Does Man's Happiness Consist in Money? - Summa Theologiae I-II Q2 AI by Thomas Aquinas
Money and Happiness
Thomas begins article one with this question regarding the nature of man's happiness, and whether or not it is based on wealth. In his Scholastic style in the Summa he, of course, begins with popular viewpoints on the question that contradict his own position.
Arguments in Favor of Money
The objections consist of three arguments in favor of money bringing happiness. First, the point is made that money is what everyone is obsessed with. Isn't it money that makes the world go 'round after all? Isn't it the love of money that controls what men do? If this is the case then money must be that good which all people seek. Second, even if happiness consists in getting many types of good things in our lives, it is money which allows us to buy them and get them for ourselves, and therefore happiness can basically be equated to having money. Third, the desire for money seems to be infinite, in a sense, because it is something which is never satiated. Therefore, since man can continually pursue it without end, it must be man's happiness.
Aquinas begins his response by making a brief distinction when talking about wealth. There can be a wealth of natural goods which we use and consume, such as clothes, food, houses, tools, etc. This is different than the other form of wealth, which is man made currency in coins or bills or whatnot. This distinction will be used later in his argument.
Aquinas' first point is that it makes no sense for natural goods to be the happiness of man because, in nature, the lower is always ordained to the higher, not vice versa. And so physical goods like food, clothes, houses, etc are for the sake of man, not man for the sake of them. Rather, man must be for the sake of something higher than himself.
"Now it is evident that man's happiness cannot consist in natural wealth. For wealth of this kind is sought for the sake of something else, viz. as a support of human nature: consequently it cannot be man's last end, rather is it ordained to man as to its end. Wherefore in the order of nature, all such things are below man, and made for him ...". And in terms of artificial wealth with coins or bills, this surely is even lower than the natural goods because we use the coins to get those goods. Therefore, neither goods nor currency can be the proper and higher end for man.
Now, in responding to the objections he presented, this is what he says: First, the opinion that the world revolves solely around money is the opinion of fools because there are certainly more good things in the world than just what money can buy. So why should one listen to someone with such poor taste? "All material things obey money, so far as the multitude of fools is concerned, who know no other than material goods, which can be obtained for money. But we should take our estimation of human goods not from the foolish but from the wise: just as it is for a person whose sense of taste is in good order, to judge whether a thing is palatable."
Secondly, yes, man can buy physical things with money, but there are many intangible and spiritual things that he cannot. One cannot buy love from another person, nor friendship, nor virtue, nor God, nor many other important aspects of human life. And thirdly, to the claim that money is infinitely pursuable, Aquinas says that it depends in what sense one is talking. If one means wealth in terms of natural goods, then it is not infinite because one person can only consume so many goods. I can only consume so much food or so many clothes before being satiated. If one means in terms of desiring more and more wealth in currency, Aquinas concedes that such a desire might not be satiated, but not in a good way.
If something was authentically good, then the continual pursuit and acquiring of such a good would bring about love in the person for the thing in question. Money, rather, when pursued in this way become a cruel master and brings about resentment from the person. "The reason of this is that we realize more their insufficiency when we possess them: and this very fact shows that they are imperfect, and the sovereign good does not consist therein." 1
1 - Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Prima Secundae, Q2, A1.