We will continue to explore Mr Morden's Question, “What do you want?” with the help of Thomas Aquinas on this episode of the Sci Phi Show.
- Babylon 5
- The Shadows
- Mr Morden
- Londo Mollari
- Vir Cotto
- Thomas Aquinas
- Summa Theologicae
- Augustine of Hippo
- What does a mans happiness consist in?
Worth picking up
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What do you want? We will continue to explore the question from Mr Morden on this episode of the Sci Phi Show
On the last episode we had a look at the shadow agent Mr Morden and the question he asks over and over, “What do you want?”. A question used to ensnare the Centauri Ambassador in the Shadows plans to advance their goals in the universe. We also started to consider how to answer that question with some help from the Medieval Philosopher and Theologian Thomas Aquinas. As you will recall Thomas thought that all people seek happiness and so however they answer the question, “What do you want?”, the answer will be something they think will make them happy. We considered the first two of Thomas' attempts to find the right answer to the question, Wealth and Honour and we found both of those to be sorely lacking. This time we are going to consider the next 3 possibilities and see if any of those will suffice before exploring the last 3 in a third episode and looking at how Thomas ultimately answered the question. This has turned into a bigger project than I realized when I set out to investigate it. But onto the possible sources of happiness.
The third possibly that Thomas considers is Fame or Glory. Fame and glory in this context means being known and held in high esteem by others far and wide. Thomas has three possible lines of thought about why fame might be a suitable end, the first of these is that glory and fame is what is paid to the saints, by men in this life and God in the life to come, so happiness consists in this. The second is related to the first, because good is diffusive, it seeks to spread itself, what could be a better good than fame and glory? It is by nature something that is spread around and finally fame and glory are the way a person may attain a kind of immortality in this world. Certainly Londo will achieve some measure of immortality if he becomes emperor and is elevated to Godhood by the Centauri people upon his death.
Now Thomas finds these arguments unpersuasive noting that it is entirely possible to have fame or glory unjustly attributed to a person. To be well regarded and famous even though you are a fraud. I wonder what he would make of the modern cult of celebrity and reality television along with “rites of passage” like the making and leaking of sex tapes. Thomas seems to think that fame and glory for a persons good deeds would be insufficient, so I doubt he would have taken a very charitable view of our cultures veneration of people who seek fame for their notorious rather than virtuous behavior. One strange thing about this attempt to seek fame by notoriety is that those who seek fame in this manner are also so blandly alike in how they seek it. That in seeking to make a name for themselves they treat a well worn path that many have trodden before. A strange paradox as making a name for yourself is usually meant to be for doing something unique.
Ultimately because fame and glory can be gained under false pretense and even for bad acts Thomas doesn't think it is a possible answer to the question. More than that, fame can be fleeting and can easily be ruined. Thomas is concerned that it can be ruined by a report of bad behavior, again I have to wonder what he would make of our celebrity culture today.
Could Mr Morden even offer fame and glory to us? I suppose he could, he does give that Londo by being the power behind him. Given Londo's ultimate fate, I don't think the sort of fame Morden can offer is really worth the price even if it was a proper end.
The fourth possibility that Thomas considers is Power and this is the one that Morden offers to Londo most unambiguously, the power to realize the dreams Londo has of a restored Centauri republic back when it was a roaring lion in the universe, or whatever the centari equivalaent of a lion is.
It should be noted that when people think of power they often think of political power but the idea is broader than that. Power is the ability to actualize your will, the ability to make the world conform to your desires. Often this may be political power but it isn't just that and in a sense power means freedom, the freedom to do what you want to do, the ability to make what you want actual.
Thomas sees these as possibilities. Powerful people after all have power over the lives of others, to control and do as they wish with them as well as the ability to do what they want, to be unconstrained by the sorts of limitations that the less powerful have. So perhaps happiness does consist in power because it allows you to make all or at least many of your dreams actual. Although Londo for all his power ends up enslaved and crushed. However I suppose that could reasonably be seen as Londo not being powerful enough to escape such a fate. It isn't that power failed Londo but that Londo failed power.
However Thomas has a simple answer to the question why power cannot be mans final happiness. Power can be used for and involve evil but mans final happiness is an unadulterated good. So if power can involve evil it can't be the final good. There is also the problem that power can be fleeting, you can lose it, but it seems that happiness should be obtainable and able to be kept.
More than that, like with riches, power can be accrued to the point that it becomes detrimental to the possessor. Londo became the most powerful man in the Centauri republic, the Emperor himself and yet he never has happiness and gets increasingly miserable as he gains more and more power.
If we conceive of power as freedom the ability to make your will actual, then the modern west is a place quite unique in history. Even the average person have enormous power to make their wishes actual with few constraints on their freedom to do so. The wealthy have more but even still the average person is more powerful than many people in in history. Yet inspire of this enormous freedom and power we see an epidemic of suicide and depression, especially among the most powerful of this enormously powerful group. It is strange, the ancient Israelite Philosopher King Solomon observed much the same thing about power and the freedom it brings. It isn't a bad thing but as a final end it falls short and can never properly satisfy and the disappointment that follows can be deadly.
So is there any bodily good at all that can satisfy? Thomas considers this general possibility next now that the obvious candidates are out of the way. There is the saying, “If you have your health you have everything”, suggesting that perhaps happiness can be found in the good of bodily health. Now it would seem that bodily health could be the final end we are looking for. It should be noted that health here is not simply freedom from disease but should be understood as being optimally fit and healthy, “a perfect physical specimen”. Being free of diseases is part of this but not all of it.
However this being a persons highest good and source of happiness runs into a few problems. The simplest of these is that there are plenty of animals that are more physically perfect than men, tortoises live longer, cheetahs are faster, elephants much stronger and so on. So man cannot be as perfect physically as even many of the lower animals. We already fall short here so this can't be our highest good because it cannot be achieved.
More than that, Thomas didn't think man was merely physical but body and soul. This division, not a Cartesian dualism, but a different variety of dualism and material for a later show, shows the problem with regarding bodily perfection as the source of our happiness. If you don't like the term soul here you could substitute mind or intellect. It wont be a perfect match but it should be close enough for our purposes.
Now where we run into a problem is that the body exists for the good of the soul but the soul doesn't exist for the good of the body. So a perfection of the body will be another means to an end of happiness and not the end in itself. If you remember wealth is good because it lets us buy things. It is useful because it lets us achieve the end we want, power is similar in this regard. Now the body appears to the same, although more intimately.
So it would seem that there are no bodily goods that will suffice to make a person happy. All of the possibilities will end up being means to that end and not sought as ends in themselves. So perhaps we need to move onto goods of the mind or the soul. I don't know if Mr Morden can provide us with goods of the mind like this. Even if he could i'm not sure he would be willing too as it will be difficult to bend the person to the shadows will in that case. Or perhaps not. We don't really know as the only thing Mr Morden seems to be willing to offer is some material assistance in pursuit of what someone wants and even then his motives are deceptive.
In the next episode we will get onto more soulish forms of happiness and see if they are able to satisfy our deepest longings. If they can be the end we seek. Until then you can find more information on the different ideas contained in this episode in the show notes on sciphishow.com and if you missed Babylon 5 when it aired you can find links to purchase it from Amazon in the show notes. I can be reached with comments via firstname.lastname@example.org, you can leave comment in the show notes at sciphishow.com and you can also leave comments on our Facebook page Facebook.com/sciphishow, you can also follow the show via thesciphishow on twitter. If you do enjoy the show please go over to our facebook page and click like. If there is a topic you would like me to look into please don”t hesitate to ask. And don't forget, it's Phi with a P H.
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