Aquinas on Aristotle on Happiness
Medieval Philosophy and Theology, vol. 1 (1991)
The first nine books of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (EN) seem to present a complex theory of happiness. In them, it seems that happiness is a good that is composed of several goods, e.g., friends, wealth, political and social honors, and so on. There seems now to be a consensus that this is indeed Aristotle’s considered view of happiness. I agree with this consensus.
Given that the first nine books of the EN seem so clearly to suggest this active view of happiness, it seems odd that in his commentary on the EN, St. Thomas Aquinas attributes to Aristotle a view quite similar to his own contemplative view of happiness. In this essay I intend to show that while Aquinas’s interpretation of Aristotle is incorrect, it is philosophically interesting, textually well motivated, and guilty of no interpretative crimes.