for the watch, etc. Although command is then an act of man's reason, it presupposes an act of the will, the free choice of the will to seek good in a certain way.
THE PROBLEM OF SUCCESSFUL LIVING, that is, of so living as to attain ultimately perfect happiness, is a problem of free choice and command. Man will reach perfect happiness, by properly directing his human acts to that goal. But an effective direction is impossible without the proper free choices and command. To reach perfect happiness man must make the right choices and he must accomplish the object of these choices. A man can only accomplish his long journey to the vision of God by walking in that direction. He is walking in that direction when he freely chooses to do the things that lead in that direction and commands the execution of the acts that lead to the vision of God.
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