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Summary Against Modern Thought: Human Happiness Does Not Come In Honor Or Glory

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Strange are the things men seek out.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In Honor

1 It is also clear from the foregoing that the highest good for man, that is felicity, does not lie in honors.

2 Indeed, the ultimate end of man, and his felicity, is his most perfect operation, as is evident in what has preceded. Now, a man’s honor is not identified with his operation, but with something done by another person who shows respect for him. Therefore, the felicity of man should not be identified with honors.

3 Again, that which is good and desirable on account of something else is not the ultimate end. But honor is of this sort. A person is not rightly honored unless it be because of some other good that is present in him. And this is why men seek to be honored, desiring, as it were, to have a witness to some good feature present in them. Hence, men take greater joy in being honored by important and wise people. So, man’s felicity is not to be identified with honors.

4 Besides, the attainment of felicity is accomplished through virtue. Now, virtuous operations are voluntary; otherwise, they would not merit praise. So, felicity ought to be some good which man may attain by his own will. But the gaining of honor is not within the power of any man; rather, it is in the power of the one who gives the honor. Therefore, human felicity is not to be identified with honors.

Notes Repeat it with me: the gaining of honor is not within the power of any man; rather, it is in the power of the one who gives the honor.

5 Moreover, to be worthy of honor can only be an attribute of good men. But it is possible for even evil men to be honored. So, it is better to become worthy of honor than to be honored. Therefore, honor is not the highest good for man.

6 Furthermore, the highest good is the perfect good. But the perfect good is completely exclusive of evil. Now, that in which there can be no evil cannot itself be evil. Therefore, that which is in possession of the highest good cannot be evil. But it is possible for a bad man to attain honor. So, honor is not the highest good for man.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In Glory

1 From this it is also apparent that the highest good for man does not consist in glory, which means a widely recognized reputation.

2 Now, according to Tully, glory is “widespread repute accompanied by praise of a person.” And according to Ambrose, it is “an illustrious reputation accompanied by praise.” Now, men desire to become known in connection with some sort of praise and renown, for the purpose of being honored by those who know them. So, glory is sought for the sake of honor. Hence, if honor is not the highest good, much less is glory.

Notes “All glory is fleeting”.

3 Again, praiseworthy goods are those whereby a person is shown to be well ordered to his end. Now, he who is well ordered to his end has not yet achieved the ultimate end. So, praise is not given to him who has already attained the ultimate end, but honor, as the Philosopher says in Ethics I [12: 1101b 24]. Therefore, glory cannot be the highest good, because it consists principally in praise.

4 Besides, to know is more noble than to be known; only the more noble things know, but the lowest things are known. So, the highest good for man cannot be glory, for it consists in the fact that a person is well known.

Notes All scholars who toil in obscurity should recall this.

5 Moreover, a person desires to be known only for good things; where bad things are concerned, he seeks concealment. So, to be known is a good and desirable thing, because of the good things that are known about a person. And so, these good things are better than being widely known. Therefore, glory is not the highest good, for it consists in a person being widely known.

6 Furthermore, the highest good should be perfect, for it should satisfy the appetite. Now, the knowledge associated with fame, in which human glory consists, is imperfect, for it is possessed of the greatest uncertainty and error. Therefore, such glory cannot be the highest good.

Notes There is good reason we have the phrase “the curse of fame.”

7 Again, the highest good for man should be what is most enduring among human affairs, for an endless duration of the good is naturally desired. Now, glory, in the sense of fame, is the least permanent of things; in fact, nothing is more variable than opinion and human praise. Therefore, such glory is not the highest good for man.