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Is God Necessary for Human Happiness?

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Happiness

Christians have always heard that only God can make them happy. In fact, some Bible translations render Psalm 16:2 as, "You are my God. My happiness lies in you alone."

But an atheist would say, “I don’t need God to be happy. I can get along just fine without him.”

It is true that an atheist can experience kinds of happiness without living for God. But if an atheist persistently and culpably rejects God, Fr. Robert Spitzer argues in a new book, he will not be able to experience ultimate or perfect happiness.

In Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts, Fr. Spitzer, founder and president of the Magis Center, elucidates four levels of happiness. The first level of happiness is the happiness associated with sensory pleasure obtained through food or drink and the pleasure experienced with the possession of material goods. The second level is happiness experienced when the comparative advantage over another is gained. The third level of happiness consists in the pleasure experienced when one contributes to the good outside of self and makes a positive difference. An atheist can attain these first three levels.

The fourth level of happiness that Fr. Spitzer identifies is transcendent happiness—the happiness experienced when the deepest human desires for perfect and unconditional (infinite) knowledge/truth, love, goodness/justice, and beauty are satisfied by the transcendent God, who is perfect and unconditional knowledge, love, goodness, and beauty itself.

Such transcendent desires are universal—that is to say, they belong to all human beings, including those who reject God. Consider the desire for perfect and unconditional knowledge. Have you ever recognized answers to your questions as incomplete? If so, what was your response? You probably were a bit frustrated—unhappy—and sought a better answer.

We have to ask ourselves, “Why do we get frustrated (unhappy) with imperfect or limited manifestations of knowledge?” As many great thinkers throughout the centuries have concluded, it is because we desire perfect and unconditional knowledge. If we didn’t desire this type of knowledge, then we would be content with imperfect and limited manifestations of it. But we are not content with imperfect and limited manifestations of knowledge. Therefore, we desire perfect or unconditional (infinite) knowledge—what Fr. Spitzer likes to call “the complete set of answers to the complete set of questions.”

Consider love. Have you ever been frustrated when someone manifested imperfect love? Those involved in any sort of relationship will affirm this to be true. But why do we get frustrated when we experience imperfect manifestations of love? As with knowledge, the answer is because we desire perfect or unconditional love.

What about justice and goodness? Have you ever been frustrated when an injustice occurs? Atheists acknowledge this to be true when they object to theism by pointing to the problem of evil. Have you ever experienced a bit of discontentment when you were confronted with imperfect goodness? Maybe you are a boss and your employees are not performing up to par. Maybe you are frustrated with your son or daughter who is not taking school seriously. We have to ask, “Why do we get frustrated with injustices and imperfect manifestations of goodness?” I think the answer is because we desire perfect and unconditional justice and goodness.

Finally, we desire perfect beauty. This desire manifests itself in various ways. We do not look good enough—neither do other people. The house layout could always be better. The beauty of the valley from a vantage point on the mountain could always be better. We are always looking for a little more beauty. But why is this? Why are we always discontent with forms of beauty in this world? You have probably guessed it—because we desire perfect and unconditional beauty.

Now, philosophers throughout the centuries have persuasively argued that God is perfect and unconditional truth, love, goodness, and beauty. From this it follows that if God does not exist, then the only things available to satisfy these natural desires are imperfect and conditioned things. But the imperfect and conditioned things of this world cannot possibly satisfy the desires for the perfect and unconditional. Therefore, without God, the desire for perfect and unconditional knowledge/truth, love, goodness/justice, and beauty go unsatisfied. But if these intrinsic human desires for the perfect and unconditional are perpetually unsatisfied, then human happiness is unachievable. If human happiness is unachievable, then life is absurd.

The bottom line is that an atheist, while able to attain some degree of happiness on this earth—at levels 1, 2, and even 3—will never attain the happiness that comes from orienting one's heart toward ultimate or perfect happiness (transcendent happiness). As St. Augustine writes in reference to God, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” In other words, we are transcendent beings, and as such we have a desire for transcendent things. Stifling or ignoring this desire eliminates the greatest peace and joy possible during our earthly existence.
 
 
(Image credit: Pexels)

Karlo Broussard

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After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • Therefore, without God, the desire for perfect and unconditional knowledge/truth, love, goodness/justice, and beauty go unsatisfied. But if these intrinsic human desires for the perfect and unconditional are perpetually unsatisfied, then human happiness is unachievable. If human happiness is unachievable, then life is absurd.

    Wrong, there is a bait and switch here. If the desire for perfect, unconditional knowledge/truth, love, goodness/justice, and beauty go unsatisfied, then perfect unconditional happiness is not achievable. However, this does not mean that any happiness is not achievable or that a maximal happiness is not achievable.

    • VicqRuiz

      Well said. The biggest thing that seems to set the believing Christian apart from the social Christian or the skeptic is dissatisfaction with anything short of perfection.

      • Doug Shaver

        The biggest thing that seems to set the believing Christian apart from the social Christian or the skeptic is dissatisfaction with anything short of perfection.

        I'll have to let the social Christians speak for themselves, but I'm one skeptic who has found satisfaction in accepting humanity's imperfections, and I know I'm not the only one.

        • It is easier to accept some imperfections than others. A stunning analysis of this can be found in Alistair McFadyen's Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin (extensive review).

          • Doug Shaver

            It is easier to accept some imperfections than others.

            That depends. Once you get over the notion that acceptance entails approval, it's not so difficult.

          • I think I got lost at a turn somewhere.

        • What do you mean by "accepting"?

          • Doug Shaver

            I cannot answer both briefly and intelligibly. Unfortunately, other demands on my time have compelled me to put all my forum activities on hold for the time being. I hope my absence won't be permanent, but right now I have no idea when I'll be free to return.

    • If the desire for perfect, unconditional knowledge/​truth, love, goodness/​justice, and beauty go unsatisfied, then perfect unconditional happiness is not achievable.

      How do you intend the 'unconditional' to function here? The Christian means one of the crucial aspects of grace, which is not "necessarily entailed" by the finite being. A great, short treatise of this is John Milbank's The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural.

      However, this does not mean that any happiness is not achievable or that a maximal happiness is not achievable.

      To the extent that happiness depends on 'knowledge' of any kind, you are bound by Fitch's Paradox of Knowability (axiom version), unless you abdicate "the ability to know and know that knowing-means-truth", e.g. as entailed by "(5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable."

      • Couldn't tell you what is meant by unconditioned. This final level of happiness is not well defined by Broussard, you would have to ask him.

        I don't understand what you are in about in the rest of you post, can you explain?

        • Couldn't tell you what is meant by unconditioned.

          Does that mean you also meant—for all you know—the following:

          BGA': If the desire for perfect, unconditional knowledge/​truth, love, goodness/​justice, and beauty go unsatisfied, then perfect unconditional happiness is not achievable.

          ? That seems like a rather odd claim. It would seem to imply that all potentialities are actualized, and this seems problematic.

          I don't understand what you are in about in the rest of you post, can you explain?

          Fitch's Paradox claims something simple:

               (1) either a premise or law of logic is wrong
               (2) or all knowledge is already known

          That is, knowledge is only transferred from knower to knower. This, I think, is problematic for those who do not believe that an omniscient being exists. But perhaps not—I have yet to fully explore this issue with atheists, who tend to be better at picking holes in such arguments than theists—excepting Jews, who are awesome but with whom I have limited interaction, except for my best man.

          • I don't think it is a claim or odd, I'm just saying that of perfect happiness requires a god, then perfect happiness is impossible without a god.

            So what?

          • Hmmm, let's revisit the modified version, but sans formatting:

            LB: Does that mean you also meant—for all you know—the following:

            BGA'': If the desire for perfect knowledge/​truth, love, goodness/​justice, and beauty go unsatisfied, then perfect happiness is not achievable.

            ? That seems like a rather odd claim. It would seem to imply that all potentialities are actualized, and this seems problematic.

            Here, you seem to say that "X going unsatisfied" ⇒ "X is not achievable". Have I misunderstood?

        • Lazarus

          In the book Fr. Spitzer describes the fourth level as :

          "Source:   Transcendental awareness of and desire for the sacred and spiritual as well as perfect and unconditional truth, love, justice-goodness, beauty, and being (home)
          Satisfaction:   Openness to a transcendental power who is perfect and unconditional truth, love, justice or goodness, beauty, and being (home)."

          • Ok. So whatever that is, if it is impossible without a god and no gods exist, then it is impossible.

          • Lazarus

            He doesn't deal much with that loophole ;)

  • Doug Shaver

    The bottom line is that an atheist, while able to attain some degree of happiness on this earth—at levels 1, 2, and even 3—will never attain the happiness that comes from orienting one's heart toward ultimate or perfect happiness (transcendent happiness).

    Sure, assuming that such a transcendent reality exists. But I could as well argue that the greatest possible happiness comes with the realization that belief in any transcendent reality is a mistake.

    • ClayJames

      But I could as well argue that the greatest possible happiness comes
      with the realization that belief in any transcendent reality is a
      mistake.

      Let me quibble over a small but important point. I am taking your quote not to mean that the greatest possible happiness comes from realizing that believing in a transcendent reality is a mistake but that the greatest possible happiness comes from realizing the truth about transcendent beliefs. Would you agree with this or would realizing that transcendent beliefs are false even if they are true be a source of happiness?

      I bring this up because it seems like you agree that ultimate truth is a source of the greatest happiness and if god exists, that ultimate truth can only be obtained by embracing the transcendent.

      • Doug Shaver

        I am taking your quote not to mean that the greatest possible happiness comes from realizing that believing in a transcendent reality is a mistake but that the greatest possible happiness comes from realizing the truth about transcendent beliefs.

        I'll accept that.

        it seems like you agree that ultimate truth is a source of the greatest happiness and if god exists, that ultimate truth can only be obtained by embracing the transcendent.

        Close. I would rather say that knowledge of the truth, whatever it is, is a necessary condition to the greatest happiness. But it probably isn't sufficient. As noted by whoever wrote the epistle of James, the devils know the truth, and they're not very happy.

    • Ah! Yes. I learned about that reading about the Epicureans. How it was possible (for them?) to overcome any fear of dying, the gods, hell, and should I also include what? judgment and what? https://www.google.ca/search?q=the+four+last+things&sa=N&biw=1024&bih=639&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&ved=0ahUKEwixzeurocPJAhXBj4MKHaSJAZE4ChCwBAgZ Trust me to forget about the possibility of heaven!!! PS. Thought you'd enjoy the paintings.

  • Lazarus

    In having this discussion, do we or do we not agree that following, believing a delusion can actually make us happy and fulfilled? I am not asking, or obviously saying, that Christianity is a delusion. Pick your own favorite example. I believe that it is important to establish that as a foundation for the debate, whether that fulfillment necessarily equates to truth, to objective reality.

    If I have to draw up a list of truly happy and content people, they would be all over the board as far as different religions, and none, are concerned. William used the example of Matthieu Ricard, I would endorse that and add someone like Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, and a list of atheists, Muslims and Hindus that I know personally.

    Also, what are we to make of extremely devout people who suffer an endless dark night of the soul, like Mother Teresa?

    • In having this discussion, do we or do we not agree that following, believing a delusion can actually make us happy and fulfilled?

      An excellent question. One could also ask what the 'half-life' of delusions are. For example, in the Old Testament, it took Israel a while to decline—multiple generations—before the curses of Deut 28 took place. So, delusions can last multiple generations. This means we have to be very careful how we analyze issues. What time scale is used is very important. (It is in many domains of life, but frequently I don't see it treated properly in popular discussion of delusion.)

  • VicqRuiz

    Firstly, this is an example of an argument from consequences, but I won't belabor that.

    There is a big element of truth in this article though!

    Any skeptic who is happy with his life is unlikely to be moved to belief by the ontological argument, or the Kalam argument, or the fine-tuning argument, or the argument from morality, or, or, or...

    The apologist who wants to convert a skeptic needs to convince that skeptic of the skeptic's unhappiness. This is probably why the apologetics I have read or heard over the decades have failed to take root in any way.

    • ClayJames

      Do you think this is an argument for God´s existence?

      • VicqRuiz

        It's an argument for the utility of a belief in God, not necessarily for the truth of God's existence.

        • ClayJames

          I dont see that at all. I read it as, given the fact that we are transcendent beings, we should not ignore the desire for the 4th level of happiness and instead focus just on the first 3.

          I dont see this as an argument for God´s existence.

        • lapona

          You're right! It's a begging for believing in God even if it doesn't exist, cos you see, you get to the level 4... hopefully after you die.

    • Lazarus

      Convince you of your unhappiness?
      Wouldn't that make such effort an argument from consequences?

      • VicqRuiz

        Well played. Lemme think about that a bit.

        • Lazarus

          See, you are unhappy already ...;)

          • VicqRuiz

            And getting more so with every one of your posts. ;-)

  • Wait, do you have this transcendent happiness now, or do you get it after you die? If now, who exactly has it, and how do you know they have it? How can I know they have it?

    • VicqRuiz

      I know several Christians who are upset by injustice, pained by unrequited love, and may say a bad word if their car won't start on a cold morning. How do they differ from me in these regards, inasmuch as I do not possess unconditional happiness?

      • "How do they differ from me in these regards, inasmuch as I do not possess unconditional happiness?"

        I'm not sure I understand the question. Are you suggesting that Christians should never be upset by injustice, or pained by unrequited love, or say bad words because they've tasted, at one time or another, unconditional happiness?

        • I think the difference is that Christians have confidence in ultimate justice obtaining. This allows one's full reaction to injustice to be of a very different quality. But there is a danger that the Christian will merely stand by while the injustice happens or fail to fix the injustice, because "God will do it". Of course, this is a pretty foreign concept to much of Catholicism over much of its history. Nevertheless, I think you are up against that thought-form.

        • VicqRuiz

          Quoting the article, "Therefore, without God, the desire for perfect and unconditional knowledge/truth, love, goodness/justice, and beauty go unsatisfied."

          Is it inappropriate to draw the inference that with God, those desires are not unsatisfied? I don't think so.

          If Broussard intended to say that some Christians may, at one time in their lives or perhaps more than once, get a momentary taste of that unconditional happiness, he perhaps should have so phrased it.

    • Rob Abney

      From the OP: Stifling or ignoring this desire eliminates the greatest peace and joy possible during our earthly existence.

      • Well then it sounds to me like he's saying "Your life sux if you don't engage in exactly the same wishful thinking as me"

        I don't really feel the need to respond to that, so I'll bow out

        • Rob Abney

          Sounds like you see this only as: all or none!

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I'm assuming that we achieve this perfect happiness only after we die and go to heaven (unless you want to say that theists have “the complete set of answers to the complete set of questions.” right now...)

    And why stop at just knowledge, love, justice, and beauty? Don't we also desire the ability to accomplish things? So to be perfectly happy we must have the perfect ability to accomplish anything. We also desire to love others (not just be loved) so for perfect happiness we need to be able to love everyone.

    It seems to be that to be perfectly happy, one would have to know everything, be able to do anything, and love everyone. Omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.

    I am surprised to learn that upon entering heaven, people become gods, or at least demi-gods.

    • I'm assuming that we achieve this perfect happiness only after we die and go to heaven [...]

      Well, you can always look at those who thought one could have it now. Sometimes, they were so allured to said possibility of having it now, that the route to the alluring end was paved with human blood. Pretty low cost for perfect happiness, right?

  • Well, now. I'm not going to reply to this argument with another argument, as is my won't. But perhaps I shall please and make happy the powers that be by providing a link, at the end of this comment. Beatitude, I understand, means - happiness. The Beatitudes, I believe, are given as graces from the Holy Spirit, although of course, Jesus had to present them in English, because I'm not sure he could do so within the language of fire, breath, or that of the 'peace?' dove. Yet, we give each other, even our materialistic minded friends, our blessings, surely? Possibly following The Spirit here. Although I am reminded that Kant advised the writers of the Constitution of America that perhaps they were making a mistake including in it - the right to the pursuit of happiness. Not a right? You've got to be kidding. Surely we have a right to all of those pleasures that were enumerated as the first three conquests of happiness within the OP. But from there it's the transcendental, again. To what - transcendent to the world?- in what way?- as an abstraction perhaps, or as some ontologically lived through experience. Maybe even a mystical experience would be allowed by the less dogmatic naturalists. Or maybe the Buddhists have found 'the way', through the achievement of Nirvana. A Nothingness, An Emptiness, within their particularization as Buddhas, all of those possibly billions of neurons in their brain, thus losing their -ego- identity, within the bliss of a spatial (what?) void. (This is a conjecture on my part, of what is involved, as I cannot speak of any mystical experience, or contemplative state of any other, of course. But they do equate this happiness of bliss with ultimate truth). I merely hope to make the analogy between this state of blissful happiness as described within Buddhism, and the happiness which Catholicism holds as coming with losing one's 'self' in Christ.

    'Forgive me - I know not what I do'. and I can add to that the possibility that indeed language speaks for me, and thus I really don't know, as well, what indeed is thought? So I guess if happiness is related in 'any way' to knowledge, I just may be out of luck. May we learn something about what it is really like to be a God? apart from the proselyting, and rational intellectual arguments from the above post, or perhaps as an alternative, from the link, I offer, hopefully. My apologies if this is crude, rude, satire. But I am becoming more and more convinced that there is indeed a difference between the pagan rationalism of Greek Roman thought, and the way it has been transcribed historically, as well as - why is Scripture never mentioned? Why do I have to refer you to the Beatitudes as an illustration of the Word of Jesus on what constitutes - happiness? Especially when I suspect that the 'transcendence' may be in opposition to what I understand was expressed in these beatitudes and consequently is so different from what? the abstract argument? Please ban me - I don't really want to come back.because I'm really not looking to all of you for my happiness, am I? Even though you surely must be transcendent. All of you. And at least this is possibly assumed to be true with respect to the Overlord who moderates my comments, which at least is a welcome discouragement in being overly- involved in this ????? transcendent happiness? May you all have the blessings, the happiness!!!!!of grace....!!! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatitudes

  • ClayJames

    If we didn’t desire this type of knowledge, then we would be content
    with imperfect and limited manifestations of it. But we are not content
    with imperfect and limited manifestations of knowledge. Therefore, we
    desire perfect or unconditional (infinite) knowledge—what Fr. Spitzer likes to call “the complete set of answers to the complete set of questions.”

    I do have a question regarding this statement that I haven´t been able to unpack yet. It seems to me that it is not only always the case that having a ¨complete set of ansewr to a complete set of questions¨ always leads to more happiness. Clearly, someone that does not know if Hell exists is happier than someone who is currently in Hell, even though the latter has more answers to more questions than the former.

    Is Fr. Spitzer saying that ultimate happiness is only obtained by having all the available knowledge even if, along the way, having more knowledge doesn´t necessarily make someone more happy (I am assuming here that someone in Hell does not have all of the available knowledge).

    • Thanks for the clarification. That is the contradiction I find. All of these arguments are 'necessarily' epistemological. As if happiness were in fact 'knowledge' and abstract meant the same as transcendental. I am aware for instance that mindfulness training and meditation do produce benefit. But that happiness that is described is a 'state of being' surely, not related in any way, could I say, to having scholastic, academic, scientific, analytic, philosophic-. what you will - knowledge. Perhaps it needn't even be 'transcendental', unless transcendental simply refers to what is beyond the state of unhappiness. And the best way to achieve that even within a non-knowledge context is not to be so intent on 'achieving' happiness, but as even with Jesus and the compassion in "Buddhism 'suggest: that we seek, to 'give' happiness. Help clarify anybody, if you will... If these guys are really Christian...??????

  • David Nickol

    Assuming that God exists and assuming what Catholicism is true, then human beings are necessarily incomplete without God. But it seems to me that the OP assumes what it purports to demonstrate. It assumes the existence of God, and from that assumption, it quite reasonably follows that atheists are not open to the fullness of reality.

    Such transcendent desires are universal—that is to say, they belong
    to all human beings, including those who reject God. Consider the desire
    for perfect and unconditional knowledge.

    I do not concede that there is a universal desire among men for perfect and unconditional knowledge. But even granting that for the sake of argument, that does not mean that perfect and unconditional knowledge exists. There may be no God. Also, even assuming perfect and unconditional knowledge exists, I don't see how a finite mind (even of a great saint in heaven after death) can ever achieve it. I think it can be looked at two ways. Should there be an afterlife, a finite human being can grow in learning for all eternity but can never have perfect and unconditional knowledge. If you enjoy growing in learning, that may be something close to perfect happiness. But if it is truly your desire to possess perfect and unconditional knowledge, it is a goal that can never be reached. A finite human being can never become omniscient.

    And what about the desire for ever increasing power. God is omnipotent, too, and if human beings desire perfect and unconditional knowledge, why would it not be the case that they desire perfect and unconditional power?

    • But it seems to me that the OP assumes what it purports to demonstrate.

      A mind-independent world is impossible to demonstrate; it must be assumed. Other minds are impossible to demonstrate; they must be assumed. Perhaps the more correct thing to say is that there is an intricate dance between the a priori and the a posteriori. But let's enumerate all the domains where this phenomenon manifests, instead of sticking to religion. Then we can ask whether it is always wrong, or whether we should simply exercise judgment, that human faculty we mistakenly thought could be exhibited by machines (more specifically: reductionist, logical machines). See Hubert Dreyfus' What Computers Still Can't Do and Dreyfus & Dreyfus Mind over Machine.

      I do not concede that there is a universal desire among men for perfect and unconditional knowledge. But even granting that for the sake of argument, that does not mean that perfect and unconditional knowledge exists.

      Perhaps. What would be your explanation for the highly specific desire for "perfect and unconditional knowledge"? I know of no non-Homo sapiens mammal with such a desire. Desires are caused. I doubt you can come up with a convincing evopsych story which is empirically corroborated, for how such a desire evolved (caused†). But perhaps you can! I think such an argument would be absolutely fascinating to examine.

      † The quibble would be over whether evolution must only employ material and efficient causation. I would argue "no", based on mathematical biologist Robert Rosen's argument in Life Itself.

  • David Nickol

    The bottom line is that an atheist, while able to attain some degree of
    happiness on this earth—at levels 1, 2, and even 3—will never attain the
    happiness that comes from orienting one's heart toward ultimate or
    perfect happiness (transcendent happiness).

    Is this in any way empirically measurable? And what about those who have "level 4" happiness but not levels 1, 2, and 3? Is a person living on subsistence wages (or less) under a brutal totalitarian government who does not experience happiness on the first three levels, but is a devout Christian, happier than a benevolent, well-to-do atheist who lives in a free country?

    • Is this in any way empirically measurable?

      All measurements are interpreted. Perhaps what you're missing is multiple realizability, and what that would do to e.g. MRI scans. Even self-introspection is interpreted, and can fail; see Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. So:

           (1) We cannot perfectly measure others' mental states.
           (2) We cannot perfectly trust others' self-reports.

      What, therefore, do we do? I could muddy the waters by arguing that language is constitutive and not simply descriptive (after Charles Taylor, whom I just got to meet), but that can perhaps wait or not come up at all.

      • David Nickol

        All measurements are interpreted. Perhaps what you're missing is multiple realizability . . . .

        Perhaps the problem is not so complex as you would love to make it. ;)

        The OP is a summary of an entire book. One hopes there is more to be found in the book than in a summary of it. Let's assume Fr. Spitzer has in the book what is lacking in the OP—an adequate description of exactly what he means by happiness, with some discussion of how we can know a particular individual is happy, how an individual can truly know he or she is happy, and how we can gauge degrees of happiness in ourselves and others.

        If degrees of happiness cannot in some way, however imprecisely, be measured, and if it cannot be reasonably claimed that some people are identifiably happier than others, then there is no point on writing or reading books about happiness.

        • [1] Perhaps the problem is not so complex as you would love to make it. ;)

          [2] The OP is a summary of an entire book. One hopes there is more to be found in the book than in a summary of it.

          The juxtaposition of these two bits is amusing to me.

          Let's assume Fr. Spitzer has in the book what is lacking in the OP—an adequate description of exactly what he means by happiness, with some discussion of how we can know a particular individual is happy, how an individual can truly know he or she is happy, and how we can gauge degrees of happiness in ourselves and others.

          Your use of "adequate description of exactly" is disturbing; I will point out that not all concepts can be as exact as the Enlightenment thinkers, especially the "clear and distinct idea". For example:

              The assumption that there is an exclusive dichotomy between the formal and the physiological is, in our view, an error of enormous consequence. We shall maintain that the most important metascientific concepts with which philosophy deals, such as cause, law, explanation, theory, evidence, natural necessity, and the like, have not been shown to be capable of adequate characterisation in wholly formal terms. We hold that adequate accounts of those concepts which are neither purely formal nor simply psychological can be achieved by attention to the third element in our intellectual economy, namely the content of our knowledge, content which goes beyond the reports of immediate experience. We shall show in a wide variety of cases that the concepts with which we are concerned, and particularly the concept of Causality, can be adequately differentiated, the rationality of science defended, and the possibility of the world preserved only by attending to certain general features of the content of causal propositions by which they can ultimately be distinguished as having a conceptual necessity, irreducible either to logical necessity or to psychological illusion. In this way we resolve many of the problems which the tradition has bequeathed us. (Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity, 2–3)

          And so, if you want to complain about someone else's articulation of a term—like 'happiness'—I think you bear a burden to provide your competing articulation.

          If degrees of happiness cannot in some way, however imprecisely, be measured, and if it cannot be reasonably claimed that some people are identifiably happier than others, then there is no point on writing or reading books about happiness.

          What is your justification for this claim? The idea that we can objectively measure with our senses alone is thoroughly refuted by Colin McGinn's The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts. Intuition is critically required, and it is not something equally shared by everyone; from Charles Taylor's influential 1971 article Interpretation and the Sciences of Man:

              In other words, in a hermeneutical science, a certain measure of insight is indispensable, and this insight cannot be communicated by the gathering of brute data, or initiation in modes of formal reasoning or some combination of these. It is unformalizable. But this is a scandalous result according to the authoritative conception of science in our tradition, which is shared even by many of those who are highly critical of the approach of mainstream psychology, or sociology, or political science. For it means that this is not a study in which anyone can engage, regardless of their level of insight; that some claims of the form: "if you don't understand, then your intuitions are at fault, are blind or inadequate," some claims of this form will be justified; that some differences will be nonarbitrable by further evidence, but that each side can only make appeal to deeper insight on the part of the other. The superiority of one position over another will thus consist in this, that from the more adequate position one can understand one's own stand and that of one's opponent, but not the other way around. It goes without saying that this argument can only have weight for those in the superior position. (46–47)

          • David Nickol

            You and I apparently have such different expectations about what dialogue on Strange Notions ought to look like that I think further exchanges between us would be fruitless.

          • Is there a better way for me to examine/question your assumptions and/or for you to expose them to critique?

        • If degrees of happiness cannot in some way, however imprecisely, be measured, and if it cannot be reasonably claimed that some people are identifiably happier than others, then there is no point on writing or reading books about happiness.

          (1) Do you have such a way to measure degrees of happiness? Your meter could only go up to 3, for example.

          (2) Do you know if moral philosophers presume an ability to measure? For example, it seems like Sam Harris does.

          If ¬(1), then I'm curious as to how you deal with morality without (1). If (2), it seems like it would be instructive to compare these folks to Fr. Spitzer. Perhaps the problems he has (conceptual, empirical) are actually shared with these folks, and perhaps part of the territory. Perhaps you are demanding more out of that area of human knowledge than is currently possible.

  • I would like everyone to know that Geena at Outshine the Sun has just posted the Chapter headings and subject matter of the book. This relieves my initial angst with the question it raised for me regarding what could possibly have been meant by transcendental. Do visit the site, and thank you Geena.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    The bottom line is that an atheist, while able to attain some degree of happiness on this earth will never attain the happiness that comes from orienting one's heart toward ultimate or perfect happiness (transcendent happiness).

    (italic emphasis mine)

    This misses the mark a bit because (per the part I italicized), the decisive factor is the orientation of the heart to the transcendent (I agree on this point). Atheism and theism per se are "merely" movements of the mind. Christopher Hitchens had no trouble remaining open the reality of what he called "the numinous", for example (how he reckoned with those experience intellectually I don't know, but many of us rightly let our hearts wander with our brains at least a few steps behind).

    Granted, the mind can eventually close doors that the heart would otherwise be willing to walk through. An entrenched stance of suspicion vis a vis atheism, is definitely inhibitory with regard to any experience of the transcendent. If one reflexively interprets all experiences of the transcendent as illusory, arising merely from indigestion, or whatever, unwilling to engage a reasonable realism with regard to one's own primal experiences, that indeed sets inhumane limits on what one can experience in this life.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Granted, the mind can eventually close doors that the heart would otherwise be willing to walk through.

      I don't think I became any less immersed in what you would refer to as transcendent experiences because I became an atheist. I just think those experiences do not need a God to explain them. Mathematics, music, living, or whatever did not become any less beautiful because God was no longer the ground of the beauty. I didn't experience the beauty with less intensity. There is perhaps a sadness that the beauty is passing, but that makes the here and now so much more valuable.

      In my experience, I would not say that Christians are better than atheists at experiencing the transcendental. I think they are often too immersed in rules and rituals.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I also don't use God to explain those experiences. God is the name that I attach to that Deep Still Point of Connection that I experience in those moments. There is nothing to explain about that Deep Still Point of Connection. It is the explanation for everything else.

        I would agree that many Christians are too focused on the rules, the rituals, etc. It is a form of idolatry. They profess to value dogma and they don't even understand the ten commandments. But hey, they are broken people, just like you and me. Most of them do their best.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I'm not pointing a finger at them (though it is tempting), per se, what I am doing is arguing that belief/non-belief does not have much to do with this 4th level of happiness.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yeah, I know you well enough to know you are not a finger-pointing type of guy. Just wanted to be clear that I'm not pointing fingers either.

            To be clear, I do value the liturgy, the dogma, the moral teachings, the devotions, all that. If properly understood and not idolized as ends in themselves, those things lead you to the transcendent.

            (And lest this all this "transcendent" talk sound too generic for a Catholic to be spouting, I have come to believe that the Deep Still Point of Connection -- which I experienced, but did not understand, long before all this crazy Jesus stuff came into my life -- I have come to believe that that Deep Still Point of Connection IS the crucified and resurrected man from Nazareth, whether so recognized or not. One and the same.)

          • Lazarus

            As Fr. Spitzer says in the conclusion of this book :

            "When we present the evidence of transcendence to believers, we must always remember that it can never be perfectly definitive—we will all need to take a little leap of faith, a movement of the heart—to get from the evidence to a relationship with the loving God. We will always be able to talk ourselves out of any evidence—proofs of God from logic and philosophy, the evidence of God from physics, the evidence of a soul from near-death experiences, and the evidence of transcendence from the five transcendental desires, the numinous experience, and our sense of the sacred. Why? Because God will not allow us to be enslaved by a miracle; He will not make a relationship with Him dependent on the mind alone, because He wants us to come to Him through our hearts as He has come to us."

            That movement of the heart will always be necessary. And a worthwhile, beautiful result will follow.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    The fourth level of happiness that Fr. Spitzer identifies is transcendent happiness—the happiness experienced when the deepest human desires for perfect and unconditional (infinite) knowledge/truth, love, goodness/justice, and beauty are satisfied by the transcendent God, who is perfect and unconditional knowledge, love, goodness, and beauty itself.

    I have three obvious objections.

    1) It could be wishful thinking. Just because I want something to be does not mean it is. To quote A Man for all Seasons: " I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t!"

    2) The case has not been made that an atheist could not experience the transcendent God. If God exists, I highly doubt he is as particular about the religious practices of individuals as many on this board seem to believe. Maybe God wants some people to be atheists. To you I am an atheist. To God I am the loyal opposition.

    3) If God does not exist then the 4th level of happiness does not exist. If God does exist, then it seems to me that this 4th level of happiness is only available in the afterlife. Theists and atheists are both stuck with the first three.

    I would also argue that this post misunderstands the psychological nature of happiness, but that is likely too much of a digression.

    • 1) It could be wishful thinking. Just because I want something to be does not mean it is. To quote A Man for all Seasons: " I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t!"

           (A) Desires have causes.
           (B) We know that 'wings' and 'beer' exist.

      :-)

      2) The case has not been made that an atheist could not experience the transcendent God.

      You want Randal's Meaningful relationship and propositional knowledge: A response to Justin Schieber (Part 1) and (Part 2).

      If God exists, I highly doubt he is as particular about the religious practices of individuals as many on this board seem to believe.

      What is the reasoning behind this truth-claim? If I want people to know me, then it is important that they get certain things right.

      3) If God does not exist then the 4th level of happiness does not exist. If God does exist, then it seems to me that this 4th level of happiness is only available in the afterlife. Theists and atheists are both stuck with the first three.

      As long as you can explain, causally, how we came to think that the 4th level exists. Effects have causes. Irrationality is not how reality works.

  • Happiness? Brandon: May you and all your commenters 'hear the music'. Thanks for everything.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr-BYVeCv6U

    Edit: First- warning. Don't read this if as usual you don't like my long posts and especially because I'm going to use Kant as a reference! (Edit: It is now a New Year. Hopefully I have a 'sufficient reason' to leave future edits for your better interpretation and correction. thanks)
    On 'coming back to this site': I'm still interested in reading comments, although today I have just been given the opportunity to 'study' Judaism, which pleases me as I am interested particularly in how church authority developed. The posting of the song was just another 'intuition' of course, that the significance of this song, describing the period of 1959-l972, perhaps is also an appropriate comparison to what is happening today. Yes, I still am involved in the 'narratives of life', rather than the 'logic of thought'. On this revisit I even thought of the immersion in rock and roll (you will find much on Google regarding what these metaphors in the lyrics refer to explicitly) with the loss of the song, interpreted as what? loss of religious faith? How can this be contrasted with the interest in science rather than 'music?' and politics, {Marxism of course} as the 'substitute' for 'religion' in today's world. Yes. I do see 'great' similarities between 'generations'.

    I also feel somehow that I have learned something from my last -thought experiment of conscious? self-reflection, whatever, in 'trying to figure out' what 'is' cause and effect, and indeed 'free will' through 'Buddhist' style reflection. From this 'experience', I am in agreement with a comment on EN - that the post-moderns may have redefined the 'meaning' of 'free will' and perhaps it is thus far more limited than we have generally assumed. This would involve a needed 'analysis' between what constitutes 'Will' , (as that which within Kant is the subject of Practical Reason and the human power of judgment solely, or primarily within the context of his 'third critique') as attempted in this comment.

    The thesis is that we do not have 'knowledge' of the 'universal' with respect to 'moral' 'judgment' - even within the Catholic!! 'meaning' of that word as something real - ontological - involving 'all'? individuals, as the particulars are not/cannot be integrated within any 'schemata', successfully. Indeed, even the 'last'!!! judgment of Jesus does not 'necessarily' include 'everyone'.??? (Irony here!) This is merely another attempt to 'ponder' the relation of logic/reason to life/faith. Thus I'm not doing this 'self' studying to come to any 'religious conclusions'!! but rather to develop 'my personal consciousness, and ability to see and present the problematic'. Our judgment, may indeed be 'confined?' to our own particular 'freedom of will' - our 'conscious judgment' but would still be developmental? with regard to our individual choices, including that which brings us happiness. Perhaps even today there is some 'truth' in the Aristotelian 'ethic' that with respect to the relation of 'individual morality to 'happiness', virtue is its own reward'!!

    Yet, although the post-moderns are indeed stressing the importance of individuality, surely we do still listen to the authorities, (I refer here to the post-modern emphasis on personal 'freedom' as auto-poises, which I am interpretating as 'command of one's self') be they parents, church, government law, or our specific grouping within the pragmatic context of what constitutes the apex of the trinity - goodness, either within a 'secular interpretation'! or within the 'mystical body' within Catholic tradition, or even the Good as a Platonic epistemological universal, in contrast to an 'ontological'- 'God'!. (The Good/God we remember is contrasted or 'represents' the epitome? or rather that 'object' to which are directed the truth- law and beauty- order). I am ironically remembering Sartre saying that he could not believe in God because such would deny him his freedom, although later saying that yes, we all had the wish to be God, which I would translate within this context that the ability of our 'freedom of sapient thought' would then, somehow be capable of 'universal'?? application or even indeed, whenever we spoke- a 'kind of' 'word made flesh??!!' :) But then, the only viable context, would be within a metaphysic/ontology as with the 'Catholic', within the possibility that each of us within our own individual capacity could contribute to a universal morality, which was not a 'mere epistemological abstraction'!!?? That we again are not very good at this could explain Sartre's further saying that 'hell is other people', by which he referred, I understand, to the way we can 'objectify' people, forgetting there 'person-hood'. I note this emphasis on the 'personal' as perhaps 'agency', as an example of such a possibility within moral, in contrast to pragmatic judgment, I have also been wondering whether in the Euthrypo dilemna, that it is the agency that cannot be proven, even within the context of the relation of subject to predicate. But this is an entirely different 'subject', yes, I do understand that.

    Luke's mention of 'performative' utterances, if you are looking for a possible viable 'human' context! could be an example of the latter. Thus I'm not 'sure' that this 'works'!!!! within the same understanding that is represented as Christian orthodox? 'belief' in the relation of a 'divine' mind to 'body' or 'materiality'? The performative for instance focuses not on the subject who is making the 'promise', say, but upon 'what' is promised Yet, even though externally governed by such a rule, I feel it would be of no loss to me, if indeed it could be possible to 'always' simply 'keep the promises' I make within the mere 'pragmatic context' of maxims of principle, even without reference to a need for universality or necessity or even on a 'divine intervention' within this context of 'performative' judgment????!!! Morality (even ethos) is perhaps then the most difficult of all 'studies' but yes, I accept that even legality has it's 'purpose'. But still, is the promise good because it is the promise of the 'subject', or is the promise made by the subject that which makes the subject 'good' in his/her promise?????

    So yes, if I understand what perhaps is being 'said' by some of these post-moderns; they are interested in 'order' rather than 'law'; i.e.: - the personal? or the individual, even within the social? context of the/a triune schemata.. But I don't expect any or all to 'get it right' (yes the problems with philosophy!) so I believe some caution with respect to these speculations is perhaps 'in order'. And of course, I do understand that this is adhered to by yourselves in reading this??!! speculation of mine :) Perhaps the universalization? of our subjective nature, can indeed be exemplified within an extensive sense, (the pragmatic based interest in language and literary theory?) as when the subject is exemplified through 'objective predication', as in the object or predicate of our sentences- or propositions, yet distinctions need to be made between a priori or a posteriori contexts: and/or the analytic vs. the synthetic distinctions. But in all of these cases, the term universal can be considered to be 'merely' an abstraction, a nominal use of language, in contrast to the word Catholic which at least defines this ontologically within a relation to 'particulars' or 'individuals'.

    I am? (an ever expanding, a priori synthesis? ....or at least "I" try to be...or rather...uh!!!!.) The search for 'happiness' might seem to some to be directed to but a consequentialist goal, or limited sense of purpose, but perhaps it can be put within Kant's teleological framework. Such would not be a mere pragmatic choice then, but would, within Kant's 'analysis' be both cosmological in the final analysis/judgment as well as being related more, I believe, to morality defined as intrinsic, esoteric, intentional vs. extensional or mathematical - i.e. it would involve a development of our subjective capacities for perception/or intuition, of both mind and matter! in which they would be 'far more 'comprehensive' than they are 'now'!

    Your choice of words here, dependent upon your understanding??? and what 'you want!!!' ??? (of course!) If only that could stop all argument! Within this context however, 'we' I believe, cannot yet say - I am 'that' I am!!! which would perhaps serve as an objective 'criteria'. for the use of the word 'transcendental'....within even the context of the subject and predicate within a propositional logic). Somehow this 'definition of God' does not 'seem particularly performative' within my understanding. (See Wittgenstein on the problematic of criteria). In this respect I just encountered the definition of man as homo viator! Man - the pilgrim. (Hopefully I am at least attempting a descriptive metaphysics, (if this 'rant' is considered in any way to be metaphysical!!)! in the hope that it would at least be acceptable in some vague way to the analytic philosophers!).

    The important distinction is that between the external pragmatic ethical choice,(self and mutual self interest) and the internal judgments which may be distinguished as that pertaining to morality. However, as these within Kant's philosophy are related to the regulative criteria of necessity and universality, I merely ponder that, although I have difficulty with the legalistic aspects of natural law theory, the placement of morality within the sphere of perhaps causal determinants, (like Karma) can perhaps be demonstrated to be more rudimentary, and congruent with a freedom of judgment,with respect to the interest of some post moderns, in contrast to a possibly inferred freedom of 'universal' choice or God-like 'Will'. as related to a 'form of universal' rather than a 'particular judgment' !! But then I also remember Hegel. Freedom is the recognition of 'necessity', and realize how difficult this can be within any particular 'instance'.

    I at least feel satisfied that I understand at least a little bit better now, what Kant is/was all about in his examination of 'mind'. Yes.To even attempt to understand even one philosopher, or one 'friend' 'purely' or rather 'completely', (as pure reason is after all without evidence!) can indeed take even more than a lifetime!. Pure Reason, or the transcendental?- what is critiqued as being unscientific because it is 'beyond the 'realm' of understanding!!! or not capable within scientific language of any 'positive' relation to our 'empirical' ? world, is perhaps a perspective that can within the topic of happiness be explored. Morality, virtue, as aspects of 'modes of judgment/thought', however are all congruent with Life which I understand from experience is much broader in scope than what is assigned within 'Logic'. That all 'knowledge' must be 'grounded' in truth defined as 'evidence', particularly as is understood by the scientific, may indeed have alternative possible interpretations when it comes to personal understanding.. Yes. Truth. But....Scientific truth 'and'/'or' truth even as 'the law of justice!',--that the latter necessarily include the subjective within even the 'mundane' areas of jurisprudence need be considered. We can be reminded that both Wittgenstein and Jesus spoke of the 'living' truth....But is such living truth accessible within the 'abstract' universal? or is it rather, accessible primarily or only within the context of the 'immediacy' of particular judgments?

    Yes,to repeat,...we Can find the relation of Pure Reason to Practical Reason.within Pragmatic social, community, choices based on self or mutual interest: Yet these concepts can be thought of not only with respect to the good within a secular context, but as well a more 'transcendental' relation to God or Plato's Goodness (The distinction here I believe is that the latter is an abstract universal rather than a subjective ontological mode of reference), So yes - that pragmatics, ethics, and the 'good' can be thought of as not actualizing the perfect good is of course, consistent, then, with the thought of the ancients with respect to the actuality/necessity over the potentiality/contingency distinction (all three modes can thus be placed within an ontological rather than solely an epistemological context). We may ask where, within the concepts of the good, do we find our happiness. -both however, are perhaps 'supreme' as either the apex of Goodness or 'God' to which both truth and beauty are what? subordinate? contributive? necessary? The 'absolute' as The Will, can perhaps be considered - as the 'need' to find good within or as 'an order' or 'ordering' of what? the 'reality? both of the empirical, as well as within a philosophical examination of the subjective element understood as 'personal' 'morality'. This I believe can be related to the recent interest described as an 'auto-poises' or 'free will' within the assignment of 'particular judgments' towards the 'creative evolution' of his/her Being....

    It is thus this Order, within the context of morality and happiness, that is defined within the third category, the category of Beauty, that of the individual judgment, in Kant's Power of Judgment, whether referring to the individual within society, or as the ordering of the mind or thought of the individual. Order can thus be 'seen' to be within the scope of the transcendental, but may be interpreted either as in Kant's transcendental Idealism, or as a Transcendental Reality-- possibly? (epistemologically-Plato? or ontologically actualized as a 'reality?' as in a schemata that concludes with the concept of God???) These are tough questions, questions of mind, but also questions such as what this may mean within the order of the universe- (teleology) -Are there multi-verses, etc. etc. and of course, whether such transcendentals are knowable, whether as religious, philosophical or scientific 'speculations'., and indeed the question of whether such transcendentals can be realized within the context of the 'mundane'... We may thus even ask: What happiness evolves from the good experienced as pleasure?
    .
    What is Order? Perhaps all that pleasure and pain we experience - Kant's first category of Order-or Beauty - as the Agreeable - can be best understood to be descriptive of what is experienced as the external/empirical etc. This perhaps can then be seen within the context of his second category - The Good. (Many interpretations of 'good' are given in Kant's third book. So the good discussed here is not 'necessarily the Good as equated with Plato or God!!, but perhaps merely the internal response (reaction, whatever, to what is experienced through perception as the first three pleasures, or modes of happiness, and thus this comment is limited to the criteria mentioned in this OP?). This what? incorporation of pleasure and/or pain within the personal? perhaps can be defined as producing? 'Our morality', or sense of judgment, i.e. the sapient knowledge of human beings, even though our ability to universalize such judgments within a morality, or with respect to 'how' we live', whatever, is thus perhaps - inevitably? limited as far as our ability to overcome or perhaps even 'transcend' what is experienced as agreeable/disagreeable. Such states of pleasure, and or happiness are rather consequently 'judged' according to the contingencies involved as being good or 'evil?' In some cases, then, is our understanding of good and evil related merely to what we regard as the source of pleasure or pain?

    Is there however, a transcendental 'reality'.??? A transcendent 'order' that that is not 'merely' contingent? Something that is beyond this 'seemingly subjective' 'internalization?' of a 'reality' of pleasure and pain, and even the 'Buddhist' concept of samsara or 'suffering'?

    And indeed with reference to the 'personal', and the 'subjective' may I give you a quote that provides also a possible 'scientific context':: What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our level of questioning.
    Werner Heisenberg.

    There are two more categories, according to Kant, besides the agreeable and the good, which may indeed be thought of as having 'transcendence'. This third category is that of beauty-which I find is truly representative of the 'subjective' nature of our conscious personal judgments- for although we 'have a sense' that 'all' will agree with our 'sentiment' or rather - 'rational' perspective, this judgment remains 'subjective'. (It's all 'a matter of 'taste''!) The universal may not be confirmed - Yes- we 'need one another'!!! - by another, but we do not 'intuitively' or even 'logically' know this, a priori, etc. As Kant indicates, he does not believe morality can be schematized, for this same reason. (Of course this can be demonstrated if only I could show you the truth of the matter in that the Overlord of EN would never publish such a comment as this!! grin grin??? Yet, orthodox Christianity recognizes the transcendence of what is called 'the beatific vision'. Yes. If only I could understand the logic and science that would help in the development of 'good taste'!!). Perhaps such agreement however, is what is 'meant' by such concepts as 'communion', (with nature as well as human-kind?) or within the secular terminology even as- 'solidarity'. In these instances, perhaps the original context of 'the good' as pleasure and/or pain, is placed within a wider, broader, perhaps you will suggest, transcendental context. So we are left with the possibility of an internalization of our 'sense' of Beauty, within even a social context, or as related to art, (Kant did not deal with art or technology or the external in this discussion of the Power of Judgment) or if I may refer to another possibility - our 'appreciation' of an internal beauty. But of most importance, in all of these cases, beauty can only be consider transcendent because the subjective 'universal' context is made within a state of mind that is capable of detachment. To this extent, it thus rises beyond, or is transcendent to a mere 'subjectivity'. This is most important, as in for instance the state of Buddhist 'loving detachment', a meaning of 'transcendence' that can I believe be associated with the concerns of this post: suffering within Buddhism, as well as how that would relate to an understanding of what constitutes both pleasure and pain, and our acknowledgement of good and/or evil with respect to these worldly 'attachments'.

    Then comes - The 'Sublime' - or is it the ridiculous? - that category that includes for Kant, our 'feeling?' when we are 'confronted' with the 'greatness' of the universe, or the 'greatness' of a tsunami, or an earthquake, or the terrors of war, even, for some, etc. etc. etc.the Greatness of - 'The Overlord'!! Within this context, it may thus be possible to make the judgment that such 'Greatness' could be considered either good or evil, and/or possibly both!!! and when it comes to conceptions of God, we of course, have theodicy as well as the startling conception of The Passion. And yet we are aware that we are aware of an 'ontological' universalization produced by or through the experience of the sublime,. and In some sense we take our 'measure' from the 'experience' of The Sublime. What then of Hitchens 'God is not Great'. Within the experience of 'sublimity', are we aware of a capacity for a judgment that is greater than 'our own', in the sense that it is beyond our capacity pragmatically and rationally.; that 'It' is indeed 'Greater than ...and yet ...!!! it is within the scope of a possible understanding? Yet, is that 'greatness' confirmed by those who support such 'greatness' or 'sublimity' - as held within the ontological proof that God is indeed 'Great' or as in Anselm's proof of that beyond which no greater? can be thought? and thus is perhaps a recognition that 'we have, potentially, and even within a philosophical principle of a modal reality, the capacity' to comprehend such 'greatness' - 'sublimity' - as a comprehended beauty- as The Transcendental 'Reality' of the Universe, of What Is, of Being.......!!!! within a context of A Poetry? A Religion? A Rationality that cannot (yet???) be placed within the context of 'words'???? that cannot be expressed with perfect coherence either as scientific and mathematical theory or - may I say - even theological univocity, but which however may be seen to be 'true' within different contexts. What 'is' Great? For example, In Judaic tradition, the name of God is still not uttered, I believe, and this can be contrasted with a development through Christianity of the apophatic and kataphatic and then articulated as perhaps a limitation of Greatness when defined within the 99 names/attributes? assigned to Allah!!!!

    The difficulty in determining 'what is great', of course,is that such an attempt can be made with respect to other modes of Greatness -as in, please appreciate my attempt at irony, -perhaps the 'exceptionalism' of any particular 'individual' or indeed, possibly any particular nation; what have been considered within some traditions perhaps, as 'idols'. in contrast to a/the 'true' transcendent sought for within more congruent intuitions of the relation of agency and cause and effect or alternative developments of concepts of reason other than that of the 'logos',which I 'suspect' is the direction aimed at by the post-moderns.

    Indeed, if I am allowed some more imaginative play!!! Is it possible to reflect at this time, a time which 'necessarily' within a temporal framework follows the reading of the paragraph above, to direct our thoughts to a possible understanding of what can be considered 'great'. Can we possibly reflect, as a thought experiment perhaps, on what connotation the word 'great' was 'actually' given within the above contexts - within an increasing awareness of our thinking process, and whether our interpretation could indeed be called perhaps, positive or negative? Could we perhaps even, as another thought experiment, consider what and why, within ourselves, there was or was not within our thought a distinction, whether connotative or denotative, made between a real or possible human and/or the divine reference or even relationship given to this particular word - greatness? And in perhaps, a further examination of our thought, could we perhaps ascertain, whether this could in any way be related to contexts within which we consider such concepts as that of 'happiness', perhaps even as it relates either/or-both/and to the possibility of transcendence, within even the logical structuring of such concepts related to the thoughts of happiness, virtue, even greatness. What may we ask are these words 'in' themselves? Do we indeed think the thought we speak? And beyond that-- what do we 'see'???? How can we become even more aware of 'how' we think, not within the context of a universal given through the 'logic' of language 'only', but within a consciousness that arises from an 'immediacy?' of a particular context???!!! .

    Indeed, if I may consider further, perhaps I now find, for the first time? - although I would have to 'explain'??? that what is referred to as a 'miracle' - may not necessarily be an irrational thesis/principle, whatever!!!-(true?) for could not such also describe any possible changes in relations of cause and effect as 'we understand them', not only within the 'human-divine' distinction, but including transformations already confirmed by science within the 'progression/' or 'history' of the knowledge of the physical universe?)!!! (Of course I would reserve a right to object to or even reject personal, and indeed some beliefs included in public revelation!!!) All perhaps can be considered to be Great. the Great Universe, the Great Person, Nation, or maybe even the great Scientism. Would that allow- God, to 'Be' as presence, as Ideality, as Reality and even a vice-versa? to any proposed variable -nay - even as a greatness within any action, or mode of life, based on our interpretation of the 'word' 'sublime' or even as considered within merely the human context of great works, of art, celebrities, etc. etc. etc.or 'giving to the poor'! Indeed cannot it be 'argued' that the 'sublime reveals' that we have the 'reason' to be equal to any such comprehension of greatness, that we are capable of imagining or conceptualizing, even as we contemplate the 'sublime' as 'The great':-'only' when it is considered to be 'beyond us', as individuals. Yet is this not a contradiction? Perhaps in our reflection, we have learned 'once again', that In the most primary development of such a dynamic we are led not only to a worship of a 'God', but also, I repeat a possible worship of the state, or ---dare I mention once again - 'the individual'?' Indeed, what is the 'reality'? of worship? as Praise? as Thanksgiving? as What? What could be a psychological explanation, understanding, self-comprehension of such thoughts within the human mind? What is within the 'power' of the 'word' in-itself? Why does Kant name his third critique - The 'Power' of Judgment?

    So perhaps indeed it is important to consider deeply the question of how distinctions can be made between what truly 'is' ; not only between the possible/potential Ideality-Reality of any Transcendental, but within what are considered to be the more mundane/worldly contexts. We can possible consider such 'judgments', even in the case of a madman, where it is possible that a psychotic 'illusion' can indeed be found to be based on a true, yet by comparison,with 'agreeable' uses of 'the word', a mere mundane reality. If only the thoughts of the speaker could have been put into words, if only the 'vision' could have been made capable of being understood through words, or 'art'! If only, indeed, the madman could have been - 'listened' to- , as illustrated not only in the 'parables' taught in 'the religions' but In Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. If only the words of the madman, could be considered as similarity or dissimilarity to the connotation given to religious dialogue, or even related to the limited capacity of some, such as myself, to understand the language of the seemingly impossible discoveries within physics, cosmology and mathematics. Perhaps even the descriptive words, liar, lunatic, or lord, could be considered in relation to the metaphorical aspects of language; perhaps the significance and meaning of what is/was spoken could in all cases of 'personal expression' be seen to involve the difficulty of understanding the language of the 'other' generally, so that even what is considered as 'insanity' could also prove 'true' the words of Nietzsche, that "he/she was considered mad by others only because they could not 'hear the music'!!!!".- and thus may we say - 'the music died'..

    Thank you. That is the best I can do. Perhaps the search for happiness, for virtue, for greatness, is as difficult as the search for understanding; and the acceptance of the possibility that 'we know not of what we speak'. I merely want to study more about 'cause and effect' - and yes - how we make Humean 'associations' -at the risk, sure, of being or sounding 'crazy' - by examining some of my 'own'.'thoughts?' I also wish to explore Kant's justification for placing the 'concept' a priori to 'the understanding, and of course the Jewish tradition. That 'should' keep me busy. And just the 'thought - isn't what we refer to as the sublime, also considered, alternatively to be that which is the basis of thoughts regarding 'theodicy' - directed to whatever might be considered to be the object of such thought, even of an illness for which science has yet to find a cure!!!. That which is beyond us?? And thus the questions - and an explanation of why or why not an 'evil' God? etc. etc. may or can be held to account for our lack of understanding, and even sometimes a lack of responsibility, to ourselves, to our language, as well as to 'others'!!

    Yet is there no 'hope'? in going beyond such realities or idealities as found with respect to the many possible interpretations of the word- 'chaos'. Will we never 'understand'? Will science possibly some day develop the ability to 'relate' to the personal, the individual as experienced rather than as 'object'? Within the concept of a Personal God, what is personal? - the image that is made in the likeness of perfection, or that which within the 'Personal' is a 'God', a 'cause' a 'reason' a 'purpose' be-cause- it is beyond our 'understanding'. Within this context, we may remember that within Kant's critique he is talking about the Good of Beauty -not of the Good of Good he is talking about -the what? the 'for itself????rather than the 'in itself'??? within the context of his definition of these concepts. Perhaps we really do not know what constitutes the 'in-itself' of 'the word', the logos, the greatness of the sublime. Can we ever indeed find a comprehensive unity within the dualities of law and order, truth and beauty - even within our relationships with an other's 'for itself', let alone an other's 'in itself'. It is indeed difficult, I find, to 'understand' an other when it is even possible to find that the truth may not be in conformity with the 'beauty' we desire and which, as I understand Kant, is possibly the basis of the particular, the sapient thought that is found in 'judgment'.

    But yet - another thought? What of the Creation (human? or divine?) of the World, as described at least in 'the Book', as the idea - the law? (The Word, the laws derived or described as cause and effect?? even that of the continuity of consciousness understood as Karma?) - that such 'creation'- (what? the materiality,or the potentiality, etc. etc.) entails the bringing of order, into or from? chaos? - could that perhaps justify the concept of a Good or even a God, despite the chaos that we can still find within any 'order'..... No wonder such crazy 'disordered thoughts' fall within a category that suggest the need for 'faith'???? or 'therapy'!!! Where is the 'beatific vision'? But such a 'search for order' perhaps could be applied today, in our search for happiness, in our search for a personal morality. Is there the possibility of at least bringing some order into our thought, some beauty, into our words and deeds, and for the scientist perhaps the finding of the ordering even of the neurons within our mind, and for the environmentalists and 'world leaders' and even the 'citizenry' hopefully, more 'order' in the world..... even within the political 'orders' of various forms of government. Is it possible that an order could be given even within the concept of 'anarchy' as descriptive by philosophers of a possibility of form or structure within a 'realized' independence of the individual!!!!...Am I 'crazy' yet??? Am I being 'too independent'??? Is there indeed the possibility of going 'beyond' good and evil, in the sense of that even Nietzsche speaks of, of finding a transcendent through the bringing of order from 'chaos' into a beauty that we can 'understand' within a specific, a particular, that involves not an 'eating of the fruit'..(of the what? universal?) Yet is this not the quest for the City of God, the New Jerusalem, and even Kant's Kingdom of Ends. All such thoughts are that of finding a harmony perhaps, even as expressed as - song? And indeed even the 'word' Vatican can be translated as either 'song' or 'prophecy'. Hopefully, because we remain in need of same, this possibility of transcendence is merely offered as an explanation for why I posted the music of Don McLean. It after all speaks of a song which as lost, is perhaps in need of a 'resurrection', and so suggests perhaps the possibility of 'an ongoing - reality'!! an 'ideality' - of a need to bring a 'good' into new 'life'. .

    P.S. I apologize for another long post - perhaps you will excuse if you consider it at least an alternative to the reading of Kant's original text on beauty, even though it is of course an inadequate summary of the complexities of his thought. Sorry I have not been able to make you 'happy' with my song. But - Thank you all for allowing me at least to get 'this far'..Hopefully I can spare you of any of my future attempts to understand the 'insanity' not only within my own thought, but within the world, generally....I do feel quite 'confident' however, that this is not the day that I 'die'!!!! After all, the time is 23:47 and I haven't even finished my 'Pepsi'!!! (Postscript: Please dear Overlord - hopefully you are correct, in this regard, that within any 'spiritual' context there may be no need for you to think or ruminate any more on the issues or perspectives I raise in my comments, or to put it another way, 'perhaps with respect to my 'comments' you will no longer find any need to pray for a miracle'...but for those of you who have come this far with me??? Thanks to all of you for 'listening'....

  • David Nickol

    I think a more accurate title for the OP would be "Is Worshiping God Necessary for Human Happiness?"

    As some have already noted, the happiness in question sometimes appears to be happiness in this life, and sometimes in the next. On the one hand, this sentence seems to refer to an afterlife:

    But if an atheist persistently and culpably rejects God, Fr. Robert Spitzer argues in a new book, he will not be able to experience ultimate or perfect happiness.

    On the other other, this explicitly refers to "earthly" life:

    Stifling or ignoring this desire eliminates the greatest peace and joy possible during our earthly existence.

    Of course, one need only watch the news to see that some people have little hope of peace and joy in this life.

    • I think a more accurate title for the OP would be "Is Worshiping God Necessary for Human Happiness?"

      Not quite, but I think you're onto something:

           (1) God is necessary for human happiness.
           (2) Worshiping God is sufficient for human happiness.

      :-)

      This matches up, by the way, with the following from Allan Bloom:

      But, momentarily accepting a distinction I reject, idealism as it is commonly conceived should have primacy in an education, for man is a being who must take his orientation by his possible perfection. To attempt to suppress this most natural of all inclinations because of possible abuses is, almost literally, to throw out the baby with the bath. Utopianism is, as Plato taught us at the outset, the fire with which we must play because it is the only way we can find out what we are. (The Closing of the American Mind, 67)

      You cannot orient yourself to something or someone unless there is a causal interaction. And yet, moving toward that or whom you are oriented is 'worship'. It is valuing such that your actions are aligned by that valuing. Charles Taylor gives some mechanics in secular language:

          An ethical outlook organized around a hypergood in this way is thus inherently conflictual and in tension. The highest good is not only ranked above the other recognized goods of the society; it can in some cases challenge and reject them, as the principle of equal respect has been doing to the goods and virtues connected with traditional family life, as Judaism and Christianity did to the cults of pagan religions, and as the author of the Republic did to the goods and virtues of agonistic citizen life. And that is why recognizing a hypergood is a source of tension and of often grievous dilemmas in moral life.
          To have a hypergood arise by superseding earlier views is to bring about (or undergo) what Nietzsche called a 'transvaluation of values'.[26] The new highest good is not only erected as a standard by which other, ordinary goods are judged by often radically alters our view of their value, in some cases taking what was previously an ideal and branding it a temptation. Such was the fate of the warrior honour ethic of ordinary life. And as Nietzsche so well saw, a transvaluation is not necessarily a once-for-all affair. The older condemned goods remain; they resist; some seem ineradicable from the human heart. So that the struggle and tension continues. (Sources of the Self, 65)

      I think the only question is whether you have a strong orientation and are headed somewhere in the plane of goodness, or whether it's better to say that you're kind of stuck on the ocean, driven about by various winds and waves, never really going anywhere. In that case, you wouldn't be worshiping anything or anyone.

  • Peter

    "Are we really happy to live in a world where the top 1% own half the wealth and the poorest half own just 1%?” (Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB's chief executive)

    What is happiness? Is true happiness at the expense of the misery of others, those that make up the lower half of humanity, whose abject poverty is associated with death, disease, malnutrition, homelessness, war, crime, persecution, oppression? Do we have a right to be happy at all when most of humankind is struggling on the borderline of poverty, and all its associated ills, or well within it? Are we not pampered freaks pretending that it's a great world when in fact it's a hellish world for most of our kind?

    A civilised alien visiting earth would be shocked see a world where life is barely livable for its inhabitants except for a few fortunate ones at the fringes. Probably that's why we're being left alone, because we're a nightmare planet full of unsolvable problems created by our own greed.

    In this vale of tears that we call earth, the first step towards true happiness is to be aware that for every one of us who is fed, clothed, housed, protected and tended to when ill, there are very many who are not. And the route to true happiness is to devote one's life to helping them. Most of us cannot do that because we have commitments. However, even by helping a little, doing what we can, we can still share in that happiness although not quite completely.

    • A civilised alien visiting earth would be shocked see a world where life is barely livable for its inhabitants except for a few fortunate ones at the fringes. Probably that's why we're being left alone, because we're a nightmare planet full of unsolvable problems created by our own greed.

      You don't understand; we have science, and that's the solution, as we knew 50 years ago:

      In the 1960s, for example, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, wrote that

      It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. ... Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we seek its aid. ... The future belongs to science and to those who make friends with science.[3]

      Views like Nehru's were once quite widely held, and, along with professions of faith in the 'scientific' political economy of Marx, they were perhaps typical of the scientism of politicians in the 1950s and 1960s. (Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science, 2)

      Pay no attention to the following 2012-05-02 Huffington Post article We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger. Science is still the answer! Religion has nothing to offer that science doesn't have. Onward!!

      • VicqRuiz

        You are correct in that science's power to end world hunger is seriously limited.

        God's power to end world hunger is, however, completely unconstrained.

        So insofar as God is concerned, it's only a matter of motivation.

        • Lazarus

          Why the opposed dualism, science against God? What if God gave us science to fix the world, to improve it, to bring it to fruition, and this is what we are doing with it?

        • So insofar as God is concerned, it's only a matter of motivation.

          What if he wishes to avoid logical contradiction and ensure the full intelligibility of reality to finite creatures? Is it still the case that "it's only a matter of motivation"?

          • VicqRuiz

            Of course it's still a matter of motivation. God apparently has decided that a substantial amount of hunger is an acceptable side effect of the other things he desires.

          • Of course it's still a matter of motivation.

            You lost an "only":

            VR: So insofar as God is concerned, it's only a matter of motivation.

            Was that intentional, or did you mean to say:

            VR': Of course it's still only a matter of motivation.

            ?

        • Peter

          Science's power to end world hunger is not limited at all. We already grow enough to feed 10 billion people. What is seriously limited is mankind's ability to use science to end world hunger. Don't blame science; blame mankind.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Eventually, we will run out of arable land. We will probably be able to figure out ways to increase food production per acre. However, it is unlikely that science will do so at an exponential rate, which is the rate population grows, if we don't use methods of birth control.

            The earth will only be able to sustain the needs of so many individuals. It is folly to assume that science will be able to find ways of sustaining an increasing population, especially when there is no reason to continue to increase our population

          • Michael Murray

            And if everybody wants more than just food like maybe first world medical care, housing, two cars, computers, phones, tvs, public transport, aeroplanes, ...

          • Peter

            I thought you were an atheist, yet you are implying that we, the elite minority in the first world, are demi-gods worthy of all first world benefits, while the miserable bulk of the human race are mere mortals deserving of nothing but poverty and disease.

            Perhaps if we were to give up all our excess, so that we would have less and the third world more, we could all meet somewhere in the middle. But of course that will never happen. We in the first world are far too divine to allow it.

            It is utter laughable irony that those who call themselves atheists act, by virtue of their highly privileged lifestyles, like the very deities which they claim to have no belief in. How can Richard Dawkins and Co say that there are no gods when, by enjoying olympian lifestyles compared with the rest of humanity, they act like the very gods they seek to deny?

          • Michael Murray

            Oh dear what a confusion. Demi-gods ? What has western first world privilege to do with not believing in a supernatural god ?

            I am indeed pointing out the reality of the way we currently live on earth,as you yourself were, to make the point that your comment that

            Science's power to end world hunger is not limited at all. We already grow enough to feed 10 billion people.

            is somewhat beside the point. World hunger is not the only issue. Many people suggest that a sustainable global population that can persist into the future with first world living standards is around one or two billion. Forget about your 10 billion.

          • Peter

            "What has western first world privilege to do with not believing in a supernatural god ?"

            Of course first world atheists would not be supernatural gods, but nor would they be natural. What is natural about enjoying a privileged life when, for every individual that does so, scores elsewhere have to suffer, and some very badly?

            Perhaps atheists should recognise that, as first worlders, we do not live natural lives. The elite lives we enjoy are on the backs of a miserable heaving humanity. We are godlike in two ways: by the fact of our olympian lifestyle and by the fact that it is wholly unnatural. If gods are not natural, then we are gods.

          • Michael Murray

            I see our conversation is going into the usual confused morass. I am bailing early this time.

          • Peter

            The confusion is entirely on your part, so it's perhaps best that you do.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I wish I could give you more than 1 upvote

          • Peter

            It depends on how the human population lives in the future. Of course, the current military-industrial, meat-eating, car-driving, plane-flying, societies would be impossible to sustain on a global scale. The sheer wastefulness of these societies is staggering.

            But I would imagine an agrarian society could easily support 20-30 billion worldwide. If 3.5 billion are surviving on one percent of the world's resources, then in theory the world can support 350 billion, ridiculous as it may seem.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It depends on how the human population lives in the future. Of course, the current military-industrial, meat-eating, car-driving, plane-flying, societies would be impossible to sustain on a global scale. The sheer wastefulness of these societies is staggering.

            First of all you are actually incorrect in thinking that meat eating reduces the amount of calories available per acre of land, because cattle can be raised on land otherwise unsuited for grains among other reasons. So I suppose we won't have semis transporting medicines to different areas of the country, because that would be wasteful.

            But I would imagine an agrarian society could easily support 20-30 billion worldwide. If 3.5 billion are surviving on one percent of the world's resources, then in theory the world can support 350 billion, ridiculous as it may seem.

            *Sigh.* I highly doubt that 3.5 billion are living off 1% of the worlds food resources. And if they are, I would guarantee that a significant portion are malnourished. The planet can support maximally around 10 billion people and there is no reason to test those limits.

            Peter, you may prefer an agrarian society, but most of us like living in the 1st world with electricity, medicine, leisure, adequate nourishment, adequate shelter, modern methods of food production, dental care and longer life spans. You are more than welcome to live on a farm. It is a free country. Personally, I prefer:

            Fast cars, cheap thrills
            Rich girls, fine wine

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR8UcVruNgE

          • Peter

            " most of us like living in the 1st world with electricity, medicine, leisure, adequate nourishment, adequate shelter, modern methods of food production, dental care and longer life spans"

            Of course, but we must recognise that there is a price to pay in the form of poverty, strife, disease and premature death for the remaining bulk of humanity.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So, if the 1st world countries magically disappeared, you think the rest of the world would no longer have poverty, strife, disease and premature death? Personally, I would like to lift the rest of the world up to higher standards of living

          • Peter

            The world has nowhere near the resources to bring the great bulk of humanity to the consumption levels of the first world.

            But it's not just that. The hegemony of the first world is not underpinned by its excessive consumption or even its military power. These are symptoms of something more fundamental which is the fact that the first world owns and controls much of the wealth on the planet through its investments and financial products.

            And since the first world's currencies are sound, it can print more and more money without significantly debasing them, creating even more wealth for itself. And since the planet's resources are finite, that means even less wealth for the remaining bulk of humanity.

            The imbalance will only get worse, not better, in the future, as more and more wealth is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The Church faces challenging times in a world where the increasing concentration of wealth is systemic. She is a lone voice against the relentless march of global inequality.

          • Michael Murray

            is a lone voice against the relentless march of global inequality.

            Anything that the RCC says in opposition to the march of global inequality is sadly outweighed by the fact that it is, to a large extent, it is responsible for the over population. To suggest the RCC is a lone voice on this topic is laughable. I guess you don't read anything from the political left or from people who work in the development sector? You know the kind of people who try to see the world as it is without superstitious blinkers on.

          • Peter

            What overpopulation? By what standard do you declare that there are too many people? The only standard you can possibly use to declare that is the standard of the first world.

            Of course, the planet could never support a large population based upon excessive first world consumption. Are you declaring that lavish first world consumption is the only way to live? Are you saying that the number of humans must be limited to a level where the planet can support them at first world standards?

            Humans can live with far lower per capita resources than those consumed by the first world. Why should their numbers be limited to uphold an essentially wasteful and profligate way of life?

          • Michael Murray

            Ah yes silly me. I like the fact that my children all survived birth and childhood. I guess I'm just selfish like that. Selfish enough I'd like everyones children to survive birth and childhood. I'll go and make an act of contrition and say 5 Hail Mary's. Will that remove my sin ? Or should I sacrifice a fatted calf or something ?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Where are you getting your facts from?

          • Michael Murray

            The planet can support maximally around 10 billion people and there is no reason to test those limits.

            I suspect it's quite a bit less if we want a sustainable global economy that might potentially last thousands of years and we aren't going to just gamble our great grandchildren's lives on technology always solving our problems. The estimates on the internet are all over the place in terms of assumptions. Some people assume we all live like modern westerners, some people just worry about everyone having food or clean water. It's clouded by ideology and sustainable can be read as "no growth" and of course the economy has to grow! Of course first we have to sort out the current vast inequality without all going back to subsistence agriculture. The politics of that seem beyond us.

            Perhaps unsustainable growth followed by catastrophic collapse is the Great Filter for any technologically advanced life form.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            In the end, we must responsibly use our resources, use energy technologies that are less taxing on the environment, and reproduce responsibly.

            Problem is there are a lot of groups that don't want to do that

          • Rob Abney

            From Laudato Si:
            To blame a growing population for these problems rather than the “extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”

            Such scapegoating “is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption,” the Pope said, calling for an end to food waste.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Yes, overconsumption is an issue, but so is overpopulation. Anyway, I'm not sure why you think the pope's assertions would be convincing to an atheist

          • Rob Abney

            I'm not sure why his assertions couldn't be convincing, surely you don't reject the assertions based upon the source.
            The encyclical is intended for everyone, not just Catholics. Would you consider reading it?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I suppose I'd consider it. I've read quite a few encyclicals in my day, so I've lost my taste. Then again, I suppose one more wouldn't hurt

          • Michael Murray

            Isn't that what the camel said ?

          • Michael Murray

            Even if you reduce consumerism so that we all consume less there still comes a point where the population growth means that as a species we are consuming unsustainably. We have to reduce how much we consume and we have to reduce how many of us there are.

          • Rob Abney

            "we have to reduce how many of us there are"
            are you volunteering yourself or do you have others in mind?!

          • Michael Murray

            I see so it's snark not a serious conversation. I'm off. Enjoy your encyclicals.

          • Rob Abney

            You know that I know that snark is not allowed! But I thought you liked good humor, maybe that's the problem it wasn't very good humor.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            We could begin to reproduce responsibly and naturally reduce the population to sustainable levels, or we could continue on like rabbits and wars, famines, and pestilence will do the job for us.

          • Rob Abney

            What stats do we have that alarm us that there is overpopulation? My understanding is that China, US, and Europe are not even reproducing at a replacement rate of 2.1 kids per woman (I think).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because the population grows at about 1.13% per year, which is exponential growth. In 50 years we will have close to 14 billion people. Do you think the earth can sustain that many? In 100 years, we will have 28 billion people, do you think the earth can sustain that many? In 150 years, we will have 56 billion people, do you think the earth can sustain that many. That is exponential growth for you. We are essentially doubling the population of the earth every 50 years. It is unlikely that current levels are sustainable. Certainly at reasonably comfortable standards. Do you really think science is going to find a way to alleviate a doubling of the earth's population every 50 years?

            There is story about a jar of flies. Every year, the flies in the jar doubled in size due to their breeding habits. One day the flies realized that they were taking using a quarter of their jar's resources and space, so they decided to colonize other jars. They picked three bountiful jars as suitable homes It took them a two years to get everything ready for colonization, so their jar was completely full when they sent 1 quarter of their population to the other three jars, so each jar is 1/4 full. The flies are now in the same situation that they were in at the beginning of this story, except now the flies have to find 12 jars to colonize instead of three.

            Our rate of growth is simply unsustainable.

          • Rob Abney

            From Wikipedia: The actual annual growth in the number of humans fell from its peak of 88.0 million in 1989, to a low of 73.9 million in 2003, after which it rose again to 75.2 million in 2006. Since then, annual growth has declined. In 2009, the human population increased by 74.6 million, which is projected to fall steadily to about 41 million per annum in 2050, at which time the population will have increased to about 9.2 billion.[4] Each region of the globe has seen great reductions in growth rate in recent decades, though growth rates remain above 2% in some countries of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, and also in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.[10]

            The growth rate has slowed for the past 50 years. Is that taken into account when you calculate a doubling of population every 50 years?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No, I took the current rate of growth and used it. You asked for a statistic that indicated that the population of the earth is growing and I gave it to you. Wikipedia also indicates that the population of the earth is growing, which is something you denied. The question is how fast will it grow and is such growth unsustainable.

            Suppose the entire world converted to Roman Catholicism and we all began reproducing without artificial methods of birth control and having as many kids as God wills. Would that be good for the environment?

          • Michael Murray

            Also from wikipedia: three possible projections for the global population by 2100:

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population#/media/File%3AWorld-Population-1800-2100.svg

            They are 16 billion and growing (the Catholic scenario), 10 billion and stable, 6 billion and falling. How do you spread global resources across the planet equitably in a sustainable fashion under any of those scenarios ? How do you avoid the political chaos that results from failing to spread the resources equitably ? Got any encyclicals that cover those points ?

          • Rob Abney

            I'm glad you're back.
            I am interested in this subject but don't have any answers just questions.
            It's interesting that you say we would have difficulty with a lower population also, why is that?

          • Michael Murray

            I think 6 billion is too high. I would want a global population size that allows:

            (a) an equal standard of living for everyone on the planet who wants it

            (b) a standard of living at least as high as what we have now but also able to grow as time passes and technology advances

            (c) sustainable long term use of resources. By long term I mean millennia, lots of millennia.

            (d) recovery of the environment from its present degraded state including recovery from the dramatic species loss we are currently undergoing.

            I don't know what the number is that would allow (a) - (d) but the suggestions I've seen are 1 - 2 billion. It's hard to calculate. But that's my problem with 6 billion.

            EDIT: Short version. I don't care about the number of people as long as we can have (a) - (d).

          • Rob Abney

            It sounds like you are in agreement with Pope Francis, especially your edited short version. Have you read the encyclical?

          • Michael Murray

            Quite possibly. What I heard at the time of the encyclical seemed sensible. We would disagree profoundly on birth control though.

          • Rob Abney

            Considering the subject of how to have a sustainable existence, do you think this approach might be effective? If not, why not?

            The honest practice of regulation of birth demands first of all that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions concerning the true values of life and of the family, and that they tend towards securing perfect self-mastery. To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it fosters attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring: little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties.

          • Michael Murray

            As a heterosexual father of two boys about to enter my 60s who was raised in a Catholic family and went to mass weekly from probably the age of 5 to around 18 I have to say that Catholic teachings on sexual morality and human sexual behaviour leave me at best cold and more often revolted. There is nothing in my experience of sexual relationships that resonates with the those teachings at all.

          • Don't blame science; blame mankind.

            Science is made up of mankind.

  • Andrew Y.

    Here's some food for thought. I would argue that this dying woman experienced the fourth kind of happiness in this life, having little or none of the first three, and (most importantly) not by her own faith but by the faith of another.

    This is from Mother Teresa's 1979 Nobel Prize lecture:

    "One evening we went out and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition - and I told the Sisters: You take care of the other three, I take of this one that looked worse. So I did for her all that my love can do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand, as she said one word only: Thank you - and she died.

    I could not help but examine my conscience before her, and I asked what would I say if I was in her place. And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself, I would have said I am hungry, that I am dying, I am cold, I am in pain, or something, but she gave me much more - she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face."

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    If I recall correctly, Aquinas distinguishes between happiness and blessedness. He thought atheists could experience happiness, but only unity with God brings blessedness.

    Since I identify God with nature, my scientific studies and philosophical explorations impress more and more my connection to nature, and so I experience blessedness. This is in a sense a true religious experience, but one that I think transcends any sectarianism and is available to anyone regardless of whether they are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist or pretty-much anything else.

  • David Hardy

    If human happiness is unachievable, then life is absurd.

    A strange conclusion. One might insert a number of other concepts in here for comparison. For example, if perfect success at work is unachievable, then working is absurd. Perfection is not required for something to be of value, human life and happiness included.

    Another interesting question is "perfect by whose standard?" I find that people have differing views on what constitutes perfection, and have yet to find a single standard to which all or even most people agree, if one take the time to truly understand their definition of perfection. In my experience, "perfect" is a concept people build based on what experiences seem to most closely conform to the idea. For happiness, "perfect" is generally based on those experiences the person has had that achieved the greatest and longest lasting happiness, regardless of whether the person in question consciously realizes it. That is probably why upbringing, culture and religion can greatly alter a person's concepts of perfection.

    I lean more towards the Buddhist view on this particular subject -- that grasping after some constructed idea of perfection is fundamentally unsatisfying. That takes this discussion to a different level, with the idea that the search for perfect happiness itself produces the lack of satisfaction. After all, to search implies one does not have, and a habitual searching for something is a habitual sense of lacking for it. However, how can anything one obtains produce lasting happiness? I view happiness as a state of mind that accepts and embraces the here and now with gratitude for the good, compassion for the bad, and unconditional love. Achieving that state means letting go of the need to force the here and now to be something it is not, because it does not measure up to some preconception of a "perfect" ideal of what it should be.

    Also of interest is that this view is not all that removed from the fourth sort of happiness described here. Viewing one's life as belonging to God, one can foster a sense of gratitude for it as a gift and an acceptance of the way things are as part of the divine plan. Following from Christ's example, one can foster compassion for those who suffer and unconditional love for everything as God's creation. Different intellectual frameworks can provide similar mental responses, and I do not believe a framework requires God in order to achieve the mental response of a deep and stable happiness that does not depend on any of the things listed as the first three forms on happiness. In fact, I know this to be true from my own experiences.

    • Another interesting question is "perfect by whose standard?"

      I'd be interested in your thoughts on Jonathan Pearce's God Cannot be Perfect Because Perfect Does Not Make Sense. This matter seems to be teased out more than I've ever seen it teased out. (Then again, I haven't studied axiology extensively.)

      • David Hardy

        After a review of the article to which you linked me, I would agree that perfect is, firstly, relative, and that it is in general a highly subjective process that varies from person to person and culture to culture. I do not think that any of the concepts normally attributed to God, such as justice and mercy, are necessarily logically inconsistent, as is alluded to in the article. Moreover, I do not accept that the conclusion, that perfect does not make sense, is logically possible to derive with certainty.

        Assuming a perfect God is real, the failure of humans to apprehend that perfection may be attributable to the limitations of the human mind and senses, and the uncertainty as to the purposes God is perfect in relation to could be attributed to the limited human understanding of the divine will. One might even argue that these purposes are an extension of God, a part of God's eternal nature, specifically the will of God. My stance is not one of arguments over whether perfection is logically coherent, as I believe it is possible to hold a logically coherent idea about perfection, but rather whether the evidence seems to support the conclusion that an objective perfect standard for things actually exists.