Likewise, he agrees with Plato on the meaning of life. Socrates takes it as a given that all men desire first and foremost to be happy (Euthydemus 278E), and if he posits virtue as the most important factor to happiness, he never doubts that happiness is the ultimate goal. Aristotle both expands and refines this concept:
Both to an individual privately and to all people generally there is one goal at which they aim in what they choose to do and in what they avoid. Summarily stated, this is happiness and its parts . . . Let happiness be defined as success combined with virtue, or as self-sufficiency in life, or as the pleasantest life accompanied with security, or as abundance of possessions and bodies, with the ability to defend and use these things. (On Rhetoric 1360B)George A. Kennedy, who translated my copy of the book, suggests that Aristotle privileges the first definition of happiness there (“success combined with virtue”), and I've got no reason to doubt him. But I am more interested in the “parts” of happiness:
good birth, numerous friendships, worthy friendships, wealth, good children, numerous children, a good old age, as well as the virtues of the body (such as health, beauty, strength, physical stature, athletic prowess), reputation, honor, good luck, virtue. (1360B)What strikes me about this catalogue of needs is how many of them are uncontrollable. Of these, only virtue is under the control of the individual (although friendships, wealth, health, and reputation have some element of controllability).
Thomas Aquinas famously combines Aristotle and the Bible to come up with his theology, and I have to wonder what he does with this portion of On Rhetoric. That's because I don't see any way to combine Aristotle's viewpoint with St. James'. Now, I've elsewhere made my peace with the Greek concept of happiness as the chief end of man, but it's the uncontrollability of happiness that sticks in my craw. James seems to claim willful, that is, controllable, happiness, opening his epistle with his famous exhortation to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (1:2). The image is of a person forcing himself to be happy (or joyful--I never bought my youth group's distinction between happiness and joy).
The real reason for the discrepancy between Christian and Aristotelian thought on this matter comes down to one little compound word: “self-sufficiency.” If man is autonomous--if happiness indeed comes from being enough on his own--then of course the elements of that happiness are going to be beyond man's control. But James' happiness springs from the knowledge that man is not in fact sufficient unto himself. James is able to turn rocks into bread because he knows that his poor circumstances have a relational purpose, that they stem from his dependence upon God.
So Nathan--as the world's only Thomist Protestant (and the only reader of this blog), I'm sure you have the answer to my question. How does Aquinas reconcile these two disparate viewpoints?