Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 1 we left off with the question, “What is man’s ultimate purpose?” We cannot identify the good for man without knowing what his ultimate purpose is.
Many answers have been offered throughout the millennia to this question. The most common answers are the following: wealth, honor, fame, power, pleasure, health, wisdom, and virtue. All of these are, no doubt, goods, but are they the ultimate good?
It would seem not because a man, once acquiring any of these goods, is still not satisfied. These goods only satisfy for a short time and then leave a man desiring something more. The ultimate good should satisfy forever and completely, otherwise it wouldn’t be ultimate.
Thomas Aquinas, having considered the finite goods of man, concludes,
It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e., of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone . . . . God alone constitutes man’s happiness.
Any moral theory which cannot locate the good in God is, therefore, fundamentally and profoundly deficient. If God is the ultimate purpose, the final cause of all final causes, for human beings, then God must be front and center for any moral theory.
Finite goods certainly exist for man, and Christians can even agree with non-theists that human well-being is a good. Health, pleasure, wisdom, and virtue are all goods, or ends, for which human nature was designed, but it is a grave error to think these are the ultimate purposes for man.
We can now see how metaphysics is foundational for the Christian identification of the good. The very existence of finite beings composed of act and potency leads inexorably to a being of pure actuality, God. The principles of form and matter inform us that humans, along with all other form/matter composite beings, possess a real nature that is eternally fixed in the mind of God.
Humans are mind (form)/body (matter) unities. The four causes enable us to explain the existence of human beings. Humans are characterized by formal causality, material causality, efficient causality, and final causality. It is only through the knowledge of formal and final causes that we can know the good for human beings. Without these principles in place, the metaphysical locus of moral values is adrift on a sea of instability and change.
In part 3, we will compare atheist Sam Harris’s identification of the good with the Christian identification of the good to contrast the abilities of metaphysical naturalism and Christian theism to undergird moral realism (the view that there are real, objective moral values).