Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 72 (4) November 2022

Book Review

Commentary On Thomas Aquinas's Treatise On Happiness and Ultimate Purpose
by J. Budziszewski
Cambridge University Press

Reviewed by Pravin Thevathasan

Book CoverIn this book, the great Catholic philosopher Joseph Budziszewski has given us an easy to understand commentary on what Aquinas has to say on happiness in his SummaTheologiae. As the author notes, the works of Aquinas are particularly relevant at a time when moral philosophy has entered a time of unsolvable conflict between the two big schools: deontology and utilitarianism. It is surely a good time to explore the Aristotelian tradition to which Aquinas belongs. The author also notes that some contemporary philosophers have fallen into the sea of despair, looking forward to a time when the human race will become extinct! We need to return to happiness.

What Aquinas achieved was a beautiful synthesis between the Aristotelian and Christian traditions. For Aquinas, there is no conflict between faith and reason.

True happiness can never be fully found in this life, says Aquinas. This is because we are created by God and only God can make us truly happy. Aquinas looks at the various ways we can achieve some degree of happiness in this life: money, power, pleasure and fame. They can all bring us a certain degree of happiness, but they do not make us ultimately happy. They point towards a far greater good, and that is God.

For Aquinas, there is a difference between enjoyment and happiness. We can enjoy worldly goods and we can take pleasure in them. Once we have enjoyed these goods, we still find ourselves unfulfilled. Happiness is more like flourishing as a human person. In order to flourish, we need to live the virtues. Only this will bring us the happiness we long for. 

I found this a really helpful commentary on the Treatise On Happiness.