September 11, 2004


An Augustinian Sentence (Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., July/August 2004, Crisis)

Nulla est homini causa philosophandi nisi ut beatus sit. This sentence is found in Book 19, Chapter 1 of Augustine’s City of God. I was first consciously alerted to it because it is cited, in both Latin and English, on the first page of E. F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed. In English, it reads, “For man, there is no cause for philosophizing except (in order) that he be happy.” It is one of those absolutely riveting sentences that we frequently find in Augustine or Aquinas whose full depth we can only speculate about.

I cited this sentence from memory to a friend. She replied, laughing, “You mean if I am happy, I am a philosopher?” No doubt it is probable, the correlation between laughter and philosophy, between happiness and both. [...]

If we take a second look at Augustine’s sentence—nulla est homini causa philosophandi nisi ut beatus sit—we see that it deals with the very experience of “philosophizing,” not just with what we philosophize about. The gods do not philosophize. The gods do not seek happiness. They do not need to. We are the beings in the universe who “long” for happiness because we know that we do not fully possess it.

We also know that we have enough happiness, or the beginnings of it, to seek its fullness. Were we in a totally horrid and agonizing existence, where nothing was related to anything, we would not recognize that being as such is good. We recognize, in our daily experience, the curious fact that some things simply delight us. An ordinary experience like, when hungry, eating an excellent pasta or, when thirsty, drinking a good wine or beer leaves us with the curious wonder of why it is that something outside of us can satisfy something inside of us.

Those notions of "enough happiness" and of the quest for fullness making us happy--even though they mean that we are neither entirely full nor happy--are key to the phenomenon of all humor being conservative. For liberals the lack of completeness and the imperfection of Man is tragic, a reality they even seek to deny. For conservatives it is an obvious reality that makes Man and his pretensions inherently comic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2004 7:44 PM

It's not so much that the imperfection of humans is tragic, as it is tragic that most humans won't work on their imperfections.

Posted by: Michael "Ain't Perfect" Herdegen at September 12, 2004 3:18 AM