The Shadow Agent, Mr Morden asks a question of those he seeks to influence, “What do you want?”, that is the question we will look at with the help of the Medieval Philosopher 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? That is the question asked by the shadow agent Mr Morden of all those he seeks to influence and it is the question we will examine on this episode of The Sci Phi Show
This is going to be the first of a two part episode examining the question, “What do you want?” and looking at it through the lens of the great 90's TV show, Babylon 5 and the philosophical insights of the medieval philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas.
I really enjoyed J. Michael Strazinski's series Babylon 5. The special effects look some what dated but it generally had good story lines and the over arching series long tale was enjoyable. One of the major story arcs told of a millenia long war between two ancient Alien races, the only still active remnants of races known as “The first Ones”. Aliens that had first reached sentience and rules the galaxy long ago but how now all faded into the pages of history and legend. The only two ancients that still had much to do with the younger races were the Vorlons and a race known as The Shadows. These two species had very different ideas of the way the galaxy should run and this on going struggle as they meddled with and fought along side the younger species had shaped the galaxy for centuries.
The Shadows and the Vorlons each had a question they would ask the different beings they sought to influence. The enigmatic Vorlons asked the question “Who are you?” and we will look at that question later. This time I want to concentrate on the questions the Shadows agent Mr Morden put to the different representatives of the major races station on Babylon 5. The question Morden would ask over and over was “What do you want?”. He asked this question because he was in search of a being that could be bent to the Shadow's purposes. Morden could offer them the power of the mighty shadow warships for their purposes. Starships capable of immense destructive power and at least early in the series before the different species learned how to fight them, unstoppable.
I have always been fascinated by Morden's question. “What do you want?”. He asks it of different characters in the show before allying himself with Londo Mollari of the Centauri and acting as the power behind him. Londo wants to see his now declining people restored to greatness in the universe. This ultimately ends badly for him. He eventually rises to the level of Centauri emperor but reigns over a blasted and destroyed Centurai prime and forever enslaved to servants of the shadows that are left behind after the shadows are defeated. HE got power and fame and glory, but it was a hollow gift in the end. His chief rival on the station was the ambassador for the Narn, G'Kar. The Narn are a race systematically enslaved and exploited by the Centari until they the Narn through off their oppressors in violent revolution. Initially G'Kar is tempted by Mordens offer and the ability get revenge on the hated s Centarui oppressors but ultimately all he wants is for his people to be safe and secure. This would be enough for him.
Londo's attache Vir, something of a comedy relief character gives a very wise answer when confronted by Morden, asking only to live long enough to see Morden beheaded and his head stuck on a pike as a warning to others that some favors come at too high a price. It makes for a blackly comic scene later in the series, but a fitting end for the meddler Morden.
I have always found the question fascinating, “What do you want?”. The medieval Philosopher Thomas Aquinas tackled this question in his unfinished lifes work, “The Summa Theologicae”. He asked the question “What does a mans happiness consist in” and he considered 8 possible answers to it. Mr Morden and his associated could offer was power, fame and honors and Thomas considered this possibility among the 8.
Thomas Aquinas had an interesting writing Style, each of the Questions in the Summa consisted of the Question, a collection of the best objections he could devise and then answers to those objections. Thomas was a Catholic Monk of the Dominican Order and he was quite an interesting character. Some interesting highlights include being known as the Dumb Ox by his fellow students, chasing off a prostitute sent to tempt him from a monastic life with a brazier, and his insistence, as a rather portly man, to walk everywhere rather than burden a donkey or horse in carrying his bulk. A wise thinker who asked the question of a teacher when young, “What is God?” and then who spent the rest of his life trying to answer the question. His life work in the Summa was intended as a summary for beginners and weighing in at around 4000 pages. I guess the expectation was that we would remain novices for some time.
He took the best of the writings of the ancient Pagans, most notably Aristotle, the text of the Bible and the writings of earlier Christian philosophers like Augustine of Hippo and Boethius and others and synthesized them into a very complete philosophical picture of the world. Thomas' writing was very concise and too the point. He wasn't given to excessive verbiage and this can sometimes make him a bit difficult to read. However he did strive to be through and he often provides excellent objections to the problems he faces before going on to answer them. He certainly doesn't shy away from the hard questions.
Thomas agreed with the ancient philosophers that the answer to the question “What do you want?” is simple, the answer is Happiness. That is what all people want, but this leads to the obvious question, What does a persons happiness consist of? and Thomas tackled that question in Question 2 of the First Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologicae. Thomas thought there were 8 possible answers to the question of what a persons happiness consists in, those were Wealth, Honors, Fame, Power, Any bodily good, pleasure, a good of the soul and finally any created good. Thomas ordered these from what he thought most foolish to wisest, although as you can guess by the last item, he though all failed, but we will get to that. Note that all the Mr Morden can offer, Fame and Power are in the first half of the list.
So lets consider the first two of these, Wealth and Honors and we will consider the remainder on the next episode.
As is typical of Thomas' style he first puts forth the best objections to a proposition he can find. In this case his objections are in favor of the idea that mans happiness consists in wealth before Thomas goes on to demolish this idea.
So how might a mans happiness consist in wealth? The first observation is that if Happiness is a mans proper end then it must consist in the thing that he has the greatest affection for and it would seem that money is a good candidate for this. He also goes on to note that a mans happiness consists in an aggregate of all good things and money can certainly buy a lot of those good things. His final argument in favor of the proposition is the observation that the lust for wealth is infinite and the desire for perfect happiness never fails, so the two are obviously one in the same.
Thomas then goes on to offer a rebuttal to these ideas. The largest problem with wealth and money as mans proper end is that money and wealth are means not ends in themselves. You use money to buy the things that will make you happy. So if it is a means to happiness it cannot be the goal.
More than that, at least natural wealth, can be satiated and filled. There are only so many gourmet meals and palatial dwellings and fast cars a person can have before any more will become pointless or a negative. This isn't true of money you can always want more of that but this artificial wealth is still only a means to an end.
Aquinas also goes on to refute each of the arguments he made in favor of the proposition that money is mans happiness. He rather bluntly calls the person who seeks money as a happiness a fool and he observes that the happiest people are rarely the richest but the most content with what they have. More than that, not all good things can be had for money, there are many spiritual goods that no amount of money can purchase. Wisdom is not something that money can buy and is likely something that will be impaired by great wealth.
So Thomas concludes that wealth cannot be the source of happiness for a man. This seems like a failed good and even if Morden could offer it, it is unlikely to make us truly happy. The ancient Israelite Philosopher King Solomon observed the same thing in Ecclesiastes. Seeing that great wealth might be able to procure many pleasures and comforts but they are in the end nothing more than an empty chasing after the wind.
But perhaps Morden can offer us something? Thomas next considers the question of Honors, which is to be held in good regard by your fellow man. Morden through the use of his shadow warships does offer Londo the ability to be the man who restores the Centauri republic. Surely this is an honorable and good goal. Surely happiness could consist in fulfilling this desire.
Thomas doesn't think so. His arguments in favor of honor go as follows. Happiness is the reward of virtue and according to Aristotle virtue is rewarded by honor. Therefore happiness consists in honor. Additionally happiness belongs to God and persons of great moral excellence and Thomas cites the Apostle Paul in noting that honor belongs to God. Finally Thomas observes that man desires happiness and few things seem more desirable than honor. Men will suffer the loss of everything, even their lives to preserve their honor or their families honor.
The last of these was at least true in Aquinas and Aristotle's day. I think as a civilization we have lost some of that today. I'm not sure that loss is a good thing.
Now Thomas disagrees that mans good consists in being honored. The basic problem is two fold. Firstly a man is honored because he has some virtue or excellence in himself. The honors is a consequence of this virtue and excellence. Thomas again quotes Aristotle who observed that honor is a reward for virtue but the point of being virtuous is not to be honored. IF anything trying to be virtuous so that you will be honored will corrupt the attempt and you will fail. You need to be virtuous for its own sake and you may be honored as a result, but it can't be the goal. This is similar to the observation about pleasure. You can't really pursue pleasure for its own sake, that is hollow, but you may derive pleasure from pursing some other good. Pleasure like honor is a reward. But we will get to pleasure later.
Aquinas also notes that honor is due to God and to excellent people but this is attesting to what they already have. It is a recognition not something that is added to what they already have.
There is also an additional difficulty. If mans happiness consisted in honor then a man could be happy with honor that was attributed to his falsely. To be honored by others even though he doesn't actually deserve such honor. I'm not sure anybody desires to be honored in that way. To be honored falsely, to be held up as courageous and strong when you know at heart you are a coward and you did not earn the honor bestowed on you. Does anybody want to live like that? It seems that would, far from making you happy actually make you miserable.
So do you think Thomas was mistaken about Wealth and Honor? We will look at his other six possibilities on the next episode. Perhaps Mr Morden can offer us something that might suffice? 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. The effects are a little dated and the first season could be better but the show is worth the watch. I can be reached with comments via email@example.com, 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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