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Category: Philosophy

The philosophy of science, empiricism, a priori reasoning, epistemology, and so on.

May 20, 2018 | No comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Happiness Comes In Thinking

Previous post.

Intellect trumps will, but willpower is good.

Whether felicity consists in a will act

1 Now, since an intellectual substance, through its own operation, attains to God, not only by understanding, but also through an act of will, by desiring and loving Him and by taking delight in Him, it may appear to someone that the ultimate end and the ultimate felicity of man do not lie in knowing, but in loving God, or in some other act of will relating to Him.

2 Especially so, since the object of the will is the good, and the good has the rational character of an end, while the true which is the object of the intellect does not have the rational character of an end, except inasmuch as it is also a good. Consequently, it does not seem that Man attains his ultimate end through an act of understanding, but rather, through an act of will.

3 Again, the ultimate perfection of operation is delight “which perfects activity as beauty perfects youth,” as the Philosopher says in Ethics X [4: 1174b 31]. So, if perfect operation is the ultimate end, it appears that the ultimate end is more in accord with an operation of the will than of the intellect.

4 Besides, delight seems to be so much an object of desire for its own sake that it is never desired for the sake of something else; indeed, it is foolish to ask a person why he wishes to be delighted. Now, this is characteristic of the ultimate end: it is sought for its own sake. Therefore, the ultimate end lies in an operation of the will rather than of the intellect, it would seem.

5 Moreover, all men agree to the fullest extent in their appetite for the ultimate end, for it is natural. Now, more men seek delight than knowledge. So, it would seem that the end is delight rather than knowledge.

6 Furthermore, the will seems to be a higher power than the intellect, for the will moves the intellect to its act; indeed, the intellect actually considers, whenever it wills to, what it retains habitually. Therefore, the action of the will seems to be nobler than the action of the intellect. And so, it seems that the ultimate end, which is happiness, consists rather in an act of will than in an act of intellect.

7 However, it can be shown that this view is quite impossible.

8 Since happiness is the proper good of an intellectual nature, happiness must pertain to an intellectual nature by reason of what is proper to that nature. Now, appetite is not peculiar to intellectual nature; instead, it is present in all things, though it is in different things in different ways. And this diversity arises from the fact that things are differently related to knowledge.

For things lacking knowledge entirely have natural appetite only. And things endowed with sensory knowledge have, in addition, sense appetite, under which irascible and concupiscible powers are included.

But things possessed of intellectual knowledge also have an appetite proportionate to this knowledge, that is, will. So, the will is not peculiar to intellectual nature by virtue of being an appetite, but only in so far as it depends on intellect. However, the intellect, in itself, is peculiar to an intellectual nature. Therefore, happiness, or felicity, consists substantially and principally in an act of the intellect rather than in an act of the will.

9 Again, in the case of all powers that are moved by their objects the objects are naturally prior to the acts of these powers, just as a mover is naturally prior to the moving of its passive object. Now, the will is such a power, for the object of appetition moves the appetite. So, the will’s object is naturally prior to its act. Hence, its first object precedes every one of its acts. Therefore, no act of the will can be the first thing that is willed. But that is what the ultimate end is, in the sense of happiness. So, it is impossible for happiness, or felicity, to be the very act of the will.

10 Besides, for all the powers capable of reflection on their own acts, the act of such a power must first be brought to bear on some other object, and then directed to its own act. If the intellect is to understand itself in the act of understanding, it must first be taken that it understands something, and then, as a result, that it understands that it is understanding.

For, this act of understanding which the intellect understands pertains to some object. Hence, it is necessary either to proceed through an endless series, or, if we are to come to a first object of understanding, it will not be the act of understanding but rather some intelligible thing. Likewise, the first willed object must not be the will’s act but some other good thing. But, for an intellectual nature, the first thing that is willed is happiness itself, or felicity, since it is for the sake of this happiness that we will whatever we will. Therefore, it is impossible for felicity to consist essentially in an act of the will.

Notes That the intellect understands that it is understanding is something no computer can do. Hence, “strong” AI is impossible. That understanding of understanding cannot be programmed into physical stuff.

11 Moreover, each thing possesses its true nature by virtue of the components which make up its substance. Thus, a real man differs from a painting of a man by virtue of the things that constitute the substance of man. Now, in their relation to the will act, true happiness does not differ from false happiness. In fact, the will, when it desires, loves or enjoys, is related in just the same way to its object, whatever it may be that is presented to it as a highest good, whether truly or falsely. Of course, whether the object so presented is truly the highest good, or is false, this distinction is made on the part of the intellect. Therefore, happiness, or felicity, essentially consists in understanding rather than in an act of the will.

12 Furthermore, if any act of the will were this felicity, this act would be either one of desire, of love, or of delight. Now, it is impossible for the act of desiring to be the ultimate end. For it is by desire that the will tends toward what it does not yet possess, but this is contrary to the essential character of the ultimate end.

So, too, the act of loving cannot be the ultimate end. For a good is loved not only when possessed but also when not possessed. Indeed, it is as a result of love that what is not possessed is sought with desire, and if the love of something already possessed is more perfect, this results from the fact that the good which was loved is possessed. So, it is a different thing to possess a good which is the end, and to love it; for love, before possession, is imperfect, but after possession, perfect.

Similarly, delight is not the ultimate end. For the very possession of the good is the cause of delight: we either experience it while the good is presently possessed, or we remember it when it was formerly possessed, or we hope for it when it is to be possessed in the future. So, delight is not the ultimate end. Therefore, none of the acts of will can be this felicity substantially.

13 Again, if delight were the ultimate end, it would be desired for its own sake. But this is false. The value of desiring a certain delight arises from the thing which delight accompanies. For the delight that accompanies good and desirable operations is good and desirable, but that which accompanies evil deeds is evil and repulsive. So, it owes the fact that it is good and desirable to something else. Therefore, delight is not the ultimate end, in the sense of felicity.

14 Besides, the right order of things is in agreement with the order of nature, for natural things are ordered to their end without error. In the order of natural things, delight is for the sake of operation, and not conversely. In fact, we see that nature has associated pleasure with those operations of animals that are clearly ordered to necessary ends; such as to the eating of food, for this is ordered to the preservation of the individual; and to the use of sexual capacities, for this is ordered to the preservation of the species. Indeed, unless pleasure were associated with them, animals would refrain from these necessary activities that we have mentioned. Therefore, it is impossible for pleasure to be the ultimate end.

15 Moreover, pleasure seems to be simply the repose of the will in some appropriate good, as desire is the inclination of the will toward the attainment of some good. Now, just as a man is inclined through his will to the end and reposes in it, so do physical bodies in nature possess natural inclinations to proper ends, and these inclinations come to rest when the end has already been reached.

However, it is ridiculous to say that the end of a heavy body’s motion is not to be in its proper place, but that the end is the resting of the inclination whereby it tends there. If nature bad intended this at the beginning, that the inclination would come to rest, it would not have given such an inclination; instead, it gives it so that, by this means, the thing may tend to a proper place. When this has been reached, as an end, the repose of the inclination follows. And so, such repose is not the end, but rather a concomitant of the end. Nor, indeed, is pleasure the ultimate end; it is its concomitant. And so, by an even greater reason, no other act of the will is felicity.

Notes Yet our culture has concluded pleasure is the ultimate goal. What this has done to intellectual creations is too well known to need explicating.

16 If one thing has another thing as its external end, then the operation whereby the first thing primarily attains the second will be called the ultimate end of the first thing. Thus, for those to whom money is an end, we say that to possess the money is their end, but not the loving of it, not the craving of it. Now, the ultimate end of an intellectual substance is God. So, that operation of man is substantially his happiness, or his felicity, whereby be primarily attains to God. This is the act of understanding, for we cannot will what we do not understand. Therefore, the ultimate felicity of man lies substantially in knowing God through his intellect, and not in an act of the will.

17 At this point, then, the answer to the arguments against our view is clear from what we have said. For, if felicity is an object of the will because it has the rational character of a highest good, that does not make it substantially an act of the will, as the first argument implied. On the contrary, from the fact that it is a first object, the conclusion is that felicity is not its act, as is apparent in what we have said.

18 Nor, indeed, is it necessary that everything whereby a thing is in any way perfected be the end of that thing, as the second argument claimed. In fact, something may be the perfection of a thing in two ways: in one way, of a thing that already possesses its species; and in a second way, in order that the thing may acquire its species.

For instance, the perfection of a house which already has its species is that to which the species of the house is ordered, namely, habitation. For a house is made for this purpose only, and so this must be included in the definition of a house if the definition is to be perfect. But the perfection for the sake of the species of the house is both that which is directed to the setting up of the species, such as its substantial principles, and also that which is ordered to the preservation of its species, such as the foundations made to hold up the house, and even those things that make the use of the house more agreeable, such as the beauty of the house. And then, that which is the perfection of the thing, in so far as it already possesses its species, is its end: as habitation is the end of the house. Likewise, the proper operation of anything, which is its use as it were, is its end.

Now, the things that are perfections leading up to the species are not the end for the thing; on the contrary, the thing is their end, matter and form are for the sake of the species. Though form is the end of the generative act, it is not the end of the thing that is already generated and possessed of its species. Rather, the form is required so that the species may be complete. Similarly, factors which preserve a thing in its species, such as health and the nutritive power, though perfectants of the animal, are not the end of the animal; rather, the opposite is true. Also, items by which a thing is improved for the perfection of its proper operations, and for the more appropriate attainment of its proper end, are not the end for the thing; rather, the opposite is so. For instance, beauty is for the man, and strength is for the body, and so for other similar things which the Philosopher talks about in Ethics I [8-9: 1099b 2–1099b 28], saying that “they contribute to felicity instrumentally.”

Pleasure, however, is a perfection of operation, not in such a way that operation is ordered to it as to its species; rather, pleasure is ordered to other ends, as eating is ordered specifically to the preservation of the individual. But pleasure is like the perfection that is conducive to the species of the thing, since because of pleasure we apply ourselves more carefully and suitably to the operation in which we take pleasure. Hence the Philosopher says in Ethics X [4: 1174b 31] that “pleasure perfects operation as beauty perfects youth.” For, of course, beauty is for the sake of him in whom youth is found, and not the converse.

19 Nor is the fact that men desire pleasure for its own sake, and not for the sake of something else, enough to indicate that pleasure is the ultimate end, as the third argument concluded. For, although pleasure is not the ultimate end, it is, of course, a concomitant of this end, since pleasure arises out of the attainment of the end.

20 Nor do more persons seek the pleasure that is associated with knowing rather than the knowledge. Rather, there are more people who seek sensual pleasures than intellectual knowledge and its accompanying pleasure, because things that are external stand out as better known, since human knowledge starts from sensible objects.

Notes And it was ever so, so it shall ever be.

21 Now, what the fifth argument suggests, that the will is higher than the intellect, in the sense of moving it, is clearly false. For, primarily and directly, the intellect moves the will; indeed, the will, as such, is moved by its object which is the known good.

But the will moves the intellect rather accidentally, that is, in so far as the act of understanding is itself apprehended as good, and so is desired by the will, with the result that the intellect actually understands.

Even in this act, the intellect precedes the will, for the will would never desire the act of understanding unless, first of all, the intellect were to apprehend the act of understanding as a good.

And again, the will moves the intellect actually to perform its operation, in the way that an agent is said to move; while the intellect moves the will in the way that an end moves something, since the good that is understood is the end for the will. Now, the agent comes later, in the process of moving, than does the end, since the agent does not move except for the sake of the end. Hence, it is evident that the intellect is, without qualification, higher than the will. On the other hand, the will is higher than the intellect, accidentally and in a qualified sense.

May 15, 2018 | 43 Comments

The Why & Frequency Of Miracles: Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth Reviewed — Part IV

Read Part I, II, III.


That miracles have supernatural origins is true by definition (see below, in PROBABILITY). Miracles, like all events, must have causes, and cause has motive as part of its aspect, as we have already seen. God must have wanted to perform the miracle, else, of course, He would not have done it.

Shapiro, however, says “God’s intentions, desires, habits, and so on are simply not available to us. Whatever we assume about God’s nature is purely speculative—guesses, really.” Both statements are (at least sometimes) false. If Jesus were God, as he claimed, then his intentions, desires, and habits were known and available. Deciding whether the miracle that a man can be God is a separate question. God’s, or Jesus’s, or even the Holy Spirit’s motives are not always plain, of course, but when a man begs Jesus to be made well, and Jesus heals the man miraculously, the motivation is clear.

If Shapiro is not an empiricist, he plays one in the book. Divining God’s attributes and nature, in our limited and fractured way, is the topic of theology and metaphysics (did you see the bad joke?). It can be done, and has. (See this series.) So Shapiro is wrong because he insists on measurement even when it cannot be had. He asks, “But how do we verify assumptions about God’s characteristics and ‘personality’?” How do we verify there are an infinity of numbers? Answer: we do not and cannot verify it. But we all believe it. An empiricist cannot believe it, however, because he cannot verify it. No math for Shapiro, then, nor logic. Also, that we cannot measure God’s attributes, though we can deduce some, is not a refutation that all our deductions are wrong. Instead, empiricism is a fallacy.

Shapiro’s main conclusion is that since, he says, we cannot discern God’s motives, then we “have no justification for believing” in miracles. “[B]ecause,” he says about one instance, “verification of either assumption [about motives] is impossible—we can’t simply ask Oprah to sit down with a divine entity for an interview about it goals and methods—we’re not justified in believing either of them.” And from this supposed lack of knowledge of motive he concludes “inference to supernatural causes is never justified.” That is the gist of the entire book.

Shapiro fails to see that motive can be guessed about some miraculous claims: that motivation is part of the inference to an explanation, when it accounts for the assumed metaphysics and theology. Shapiro assumes his own, but fails to see they are his own. He also did not acknowledge that we cannot always know motives even in mundane events, such as the example which opened this review (ball on table placed by Alice, Bob, or Charlie). Alice could walk in the room and say “I did it”, but Shapiro would have to reject her claim because he did not learn why she did it. With God, we sometimes do know the motive: He tells us. And sometimes we do not. In any case, that we do not does not mean what happened did not happen (if something indeed happened).

That Shapiro has fallen into these errors is because he attempts to divorce his metaphysics, about which he is mainly wrong, from his epistemology, which he misuses.


Shapiro thinks an event’s improbability is what, in part, makes it a miracle: “the more unlikely the occurrence, the more reason to believe that something supernatural is taking place,” and “miracles should be extremely improbable.” His two criteria for miraculous are:

1. Extremely improbable: a miracle should be unlike anything we have seen before. It should be contrary to everything we know about how the world works.

2. Supernatural: a miracle can’t have a natural explanation. It must be the product of supernatural and typically divine agency.

The second criterion is not controversial. The first is incorrect. The problem is, no miracle has a probability: no event does either. Nothing has a probability, not even the roll of a die. That means improbability cannot be used to judge the veracity of a miracle, or of anything.

Probability is only defined with respect to assumed evidence. Miracles, then, are more or less probable depending on the evidence for or against them that it accepted or assumed. It is the same for any event.

It is however easy to see why Shapiro (or anybody) would say why walking on water is improbable. It is because he gathers evidence of his experience and discovers, in relation to that, such events do not often happen, or have never happened (to his knowledge), and that he cannot think of a cause. Gathered, that evidence makes the event improbable. But, at least to to the one doing the act, who knows the cause (in all its aspects), the probability is certain.

Think about a non miracle, like being struck by lightning. Nobody “has” a probability of being struck by lightning. A golfer standing on hillock in a thunderstorm is under different circumstances than an office drone seated as his desk in a skyscraper. Their circumstances differ in ways we know to be related to the causes of lightning, hence their probabilities differ. Indeed, the golfer and drone may be the same man at different times. Probability solely depends on the evidence believed or assumed. If the evidence changes, the probability changes.

Shapiro finally attempts to turn improbability into a reason not to believe miracles, by referencing the base rate fallacy. This is a real fallacy and old saw (regular readers will well recognize it), introduced in every elementary probability book when Bayes’s theorem arrives. How worried should an asymptomatic women, aged 40-60, with no family history of breast cancer, be when the mammogram comes back positive, considering the mammogram is right (say) 99.9% of the time? Not that worried, as it turns out, because conditional on the information assumed the base rate of cancer is small. A positive mammogram adds to the evidence and increases the probability of cancer only a little. The fallacy comes in supposing the probability of cancer is close to the accuracy of the test.

This is applied to claims of miracles by first assuming miracles are rare, and then assuming claims of miracles are imperfect to some degree in the same way medical tests are. Going only by the “base rate” of miracles, the probability of a miracle is small. Add to the evidence a good but possibly imperfect report, and the probability of the miracle does rise, but it still remains small overall. “The absolutely crucial point is that when we are faced with testimony about something very improbable, such as an alien abduction, we have to ask ourselves one question: What is more likely—that the event really happened, as the witness reports, or that some other explanation for the testimony is true?”

This is a fine question which, as Shapiro says, should and must be asked. Notice it relates to cause, both of the purported event but also of the motivation of the reporter. Not everybody who relates a miracle properly interpreted what they saw, and not everybody tells the full truth. It therefore makes sense to examine every claim critically. And it even makes sense, as in the case of alien abductions, to ignore the claim, given the base information that heretofore all such events critically examined have proved false, or were very likely false (given the evidence accumulated in the investigation). This is because, given all past events like this were false or probably false, we judge the probability high that the newest claim will also be false or likely false.

But this does not work for miracles, for three reasons. One, not all claims of miracles have been proven false or likely false; some have been proved true or likely true. Thus, it is worth investigating substantial new claims, and worth ignoring insubstantial ones (like faces in burnt toast; notice how decision is wrapped up in this). Two, since miracles do not have probabilities, they do not have base rates. Their probability only makes sense with respect to assumed evidence. We can assume their near impossibility, making them immune to any report à la Hume, but this becomes a circular argument (a well known criticism). Three, if we were to rule out any report of unlikely events, nobody who (say) claimed (say) to win the lottery could ever be believed (lottery probabilities specify the precise evidence with which to calculate their probabilities).

Shaprio is finally wrong again, because rarity does not define miracles. Every day in tens of thousands of churches, the miracle of transforming nature of bread in the Body of Christ occurs. Another miracle is the universe being held in existence from moment to moment. Rarity doesn’t enter into it.

May 14, 2018 | 20 Comments

Inference To An Explanation: Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth Reviewed — Part III

Read Part I, II.

Did Jesus walk on water? Eyewitnesses reported he did. The event was so well remarked that people wrote of it at a time when most events went unrecorded.

Here’s a different question: Could Jesus have walked on water? Well, he claimed to be God, and even a weak understanding of who God is would grant that if Jesus’s claim was (is) true, then walking on water, turning water into wine, raising people from the dead, restoring health instantaneously, and so on are within God’s abilities. If God can create an entire universe, skimming across a sea without sinking is trivial.

Here’s another different question: Why did Jesus walk on water, assuming he did? (Atheists are asked to hold in mind the conditional clause at the end of that question.) The same eyewitnesses report that Jesus took the shortest path to his pals, with whom he wanted to be. Presumably, being God, Jesus could have “transported” himself or even flew to the boat, under his own power or via the assistance of giant eagles à la JRR Tolkien. Those other methods of transportation are a tad showy, and then we recall Jesus was also a man, and walking (or swimming) is what men who cannot lay their hands on skiffs do.

Finally, here’s a last different question: How did Jesus walk on water? Perhaps the best answer is “I have no idea.” Stated with more metaphysical sophistication, but still in profound ignorance, we can say he changed the nature of the water so that it could support weight, whereas the nature or essence of water is that objects in the shape of unadorned walking men sink. Evidence to support that view is increased when we recall one of the eyewitnesses was so stoked by the spectacle that he jumped from the boat and bestrode the waves—until his faith fled and he began to sink. Intriguing.

Means, motive, opportunity.

We have answers, albeit tentative and incomplete on the total cause (form, material, efficient, final) of the miracle. If that’s what it was. We still have to work on the probability that it was a miracle, and that means finding probative evidence. Then we have to contrast the miraculous explanation with other possibilities in order to make a decision: to believe in the miracle or not.

Here is where inference to the best explanation (IBE) begins to fail—in the freedom to pick and choose the evidence we think is probative. And in not recognizing we have this freedom.

What alternatives to the eyewitness reports of the miracle are available? An infinity.

Shapiro’s list (as it did for other reported Biblical miracles) would start with some great power consortium of beings, maybe aliens or “seventeen” lesser gods. Maybe something natural we don’t understand (but not ice). Maybe the apostles were lying. Maybe they were under “mass hypnosis.” Could be Jesus was a “supermagician”. Maybe the sea spoken of was only inches deep.

Here Shapiro lets us down with his lack of imagination. He didn’t conjure a time traveler equipped with a holographic projector. Or maybe the apostles ate bad fish. And if we can posit seventeen gods, why not sixteen or eighteen?

We can see we’ve mixed things up, too. All alternate explanations say something about cause, but only parts of the cause. We want it all: means, motive, opportunity. There is no profit going on and on like this, either, because we could do it forever. Nor have we learned about the probability, except in the crude sense that if we accorded every imaginable scenario some probability, the probability of whatever the true cause is would head to zero. Not useful for making a decision, that.

No detective operates in the way Shapiro does. Detectives take what evidence is available and build a case from that. Detectives also draw upon their experience (which differs from detective to detective) to provide additional evidence. They do not begin investigations fretting about mass hypnosis or alien invasions.

Jorge slides some WonderBread into the toaster and up pops browned bread that, viewed from the side, looks a bit like a classical portrait of Jesus. Miracle?

What evidence do we have? One, any toast pattern will have to look like something. Two, people see faces in everything: :-). (That one was caused by me.) Three, there’s lots of toast out there, and given One and Two, we’d guess there’d be a lot of faces that look like Jesus. Four, Jorge believes. Five, we don’t think he’s lying or he cheated, though he could have. Six, we agree that, if viewed from the side and in the right light, the toast has a vague resemblance to certain portraits. Seven, it seems odd the good Lord would prep a peanut butter receiver with his face: if He wanted to give Jorge a message, He could do so without the risk of being smeared.

That evidence—and we could have gone on to suppose aliens, etc.—indicates two main candidates: (1) an odd miracle, or (2) Jorge’s earnest faith and coincidence. The minor possibility of Jorge lying we give very little probability, based on the evidence of his demeanor, etc.

We now form the probability of both: (1) small, (2) large (neither can be quantified). We know more about the totality of the cause for (2) rather than for (1). What decision to make? That depends on the probability, which is in favor of (2), and of the consequences.

If it was a miracle and we say it was, we receive a minor boost in faith. Has to be minor because of the danger of peanut butter: we could have missed it.

If it was a miracle and we say it wasn’t, we lose out, but not, I think, by a lot.

If it wasn’t a miracle and we say it wasn’t, we gain a wee bit of satisfaction, but really the incident will be quickly forgotten.

If it wasn’t a miracle and we say it was, we make a small error, with the benefit of added faith. Believing harms nobody.

No matter which way we look at it, the stakes are minor. So we say (2), a natural event. This is inference to an explanation—the best explanation given only the evidence we assumed and given my take on the decision. Jorge will still decide to believe, even if he agrees on the probability, because the consequences for him are different. To him we say, God bless you.

Of course, we never reach absolute proof.

We have to play detective in the same manner for every claim we hear—not just claims of miracles. It’s because most claims are mundane—“Did you put the meat in the fridge?” “Yes, dear”—that we don’t see ourselves wearing deerstalkers and smoking pipes. It’s only when they are fantastic we do.

Next time, we wrap up the review, discussing motives and probability.

May 13, 2018 | No comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: To Understand God Is Our Natural End

Previous post.

Dear reader, you are an intellectual substance.

that to understand God is the end of every intellectual substance

1 Since all creatures, even those devoid of understanding, are ordered to God as to an ultimate end, all achieve this end to the extent that they participate somewhat in His likeness. Intellectual creatures attain it in a more special way, that is, through their proper operation of understanding Him. Hence, this must be the end of the intellectual creature, namely, to understand God.

2 The ultimate end of each thing is God, as we have shown. So, each thing intends, as its ultimate end, to be united with God as closely as is possible for it. Now, a thing is more closely united with God by the fact that it attains to His very substance in some manner, and this is accomplished when one knows something of the divine substance, rather than when one acquires some likeness of Him. Therefore, an intellectual substance tends to divine knowledge as an ultimate end.

Notes In some matter and not completely.

3 Again, the proper operation of a thing is an end for it, for this is its secondary perfection. That is why whatever is fittingly related to its proper operation is said to be virtuous and good. But the act of understanding is the proper operation of an intellectual substance. Therefore, this act is its end. Ana that which is most perfect in this operation is the ultimate end, particularly in the case of operations that are not ordered to any products, such as the acts of understanding and sensing.

Now, since operations of this type are specified by their objects, through which they are known also, any one of these operations must be more perfect when its object is more perfect. And so, to understand the most perfect intelligible object, which is God, is the most perfect thing in the genus of this operation of understanding. Therefore, to know God by an act of understanding is the ultimate end of every intellectual substance.

Notes This is an argument for turning off your television.

4 Of course, someone could say that the ultimate end of an intellectual substance consists, in fact, in understanding the best intelligible object—not that the best object of understanding for this or that particular intellectual substance is absolutely the best intelligible object, but that, the higher an intellectual substance is, the higher will its best object of understanding be.

And so, perhaps the highest created intellectual substance may have what is absolutely best as its best intelligible object, and, consequently, its felicity will consist in understanding God, but the felicity of any lower intellectual substance will lie in the understanding of some lower intelligible object, which is, however, the highest thing understood by it.

Particularly would it seem true of the human intellect that its function is not to understand absolutely the best intelligible object, because of its weakness; indeed, it stands in relation to the knowing of the greatest intelligible object, “as the owl’s eye is to the sunlight.”

Notes All teachers will sympathize with “the highest thing understood by it.’

5 But it seems obvious that the end of any intellectual substance, even the lowest, is to understand God. It has been shown above that the ultimate end of all things, to which they tend, is God. Though it is the lowest in the order of intellectual substances, the human intellect is, nevertheless, superior to all things that lack understanding. And so, since there should not be a less noble end for a more noble substance, the end for the human intellect will be God Himself. And an intelligent being attains his ultimate end by understanding Him, as was indicated. Therefore, the human intellect reaches God as its end, through an act of understanding.

6 Again, just as things devoid of understanding tend toward God as an end, by way of assimilation, so intellectual substances do so by way of cognition, as is evident from the foregoing. Now, although things devoid of understanding tend to the likeness of their proximate agents, their natural tendency does not, however, rest there, for this tendency has as its end assimilation to the highest good, as is apparent from what we have said, even though these things can only attain this likeness in a very imperfect way. Therefore, however small the amount of divine knowledge that the intellect may be able to grasp, that will be for the intellect, in regard to its ultimate end, much more than the perfect knowledge of lower objects of understanding.

7 Besides, a thing has the greatest desire for its ultimate end. Now, the human intellect has a greater desire, and love, and pleasure, in knowing divine matters than it has in the perfect knowledge of the lowest things, even though it can grasp but little concerning divine things. So, the ultimate end of man is to understand God, in some fashion.

Notes This is true even in those people who love trivia. When we grasp something higher, we find joy. That accounts for the paeans to science.

8 Moreover, a thing inclines toward the divine likeness as to its own end. So, that whereby a thing chiefly becomes like God is its ultimate end. Now, an intellectual creature chiefly becomes like God by the fact that it is intellectual, for it has this sort of likeness over and above what other creatures have, and this likeness includes all others. In the genus of this sort of likeness a being becomes more like God by actually understanding than by habitually or potentially understanding, because God is always actually understanding, as we proved in Book One [56]. And, in this actual understanding, it becomes most like God by understanding God Himself, for God understands all things in the act of understanding Himself, as we proved in Book One [49]. Therefore, to understand God is the ultimate end of every intellectual substance.

9 Furthermore, that which is capable of being loved only for the sake of some other object exists for the sake of that other thing which is lovable simply on its own account. In fact, there is no point in going on without end in the working of natural appetite, since natural desire would then be futile, because it is impossible to get to the end of an endless series.

Now, all practical sciences, arts, and powers are objects of love only because they are means to something else, for their purpose is not knowledge but operation.

But the speculative sciences are lovable for their own sake, since their end is knowledge itself. Nor do we find any action in human affairs, except speculative thought, that is not directed to some other end.

Even sports activities, which appear to be carried on without any purpose, have a proper end, namely, so that after our minds have been somewhat relaxed through them we may be then better able to do serious jobs. Otherwise, if sport were an end in itself, the proper thing to do would be to play all the time, but that is not appropriate.

So, the practical arts are ordered to the speculative ones, and likewise every human operation to intellectual speculation, as an end. Now, among all the sciences and arts which are thus subordinated, the ultimate end seems to belong to the one that is preceptive and architectonic in relation to the others. For instance, the art of navigation, to which the end, that is the use, of a ship pertains, is architectonic and preceptive in relation to the art of shipbuilding. In fact, this is the way that first philosophy is related to the other speculative sciences, for all the others depend on it, in the sense that they take their principles from it, and also the position to be assumed against those who deny the principles. And this first philosophy is wholly ordered to the knowing of God, as its ultimate end; that is why it is also called divine science. So, divine knowledge is the ultimate end of every act of human knowledge and every operation.

10 Again, in all agents and movers that are arranged in an order, the end of the first agent and mover must be the ultimate end of all. Thus, the end of the commander of an army is the end of all who serve as soldiers under him.

Now, of all the parts of man, the intellect is found to be the superior mover, for the intellect moves the appetite, by presenting it with its object; then the intellectual appetite, that is the will, moves the sensory appetites, irascible and concupiscible, and that is why we do not obey concupiscence unless there be a command from the will; and finally, the sense appetite, with the advent of consent from the will, now moves the body. Therefore, the end of the intellect is the end of all human actions. “But the end and good of the intellect are the true;” consequently, the first truth is the ultimate end. So, the ultimate end of the whole man, and of all his operations and desires, is to know the first truth, which is God.

Notes Hence sin.

11 Besides, there is naturally present in all men the desire to know the causes of whatever things are observed. Hence, because of wondering about things that were seen but whose causes were hidden, men first began to think philosophically; when they found the cause, they were satisfied. But the search did not stop until it reached the first cause, for “then do we think that we know perfectly, when we know the first cause.” Therefore, man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.

Notes This applies even to scientists!

12 Moreover, for each effect that he knows, man naturally desires to know the cause. Now, the human intellect knows universal being. So, he naturally desires to know its cause, which is God alone, as we proved in Book Two [15]. Now, a person has not attained his ultimate end until natural desire comes to rest. Therefore, for human happiness which is the ultimate end it is not enough to have merely any kind of intelligible knowledge; there must be divine knowledge, as an ultimate end, to terminate the natural desire. So, the ultimate end of man is the knowledge of God.

13 Furthermore, a body tending toward its proper place by natural appetite is moved more forcibly and swiftly as it approaches its end. Thus, Aristotle proves, in On the Heavens I [8: 27a 18], that natural motion in a straight line cannot go on to infinity, for then it would be no more moved later than earlier. So, a thing that tends more forcibly later than earlier, toward an objective, is not moved toward an indefinite objective, but tends toward some determinate thing. Now, we find this situation in the desire to know.

The more a person knows, the more he is moved by the desire to know.

Hence, man’s natural desire tends, in the process of knowing, toward some definite end. Now, this can be none other than the most noble object of knowledge, which is God. Therefore, divine knowledge is the ultimate end of man.

14 Now, the ultimate end of man, and of every intellectual substance, is called felicity or happiness, because this is what every intellectual substance desires as an ultimate end, and for its own sake alone. Therefore, the ultimate happiness and felicity of every intellectual substance is to, know God.

15 And so, it is said in Matthew (5:8): “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God”; and in John (17:3): “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God.”

16 With this view, the judgment of Aristotle is also in agreement, in the last Book of his Ethics [X, 7: 1177a 18], where he says that the ultimate felicity of man is “speculative, in accord with the contemplation of the best object of speculation.”