The Foundations of Wisdom: Ethics (Set)

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How do we truly live well? Can philosophy actually tell us how to be happy?

Constantly under attack in today’s day and age, the Church’s philosophy of what it means to be human and how to act serves as the logical consequence and culmination of all the truths of her theology and holy religion. But if we do not understand why we should act well according to the light of natural reason, it will be all the more difficult to explain why we should act in a certain way according to the light of supernatural revelation. 

In short, the Church’s philosophical system of ethics may well be the most important thing to learn today, and so it forms the culmination of our Foundations of Wisdom series. Ethics covers the teachings of Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas, showing how living a life according to the Church’s perennial philosophy not only is not contrary to reason but also leads to the culmination of what reason was made for: the perfection of the human person, serving as a vehicle for beatitude.

In this fourth and final volume of The Foundations of Wisdom, you will understand the Church’s teaching that the human person should act according to the light of natural reason by delving into the teachings of Saint Thomas and seeing how natural reason harmonizes with the ethics of Holy Mother Church. Deepen your understanding of our very selves, learning how God made us to come to know Him and see His mark in every aspect of creation. Finally, understand the journey to happiness that God through His Church has provided for us to reach our ultimate end: eternal beatitude by union with God.

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    Foundations of Wisdom - Ethics

    Posted by Charles Schmidt on Aug 4th 2023

    The Foundations of Wisdom – Ethics by Father Sebastian Walshe is remarkable for being very brief, very clear and easy to read, and very thorough. It only took about 2 hours to read this 109-page Catholic high school ethics textbook, and it was filled with profound insights and it covered the important aspects of ethics. Here are a few excerpts of how Father Walshe briefly summarizes the foundations of ethics: Ethics is the art of acting in such a way as to best achieve the ultimate purpose of human life. Three nominal and one essential definition of happiness are as follows: • Happiness is the perfect (or ultimate) good of a rational being. • Happiness is that good for the sake of which everything is chosen and which is never chosen for the sake of anything else. • Happiness is that good which totally satisfies all desires. • Happiness is the activity of contemplating God by means of virtue. The essential definition of happiness will be determined by the truth about what perfects and fulfills human nature. So we will have to make use not only of logic but also of the things we have learned in the philosophy of nature and the study of the soul. Notice how important it is to have a correct understanding of human nature in order to have a correct understanding of ethics in general and of education in particular. An error about the nature of man will result in a mistake about what constitutes human perfection and about how men should act. For example, if one were to think falsely that man’s highest perfection is found in making things (as Karl Marx thought), then an education in technology would be man’s highest perfection. If one were to mistakenly think that man’s highest perfection is found in the exercise of power (as Friedrich Nietzsche thought), then an education that teaches people how to gain power and influence (e.g., in politics) would be the best education. But as it is, none of these educations perfects man as man. It is one thing to be a good doctor or politician and another thing to be a good man. A good doctor or politician who is a bad man will end up doing much more harm than good to himself and to society and will ultimately be miserable, not happy, because he is not accomplishing the end of his nature as a human being. Therefore, it is essential that men pursue that education that perfects them first as men. Afterwards, they will be in a position to benefit themselves and society with training in some particular art or science. From our study of the soul, we discovered an order in human nature: the goods of the body are ordained to the good of the soul. The soul is the substantial form and perfection of the body, and among the parts of the soul, the rational part is the most perfect and noble. Thus, for example, our imagination is for the sake of assisting our rational power to make inductions and abstract universals. This means that the goods of the body are not the ultimate end and so cannot be happiness. (Remember, happiness is that for the sake of which everything else is desired; it is not desired for anything else.) Not only that, but the goods of the body are all for the sake of preserving our substance in existence. But the ultimate end cannot be the mere existence of our substance. Everything that exists exists for the sake of some operation or activity beyond itself that constitutes its well-being. For example, the purpose of a knife is more than its mere existence; it is made to cut, and the purpose of the eye is to see, not just to be. Therefore, the goods of the body cannot be the ultimate end of man. Some of the self-evident first principles of ethics are: • Spiritual pleasures are more delightful than bodily pleasures. • Spiritual pleasures grow the more often they are repeated. • Bodily pleasures diminish the more often they are repeated. In order for a human act to be good, it must be able to lead the one who performs it to happiness. One way to understand sin (a bad human act) is as an act that cannot make the one who does it happy. Avoiding sin is essential to happiness. As can be seen from the above excerpts, this is an excellent primer. There are excellent sections explaining why wealth and power are just tools that can be used to attain happiness and they cannot result in true happiness, which is the health and perfection of the human soul. The chapter on the virtues demonstrates how developing the virtues are necessary to finding happiness – both the intellectual and moral virtues.