BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF THE SUMMA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
FOR THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD, BY
FRS. WALTER FARRELL AND MARTIN HEALY, 1952
CHAPTER 6, HAPPINESS AND VIRTUE
HABIT IS THE KEY to efficient human action. But efficiency is not enough. Efficiency alone lead either to happiness or to misery. A man can wreck his life just as efficiently as he can make it a success. Efficiency must be constructive rather than destructive. Destructive habits are called vices. Constructive habits are called virtues. Vices wound a man's humanity and tend to reduce him to the level of the beast. Virtues perfect his humanity and increase his likeness to God.
VIRTUE IS A GOOD HABIT by which man lives rightly, and which he can never put to a bad use. Man is made to achieve true happiness by the pursuit of moral good. Since man's intellect and will---the human powers which man uses in the pursuit of good---are tendencies to universal truth and universal good, they must be determined to particular acts of goodness by good habits. Virtues are the good habits which perfect man's powers in the pursuit of truth and goodness.
VIRTUE IS NOT, THEREFORE, a hindrance to good living. On the contrary, it is a necessity for good living. A man without virtue is like a genius who is kept forever in the first grade of school. His power of genius is wasted forever on the trivial task of learning again and again how to spell "cat." But a man of virtue is a man set free. His limitless appetite for truth and goodness finds unlimited opportunity for action and conquest in God's world and ultimately in God Himself. Virtue is that perfection of human power which enables man to act successfully in conquering the world for himself and himself for God.
VIRTUE IS A HABIT by which men work well. Virtues can be related to action in two ways---imperfectly and perfectly. Some virtues give man the ability to work well, but they do not of themselves give him the right use of that ability. A carpenter may know well how to make a desk---he possesses the intellectual virtue of art---but this knowledge alone does not produce a good desk. The carpenter may make a poor desk because of laziness or bad will. His art then makes him a good carpenter, but it does not necessarily make him a good man. His art is only an imperfect or relative virtue for while it makes him a good carpenter potentially, it does not make him a good man. On the other hand there are virtues which give a man not only the ability to work well but also the right use of that ability. The virtue of justice not only enables a man to pay his debts on time but it gives him the right use of that ability. It produces the act of paying the debt. Such virtues are perfect virtues, and so they are called simply virtue.
SINCE VIRTUES ARE CONCERNED with truly human acts, they are to be found only in the soul of man, and only in those powers of the soul which distinguish man from the world below him. Virtues are to be found then in the human intellect, the human will and the human sense appetite. But, because of the differing relationships which these powers have to good acts, virtues are found in them in different ways.
SINCE IT IS THE HUMAN WILL which moves both itself and the other powers of man to the pursuit of moral good or perfection, perfect virtue is to be found only in the will and in the other human powers only in so far as they are under the direction of the will. The intellectual virtues of science, wisdom and understanding are concerned only with the contemplation of truth. By themselves they do not produce morally good acts. They are therefore only relative or imperfect virtues. A man may be a good scientist, but morally a very bad man. The intellectual virtue of art is also an imperfect virtue. It enables a man to know how to make things well, a statue, for example, or a symphony. But it does not necessarily make him a morally good man. A man may be a good musician, but morally a very bad man. The intellectual virtue of prudence, on the other hand, is a perfect virtue because it is concerned with right action, with morally good action.
THE SIMPLE AND EMERGENCY PASSIONS of man when considered only as movements of man's sense appetite are not subjects of virtue. But the concupiscible and irascible faculties of man's sense appetite can be directed in their action by human reason. Under this direction of reason the movements of the passions become sources of truly human actions. The man who eats properly under the direction of reason---because reason tells him food is necessary for life---is performing not just an animal action, but a truly human action. The powers of the sense appetite are subject to virtue in so far as they are subject to reason. The virtues of the passions are their habitual conformity with reason.
THE WILL, WE HAVE SAID, is the proper subject of virtue. This is because it is the will which moves man to good acts. But a distinction must be made here. The will is itself an inclination to the good which is proper to it in accordance with reason. From this point of view the will does not need virtues to make it perfect in its action. Man's will does not need habits or virtues when man is seeking only what is good for himself. But man has relationships with other men and with God. In relation to them he must act altruistically, unselfishly. In this regard the will needs virtues to perfect it, such virtues as justice and charity.
ALL HUMAN VIRTUES will be either intellectual or moral. Human virtue is a habit which perfects man in view of his doing good deeds. But there are only two sources of truly human actions: the human intellect and the human will. Every human virtue must be a perfection of one of these two sources of human action. If it perfects man's intellect, it will be an intellectual virtue. If it perfects his will, it will be a moral virtue. From this it follows that human virtue makes man perfect as man. Virtue is the perfection of the powers of reason and will which raise man above the level of the beast and make him the image of God. God's life consists of His Divine Knowledge and His Divine Love. The perfection of human life consists also of knowledge and love. Man needs therefore the intellectual and moral virtues which enable him to know and love well.
INTELLECTUAL VIRTUES perfect man's intellect in the pursuit of truth, which is the good of the intellect. Truth may be known either speculatively or practically. The speculative intellect simply contemplates truth. The mathematician simply contemplates the truth that one plus one equals two. The practical intellect considers truth as the measure of action. The violinist considers the rules of fingering and bowing the violin as the rule or measure for playing the violin well. The prudent man considers the rules for contracts as the measure of making and fulfilling contracts well. Both the speculative and the practical intellect need virtue for perfect action.
A TRUTH MAY BE KNOWN speculatively in two ways. It may be known in itself, or it may be known in and through some other truth. That a whole is greater than any of its parts is a truth that is known immediately in itself. Truths of this kind are known naturally to the intellect. They are the principles---or starting-points---of all other knowledge. The habitual knowledge which man has of these principles of all thought is called the habit or virtue of understanding.
A TRUTH WHICH IS KNOWN in and through some other truth can also be known in two ways. It may be seen as true in the light of its proximate principles. An habitual knowledge of truth in this way is called science or knowledge. Science always deals with a particular subject. So we have the sciences of mathematics, of physics, of biology and so on. In all the sciences we either deduce truths from some other truth or we interpret facts in the light of the principles furnished by the intellectual virtue of understanding.
BUT THE HUMAN INTELLECT is never satisfied with the proximate explanation of truth. It is natural for the mind to seek the ultimate explanation of everything. The habitual knowledge of the ultimate or last explanation of all things is called wisdom. Wisdom is that intellectual virtue which enables the mind of man to see everything in order in its proper place. Wisdom gives man the ultimate explanation of all things. Through wisdom man sees the relation of one truth to another, of one science to another, and of all truths and sciences to the ultimate truth which is God.
AS A RATIONAL BEING man is made for truth. It is natural for him to want to know and understand all things. The virtues of the speculative intellect---understanding, science, and wisdom---are necessary for the perfection of man as man. Understanding is the native endowment of every man. Science and wisdom must be acquired. In our modem world science, especially positive science, is valued very highly. We have been led to think that the advancements of the positive sciences such as chemistry and physics and mathematics will produce heaven on earth for man. The sciences are certainly intellectual virtues that make man perfect. But without wisdom---the highest of all the sciences---they cannot make man as perfect as he should and can be. Wisdom alone gives man the ultimate explanation of things. Wisdom alone answers the ultimate questions: Where did the world come from? Where did man come from? Where is man going? The astronomer may be able to explain how the earth revolves in its orbit around the sun. But without wisdom he cannot explain the origin or the existence of either the sun or the earth. The virtue of wisdom should be the goal of all human effort in the acquisition of knowledge.
THE PRACTICAL INTELLECT of man can also be the subject of virtue. The practical intellect is concerned with the truth about things to be made or things to be done. The virtue which perfects the intellect in the knowledge of how to make things is called art. It is art which enables a musician to know what a symphony is, how it is constructed, how it should be written, how it should be played by an orchestra. Since man is naturally a maker of things, the virtue of art plays an important role in man's life on earth. We all admire---in fact sometimes we envy---the man who can make his own garden, or make and repair his own furniture or furnace. Whenever man is engaged in the making of something, there he needs art. Art is the knowledge of the right way to make things.
WHEN THE PRACTICAL INTELLECT of man is concerned with the right way to act or to do things as a human being, then we need the virtue of prudence. An art is always concerned with something specific. We can have an art of farming, of home-building, of music, of portrait painting, and so on. But prudence is concerned with all human actions precisely as they are human. Prudence deals with the right way to do or perform man's truly human acts, that is, his free acts. Because prudence deals with the right way to act humanly, it is an intellectual virtue. As a virtue its objective is good. As a virtue directing human acts its virtue is moral good. But human actions derive their goodness or evil---at least in part---from the goodness or evil of the goal to which they are directed. Hence prudence is dependent on the goodness of the will, for it is the human will which chooses the goal of human activity. If a man's will chooses to rob a bank, his practical intellect may counsel him on the best way to rob the bank successfully. But it is not the virtue of prudence which makes him a successful thief. Prudence is a good habit, directing man's forces to moral good. If a man wills a good goal, for example, to provide an education for young men who cannot afford it themselves, then prudence will help him to do this well. It is prudence which will tell him the good or the best way to attain the goal of his will.
SINGE MAN ACHIEVES true happiness by his good human acts, and since prudence is the virtue which directs human acts well according to the standards of human reason, it is the presence or the absence of prudence in a man's mind which makes the difference between successful living and dismal failure, between happiness and misery.
UNDERSTANDING, SCIENCE, WISDOM, AND ART are in themselves perfections only of man's intellect. They are not of themselves moral perfections. They do not of themselves make man as man morally good or morally evil. They are therefore in themselves relative or imperfect virtues. But prudence, since it directs man's free acts, is concerned with the pursuit of moral good and the avoidance of moral evil. It perfects man as man and so it is a perfect virtue.
THESE INTELLECTUAL VIRTUES are distinct from 1 what we call the moral virtues. The moral virtues are habits modifying the appetite of man for good. If knowledge necessarily produced moral good in all man's actions, there would be no need for moral virtues distinct from the intellectual virtues. But experience shows that knowledge and virtue are not absolutely identical. A thief may know that it is wrong to steal, but he will still do so. It is true that human reason is the first principle or source of all human acts. But reason is not a totalitarian dictator of all human actions. The appetite of man obeys reason, but with a certain power of opposition. The passions of the sense appetite, for example, often oppose the dictates of reason, and sometimes even override reason. Reason may tell a man that gluttony is evil. But his desire for tasty food or for alcoholic liquors may rebel against reason and lead him to the sin of gluttony. For a man to act well, then, in the moral order he needs not only intellectual virtues to perfect his reason, but moral virtues to dispose his appetite in conformity with reason.
THE INTELLECTUAL and the moral virtues are distinct. But they have some relationships. Moral virtue is impossible without the intellectual virtues of prudence and understanding. Prudence enables a man to choose well the proper means to achieve his goals. The moral virtue of justice in the will enables a man to choose to pay his debts. But it is prudence in the intellect which decides on the proper way to pay the debt. A man without prudence might decide to pay Peter by stealing money from Paul. A prudent man would choose a good means of paying Peter. He would pay Peter from his salary or bank account. Prudence in turn needs the assistance of understanding, the habitual knowledge of first principles of the intellectual or moral order.
ON THE OTHER HAND, though understanding, science, wisdom, and art can be found in a man who has no moral virtue, prudence cannot exist without moral virtue. For prudence deals with particular acts. And particular acts are done by men for ends or goals. They will be good or evil as the goal is good or evil. The goal of a particular act is then the principle or source of that act. Man performs the act because he intends to achieve the goal he has chosen. Prudence then, as a virtue, demands rightness of intention here and now in this particular act. Now rightness of intention in relation to goals is the work of the moral virtues which perfect man's appetite. If the appetite is properly tending to moral good, then prudence can work in the direction of means to the good. In fact it is the right intention in the appetite which gives the intellect a real capacity for judging rightly how to achieve a good goal. A man whose will is just has, as it were, a real capacity for judging well how to act justly in particular questions of justice. On the contrary, a man whose will is unjust finds it hard to judge questions of justice properly. The passion of an unjust man for the bodily pleasures which money will bring will prevent his reason from judging properly when he should pay his debts and when he may defer payment. Prudence then absolutely demands righteousness in the will and sense appetite.
MAN AS MAN IS MADE for truth and goodness, for knowledge and love. The virtues, both intellectual and moral, are the canals which direct the powers of his intellect and will to the attainment of the true and the good. A truly human life is impossible without the virtues. The world is built on truth and filled with goodness. It offers man unlimited opportunities for knowledge and love. From the heights of God to the inconceivable littleness of the electron in the atom, all the universe lies open to the reason and will, the knowledge and love of man. The virtues are the perfections which enable the intellect of man to embrace all truth and the will of man to love all good.
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