Sum Total of Human Happiness, The

Cloth $28
218 pages, 6" x 9", introduction, footnotes, bibliography, index

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Sum Total of Human Happiness, The

Schall, James V., S.J.

This is a book on the truth of things, including the truth found in things that are wrong or even evil, the “alternative world.” But it is primarily a book about the many things that are, the infinity of particular things, as well as the highest things, both of which come to us primarily by gift and superabundance. The wonder, indeed the amazement, of our `1existence is not that there is so little, but so much. And it is intrinsic to this “so much” that, through our minds and our experience, we are open to these things that are not ourselves. The mind is capax omnium, capable of knowing all things.

What interests Fr. Schall is the delight of things that are. Aristotle taught us that a proper pleasure is found in each of our many disparate activities. He suspected that the greatest pleasure is in thinking not about what we concoct from our imaginations to think about, but what is there in the world before us. This immense variety of what is is given to us to think about. The world is not evaporated of intelligence simply because it is not our intelligence that we find there as the organizer of what is.

The “sum total of human happiness,” as Samuel Johnson has taught, is not simply the “one necessary thing,” but all things, including the unnecessary ones, the ones that include ourselves. We exist as if we are being gently, sometimes violently, drawn outside of ourselves. We have “restless hearts,” and we are glad. We are not merely unsettled by what passes and changes, but by what does not. We can love things so much we are sad . . . sad because we are not yet ready for them, for all that is. There are “haloes” in Hell. And the highest things exist “for their own sake.” Even damnation praises God by reminding us of how important are our powers to choose, or reject, what is good, what is.

We seek happiness in all we do, as Aristotle said. But we do not set out to grasp the “joy” that is given to us. This joy is a “by-product,” as Josef Pieper well said. The thesis of this book is, rather, even when we seek all these things, these delightful things, as we should, what we are seeking is that one light in which all things, including the ones before us, are. In the end, St. Thomas is right, “the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things.” This is the root of our delight, as it is the root of our being, of our standing before what is.