Category Archives: Key Ancient Philosophers

St. Aquinas was Right (Part 4)

So, summarizing many of my last posts, the artists depict what the psychologists’ research indicate: follow the Journey to satisfy the four needs of food, warmth, shelter, nurture, safety, belongingness, and self-esteem.  This Journey is needed to reach the “good life” with the potential for traveling the Adventure.

The great philosophers teach the same thing: Epicurus speaks of reducing pain and anxiety (through the flow experiences of the psychologists) to enjoy a life apart from the vagaries of an everyday existence.  The Stoics speak of attaining the virtues (achieved during the flow experiences of the psychologists) necessary for achieving happiness.  Aristotle speaks of the need for a caring family and a just society in order to secure one’s place in life as well as the wealth to live a life free of fear and anxiety leading to the recognition and appreciation of others.  But Aristotle goes further to add that happiness includes leading a virtuous life.

It is St. Aquinas that goes one step further.  He agrees with Aristotle, who himself incorporates the philosophies of Epicurus and the Stoics, and supports the psychological theories of the satisfaction of needs and the desire for flow experiences.  But St. Aquinas notes that these other philosophical and psychological theories only take the individual up to the threshold of happiness and without any benefit to society.  They do take the individual through the Journey and the Adventure, but leave the individual short of happiness.  And, they leave society without any benefit of the efforts of the individual that has completed the Adventure.

St. Aquinas realized the one element missing from the other theories – the one element that the great artists have always realized.  This one element is love of neighbor!

It is the love of one’s family or community that pulls the Adventurer across the threshold into happiness.  Without this love for the efforts of the Adventurer, happiness will not be achieved.  In addition, the great gifts of the Adventure will not be delivered to the family or community – all the effort will have been wasted.  The individual will remain lost in the Adventure and his/her great gift to family/society will be lost forever.

So, what have we learned.  Everyone that we have discussed, and the great thinkers and artists mentioned in my book, are correct regarding some portion of the road to happiness.  Some emphasize the Journey and others emphasize the Adventure.  Aristotle is very close, as is Maslow.  But one person capture it all – St. Aquinas.  He agreed with Aristotle, but went one step further to mention that the love of neighbor is critical.  It is this love that is the final piece of the happiness puzzle.  The artists have know it all along.  But it is nice to have it all confirmed and nicely packaged by a philosopher.

So, the psychologists with their science, and the artists with their insights, all converge on the philosophers and their thinkings, and in particular, St. Aquinas.  Not bad for a man who lived nearly 1000 years ago.

St. Aquinas Was Right (Part 3)

Continuing from my previous post, there is one other work of art that I would like to discuss that vividly demonstrates the need for love of neighbor to cross the threshold to happiness.

This second work of art is the masterpiece, The Night Watch, by Rembrandt.  In this painting we see the the two main characters as leaders of a band of men dedicated to protecting their community.  The leaders are wealthy, respected, and honored for their duty.  However, they also exhibit wisdom and courage, are not tempted by money, power, or fame, and are dedicated to providing security to the community under their watch.

Perhaps the most detail of the painting is the little girl in the background.  She is illuminated in expressing her thanks for the safety provided by the band of men.  She is the depiction of the love of neighbor or the appreciation for the calling of the leaders and their men.  She brings to life the happiness of the others in the painting.  Without this little girl, the painting would be an incomplete representation of happiness.  While all the other needs as expressed by Aristotle and Maslow are present in the picture, it is the little girl that pulls the men across the threshold and into happiness.  The men have no further needs or desires.  Their calling is complete; happiness is achieved and society flourishes through the safety they prove their community.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)
The two leaders in the center, bathed in light, represent the heroes returning from the trials of the Adventure. They are separate from the others, but able to move between the world of community guardians and their everyday existence. They display a successful past, autonomy, concern for the welfare of their community (represented by the illuminated little girl expressing appreciation and thanks), a rich appreciation for life, strong interpersonal relationships, and self-sufficiency. 
Like the Rockwell painting, this painting presents not only individual happiness fully-realized, but the flourishing of one’s community (or family).  What a great representation of a great outcome!

St. Aquinas Was Right (Part 2)

Continuing from my previous post, if St. Aquinas (whose philosophy regarding happiness in this life is an extension of that of Aristotle) is correct regarding the importance of love of neighbor in crossing the threshold to happiness, then what works of art might express this aspect of his philosophy?  By the way, the theoretical research of Maslow, backed by recent empirical research verifying his theories regarding the hierarchy of needs, is similar to the philosophy of Aristotle, but presented in psychological terminology.

I would like to discuss two works of art that clearly represent the importance of the love of neighbor for fully-virtuous individuals to reach happiness (or, in psychological terms, for self-actualized individuals to reach happiness).

The first work of art is Freedom from Want, by Rockwell.  In this work the two grandparents express happiness – happiness brought about by the love of their children and grandchildren.  The grandparents express belongingness, self-esteem, honor, wisdom, courage, temperance (see Puritanical table setting) and justice.  They heeded the call, took the Adventure, and returned back to the everyday world with assistance of the love of their family.  In return they bestow nurturing care and love for their children and grandchildren.

Freedom From Want Painting by RockwellAttention is on the isolated grandparents, who as a couple, accepted the call to adventure and sacrificed through hard work and dedication for the successful upbringing of their family. The boon that they captured was not just tending to their family’s needs, but serving as a role model for others who might be considering a similar call to adventure. The grandparents have achieved happiness as exhibited by a sense of freedom, lack of needs or desires, and a sense of virtuous activity (possession of goods necessary for proper living but with modesty (see table setting), concern for family, and the loved displayed by the family members.

More to come!

St. Aquinas Was Right (Part 1)

Continuing from my last post, so Aristotle’s teachings are right for most of the road to happiness.  In fact, he is correct for the Journey (first four Maslow needs) and the Adventure (final Maslow need of Self-actualization).  But both Maslow and Aristotle have one shortcoming – crossing the threshold into happiness.

Aristotle’s virtues take us to self-actualization: let us call that the threshold of happiness.  This is the point in which the fully-virtuous individual has realized his/her calling and is complete with no further human needs or desires, except one.  This one final need, outside of the abilities of the individual to satisfy, is the love or appreciation of others for all the effort of the Adventure to complete one’s calling.

St. Aquinas, the final philosopher, recognizes this need for love.  This is love by society for the individual at the threshold of happiness.   This individual not only needs this love to gain happiness, but society needs this love to benefit from the boon that has been captured by the individual.

St. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that the road to happiness requires family nurturing, a just society, friends, wealth, and honor, as well as the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.  But St. Aquinas goes one step further in teaching that the road to happiness in this life, while not as fulfilling as happiness in the next life, requires the Aristotelian way of life peppered with the love of neighbor.  It is this love that pulls the fully-virtuous individual across the threshold to happiness while delivering the boon of his/her calling to society.

It is this simultaneous achievement of happiness by the individual and the flourishing of society that St. Aquinas presents in his teachings.  This is the ultimate philosophy, supported by psychological research, that not only encourages the happiness of the individual but also the flourishing of society.

More to come!

Aristotle was Right, Almost (Part 3)

Continuing from my previous post, Aristotle gives us the Journey and the Adventure segments to happiness.  Maslow’s hierarchy concurs with Aristotle’s philosophy that the basic needs, a sense of belonging among friends, recognition from others, as well as a degree of wealth are needed to secure the virtues that will lead to happiness.  Exercising these virtues, or a life of virtuous activity, considered happiness by Aristotle, would be considered by Maslow as self-actualization or the completeness of one’s calling in life.

Aristotle’s philosophy is reflected in the four artworks of the Journey I mentioned in previous posts: The Potato Eaters, The Peasant Wedding, Luncheon of the Boating Party, and Self-Portrait with Saskia.  All of these artworks support Aristotle’s teachings.

Aristotle’s philosophy is also reflected in the three artworks of the Adventure that I mentioned in previous posts: Old Mill (The Morning Bell), David, and St. Jerome.

However, there is one aspect of Aristotle’s teachings regarding the attainment of happiness that is missing.  This one missing piece is reflected in El Greco’s painting of St. Jerome.  The painting does exhibit all the needs necessary for happiness as determined by Aristotle: education, wealth, honor, wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.  However, one element is missing and that one element is clearly evident in the painting (an expression of concern expressed by St. Jerome that his life’s work will not be appreciated or understood by others in his society).  What is missing is the appreciation for the efforts of St. Jerome by his community.  In other words – love.  It is the love of neighbor for St. Jerome that will allow St. Jerome to cross the threshold into happiness.  It is this element of love (or appreciation) that is missing from Aristotle’s philosophy (as well as the theory of Maslow).  For those fortunate enough to make it to the threshold of happiness, all of Aristotle’s requirements (as well as those of Maslow) have been met.  Nonetheless, happiness has not been secured.  In fact, without the love or appreciation of others, the translated Bible would never be recognized and available to society; the years of hard work in translating the Bible for all to read would be lost forever.

The fully-virtuous individual needs the love of others to pull him/her across the threshold into happiness.  This can only be done from without.  The individual can not make this happen.  Society must go and get the fully-virtuous individual and pull him/her across the threshold. And, by doing so, not only does the individual reach happiness but society flourishes.  Society flourishes because the call of the individual is complete and its many benefits become available to society.

So, is there a philosophy that recognizes the steps outlined by Aristotle but also recognizes the need for the love or appreciation of the individual by others at the threshold of happiness?  Yes, there is!


Aristotle was Right, Almost (Part 2)

Continuing from my last post, Aristotle offers a very unique road to happiness that could be considered part Epicureanism and part Stoicism.

Aristotle realizes that luck regarding one’s parents and society has a large impact on whether one attains happiness since proper preparation (including education) for life is so important.

Beyond preparation, Aristotle understands that one needs friends to find some meaning in life as well as the appreciation of others.  He understands the need for some wealth as well as pleasure in one’s daily life; after all, we all live in the real world and must satisfy certain human needs.  In addition, he values social skills enough to note that those with emotional anxieties and those that lack social skills may never find happiness.

Aristotle teaches that each individual is responsible for attaining the virtues, which are found through practice and through interactions with others.  The activities undertaken to secure the virtues are vitally important to finding happiness.  In a sense, Aristotle was very pragmatic.  He understands those needs necessary just to be able to begin to lead a virtuous life (the needs reflected in Maslow’s hierarchy) – a nurturing family and just society, friendships, wealth, and honor, but he is quick to note that an excess of any of these needs is harmful to one’s happiness.  He realizes that greed, gluttony, and arrogance are very harmful to finding happiness.

For Aristotle, living a life of virtuous activity (once the virtues are acquired) is happiness.  To Aristotle, happiness is not a state of mind as much as it is a way of life.

Thus, Aristotle reflects the teachings of Epicurus as well as the Stoics.  Aristotle’s teachings present the proper roads of the Journey as well as the Adventure.  Aristotle’s philosophy will get us from birth to the threshold of happiness.

More to come!

Aristotle was Right, Almost (Part 1)

Several posts ago I mentioned that the Epicurean philosophy explains very accurately the Journey segment of the road to happiness.  This philosophy centers on the removal of pain and anxiety in one’s daily life.  The Journey, if lived properly, does just what the Epicureans propose: removal of pain and anxiety in everyday life.  The Journey begins with preparation by one’s family and society (nurture, safety, eduction, food, shelter) followed by activities that lead to flow experiences.  These flow experiences help to distance oneself from the drudgery of everyday life by providing a sense of belonging and self-esteem.  These activities, along with the preparation, help to satisfy the first four needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  However, this philosophy falls short in helping to satisfy the final need of Maslow – self-actualization (or the completion of one’s call or summons).

Several posts ago I also mentioned that the Stoic philosophy explains very accurately the Adventure segment of the road to happiness.  This philosophy centers on the exercise of the virtues as necessary and sufficient for attaining happiness.  The virtues (specifically wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice) aid in satisfying Maslow’s self-actualization need of recognizing one’s call, the courage to accept the call, the tools to resist the many temptations that will be encountered, and the willingness to provide one’s gifts (or calling) to others.  This philosophy helps to satisfy the final need of Maslow’s hierarchy; however, it does little to explain how to satisfy the first four needs.  In other words, the Stoic philosophy does little to explain the Journey and how you acquire the virtues needed for the Adventure.

One philosopher manages to recognize the necessity of both the Journey and the Adventure – Aristotle.  His thinking spans both the Epicurean and Stoic philosophies without diminishing the benefits of each.

More to come!


The Stoics Were Right, Partially (Part 2)

Continuing from my previous post, the Stoics were right to place emphasis on the virtues and even go so far as to state that they are necessary for happiness.  The Adventure segment of the road to happiness requires the same virtues if happiness it to be achieved.  For the Stoics, it is impossible to reach happiness without the virtues.

However, Stoicism goes one step further in stating that the virtues are sufficient for happiness: they state that nothing else is needed but the virtues.  This approach ignores the Journey segment of the road to happiness.  Stoicism appears to believe that one just attains the virtues and that the person is off and running towards happiness as long as the virtues are employed in everyday life.

This philosophical approach resembles Maslow’s need for self-actualization – the fifth and final need that must be satisfied to reach happiness.  This is the need after one has satisfied one’s self-esteem need (Maslow’s fourth need) and the other more basis needs.  This final level is the search for a meaning or purpose in life, a calling, and the completion of that calling or life purpose.  This satisfaction of one’s calling or purpose in life leads to tranquility, peak experiences, and a freedom from any further needs or desires in life.

The virtues are clearly needed to recognize, accept, and complete one’s mission in life, and thus reach happiness, a state of no further needs or desires.  But to assume that one’s mission may begin without first satisfying the other lower Maslow needs (i.e., without completing the Journey) is difficult to accept.  In fact, it is for this and other reasons that Stoicism fell out of favor over the years.

Stoicism helps to explain very effectively one of the segments of the road to happiness – the Adventure – and, like Epicureanism, which explains very effectively another segment of the road to happiness – the Journey, both philosophies fall short of presenting the entire road to happiness.

The Stoics Were Right, Partially (Part 1)

In my previous post I mentioned that Epicurean thinking was needed to reach the end of the Journey – the “good life.”  This approach involves food, warmth, and safety provided by one’s family and society, as well as flow experiences through “involvement” and “exposure” activities.  These activities propel the individual from the worries and anxieties of the everyday world to one free of pain.  These activities provide a sense of belonging among one’s family, friends, and community, as well as a sense of self-esteem from the respect and admiration of others.

However, this Epicurean philosophy only leads to the “good life” and not happiness.  Another philosophy, Stoicism, believes that the best approach to happiness is living a life of virtue.  In fact, Stoics believe that only virtue is necessary and sufficient for reaching happiness and that nothing else matters.  The four main virtues mentioned by the Stoics as necessary for happiness are: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.

You could say that the Stoics are living the Adventure.  The Adventure is what takes the individual from the “good life” to happiness.  For the Stoics, the end of the Adventure, happiness, is the continuous exercise of the virtues in daily life.  For the Stoics, the Adventure could be viewed as the acquisition of the virtues such that once all the virtues are attained, then happiness is reached.

More to come.

Epicurus was Right, Partially (Part 3)

I finished my last post with the following:

Epicurus agreed with the other ancient philosophers that the aim of life is happiness; however, he defined happiness as tranquility and freedom from pain and anxiety – the “good life.”  To Epicurus, the freedom from pain and anxiety of the “good life” is a state free of any further needs or desires, and as such, happiness. In psychological terms, the Epicurean state of happiness is the satisfaction of Maslow’s first four needs of his hierarchy (achieved through a loving family, just society, and flow experiences).

The above paragraph is very remarkable: 1) we have a great philosopher, Epicurus, whose philosophy closely matches that of modern psychology regarding the necessity of a loving family, a just society, and flow experiences to lead one to a state free of pain and anxiety, 2) the same philosophy matching the first four of five levels of needs satisfaction of modern psychology driving human behavior, and 3) that a life free from pain and anxiety is one that avoids excessive greed, fame, and power, those things that will never lead to tranquility and happiness.

In summary, we can go so far as to say that the end of the Journey, the “good life,” is the aim of Epicureanism.  Or, to put it another way, the Journey segment of the road to happiness is philosophically one of Epicureanism.  It is the best approach ethically for completing the Journey.  Seek out flow experiences and you will have friendships, family love, financial comfort, and a sense of self-esteem.  Not a bad life, in fact, a “good life.”  But, not happiness.  You also need the Adventure!