Monday, October 4, 2010

Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard was a devout Christian and a deeply religious writer. His works explore some of the key aspects of Christianity, and he deeply explores some of the key stories at the heart of the Bible such as Adam and Eve, and Abraham and Isaac. Through his works, the reader is allowed an insight into Kierkegaard’s own personal Christianity, and an insight into what he feels is required to be a Christian.
            Kierkegaard’s Christianity is centered around faith. According to Kierkegaard, the Bible is filled with paradoxes. Fear and Trembling examines the story of Abraham and Isaac and the sacrifice that was supposed to happen. This is perhaps his best example of faith presented by Kierkegaard. Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son Isaac only because of his faith in God. God commands Abraham to do so, and he has blind faith in God and his commands. By his faith, Abraham is rewarded and gets to keep his son. This is one of the central ideas behind Kierkegaard’s Christianity: blind faith. Kierkegaard does not believe that the existence of God can be explained by reason or by science. Only by having blind faith in the existence of God is it possible for one to truly believe.
            Further, this faith actually causes us to abandon reason. Kierkegaard instead believes that we must believe by virtue of the absurd. Only by the absurd does Abraham get to keep his son Isaac. Kierkegaard believes by the same token that we must believe in the absurd in order to believe in God and to truly hold the Christian faith. Only by this faith does one truly have the opportunity to become a “true self,” and this true self is “the life-work for which God judges eternity.”[1] This faith must also be constantly renewed by affirmations of faith. It does not suffice for one merely to make on showing of faith to God. On the contrary on must repeatedly demonstrate their faith to God in order to prove that it is true.
            The last part about Kierkegaard’s faith that needs to be assessed comes at the end of his life. If a reader were to search for Kierkegaard on such sites as Wikipedia, or the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy, one may assume that he was an atheist or agnostic due to the fact that both sites have a section entitled “The Attack on the Church” (or something close to that effect). At the end of his life, Kierkegaard did not turn away from God or abandon his faith. However, he did start an attack upon the Danish Christian Church for its teachings and governance. The attack took place following the death of the Bishop Primate of the Danish People’s Church, J.P. Mynster, passed away. Kierkegaard believed that Mynster had begun to steer the church away from actual Christianity and towards “Christendom,” a more cultural phenomenon that was more aligned with the state than it was with actual Christianity. Kierkegaard published his criticism in pamphlets called “The Instant.” However, before he could publish the final works he collapsed on the street and the subsequently died in the Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen on November 11th.
            Kierkegaard didn’t espouse any particular argument for the existence of God. Like Kant, Kierkegaard thought God’s existence could not be proven by reason.  Reason, according to him, has no place in faith. God, he thought, is beyond our reasoning. This is why faith often believes in the absurd.
Kierkegaard did find human meaning and fulfillment in life by our ethical and religious commitments.  Achieving meaning in life, he said, is not something simply given to us, but it is accomplished through our decisions.  Kierkegaard thought we are, at the end of the day, on our own in making the best possible decisions for our lives.  However, he argued the best decision we could make for our lives is to rely on God.
            Human existence is in continuous conflict between two facets of reality—the infinite and the finite—according to Kierkegaard.  The finite, he suggests, is composed of the temporal events and particular moments in our lives that we use to exploit our sensations and satisfy our desires.  But life is more than just these temporary, finite enjoyments of life and, according to him, we must govern ourselves beyond our passions and aesthetic pleasures. Adhering to the aesthetic option will render our lives meaningless. 
            Again, adhering ethical and religious modes of life will allow us to reach the eternal, meaningful life.  These ethical and religious choices we make must be decisive and continuously renewed in order to bring our lives unity.  This must be done through our free will alone and we must live in accord with our ethical duty.  The best solution to fulfillment is found in the religious life because we do not have to be dependent on ourselves, and instead, we rely on God who is perfectly good.
            For Kierkegaard, one’s attitude in a relationship toward something or someone is very important for life’s meaning.  The nature of our relationship is what is most important for meaning and fulfillment.  If we try to relate ourselves to God then the proper type of relationship is one of infinite intensity since he is an infinite being.
Søren Kierkegaard first and foremost believed that God was necessary for the Good Life, but how we utilize this faith in accord with a system of both practical-normative-and meta ethics is complicated.
            As discussed in Kierkegaard raised the notion of the "teleological suspension of the ethical."  This has many implications.  Societal norms, he believed, should be recognized and understood.  These are our normative ethics and how we ought to act and we come to know these through experience and the exploration of the self as this is how we judge men both as heroes-for this he references Agamemnon-and the evil doers.  In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard shows how there must be something higher than these social norms through the example of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son because God commanded the act.  This is brought about the Kierkegaardian notion of the "teleological suspension of the ethical."
            Outwardly, Abraham is going against what we know to be right.  But his belief in God has led him to do what he feels is metaethical.  We cannot experience or know metaethics in the way we know the normative.  For this, Kierkegaard believes we must accept the absurd above reason.  Reason, he argues, cannot lead us to the ethical in any faith-based capacity, we must accept it through absurdity.
            This does not mean we should abandon reason.  We must have reason to a point, but to accept God and suspend our ethical ideas in order to serve what is higher than reason, we must converge at the absurd which is, most importantly, the willingness to accept the actions of a man like Abraham as religiously noble-as oppossed to insane-based purely on faith.
            Kierkegaard believed that, for the Good Life, we must become who we are-a concept that, quite simply, means we must not be the product of, or manipulation, society, rather we should allow ourselves to be what we are-that we must accept and understand societal norms(normative ethics), and that we must suspend this system of ethics, which follows reason, to follow a higher and absurd metaethical system which is faith-based.
For Kierkegaard, finding the good life is a process which occurs in stages. The first stage is the aesthetic stage; the stage in which the individual only cares about personal pleasure. This pleasure could include anything from the love of learning, sex, drugs, food, or anything else that involves sensual pleasure. The person’s life is consumed with obtaining these goods and has no higher moral power. This person’s life is also consumed with fighting boredom. In The Seducer’s Diary, Johannes the seducer, who in Kierkegaard’s mind is a “reflective aesthete” (Stanford), states that his real goal is, “the manipulation of people and situations in ways which generate interesting reflections in his [my] own voyeuristic mind” (Stanford). He likes seducing people not merely for the pleasure of sex, but because he finds people’s reactions fascinating and it alleviates his boredom. This egoism is characteristic of the aesthetic stage. Eventually though, the person realizes she cannot live the life the way she is, thus leading to despair. This despair either leads to finding a new goal or rising above the aesthetic stage and entering the ethical stage.
The ethical stage is the stage in which the person begins to follow moral rules. These rules could be set by society or could be some philosophical source such as Kant’s categorical imperative or the utilitarian method set up by John Stuart Mills. Unfortunately, the person eventually realizes that she can never live up to all these rules. She will always fall short of never speeding which the law forbids, never lying as Kant’s perfect duties demand, or performing the mathematical formulas for happiness in every situation which is needed to be a good utilitarian. This, again, leads to despair. As a response to this despair, the person either tries to become more ethical by being better at her moral system or desires to go to a higher stage, thus entering the religious stage.
The religious stage is the combination of the aesthetic and the ethical stage, but has its own unique features as well. According to the Stanford Philosophical Dictionary, “what is preserved in the higher religious stage is the sense of infinite possibility made available through the imagination” (Stanford). Part of the initial appeal of the aesthetic stage is creative ways of getting what one wants, such as how to seduce women better. This same imagination is now used not for self-centered means but to imagine a world beyond this one. Our minds are no longer being used to seek knowledge about the world or how to obtain sensual goods, but are being used to contemplate God and deepening our faith with Him. The ethical stage also remains. The laws in this stage though are given by God though, not society or some philosophical principal. Anything God says though can override any moral principle, a common theme in Fear and Trembling. The religious stage fuses the aesthetic and ethical together, but surpasses both of them. Kierkegaard believes that this is the stage of life that man should strive for.
The human is in a complete state of sin, according to Kierkegaard. He believes that the human is sinful, and God is completely good and all-knowing. Thus, a key to understanding God and faith is to understand that in conflicts between a human or a group of humans, and God, God is always in the right and the human(s) is always in the wrong. This allows the suspension of the ethical in cases such as the one Kierkegaard discusses in Fear and Trembling, in which he analyzes the story of Abraham and Isaac. God orders Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham obeys. Kierkegaard believes that God was right to ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, in spite of the ethical violation that human sacrifice would entail. Abraham, recognizing that he is a sinner and that God is all powerful and all knowing, complies.  Just as Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac though, God stops him saying that he now knows that Abraham is a faithful servant.
In response to Abraham’s actions, Kierkegaard calls him a “Knight of Faith.” He describes the Knight of Faith as some one who, “resigned everything infinitely and the grasped everything again by virtue of the absurd” (Søren Kierkegaard 34). This means that while Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, he believed that God would somehow give him back, whether through a bodily resurrection or having him stop mid-action as God did. Still, this concept that God was in the right and that Abraham was in the wrong permeates Abraham’s thought process, at least according to Kierkegaard. Abraham believed that God was in the right, thus anything He said transcended the ethical.
Kierkegaard believes that while we should seek God, our sinfulness sometimes prevents us from doing so. Christianity, he claims, is too much for some people because they are unable to overcome their own sinfulness. In The Sickness Unto Death Kierkegaard discusses these people. He states that, “it is too high for him, because his mind cannot grasp it, because he cannot obtain the bold confidence in the face of it and must get rid of it, pass it off as a bagatelle, nonsense and folly, for it seems that it would choke him” (Søren Kierkegaard 85-86). This means that the enormity of God sacrificing His own son to have a relationship with us is unfathomable to many, to which Kierkegaard would argue that this is where a leap of faith must occur. Still, these people are blinded by their sin and are too afraid to make this leap and accept God’s love. This leads to another component of human nature: free will. Throughout Kierkegaard’s philosophy, free will is present. One can accept or reject God, just as one can make a leap of faith and go to a higher level, or choose to drown in his sinfulness and remain at the level he is. Regardless, this freedom, combined with our sinfulness, defines us and our relationship to God and others.
            Kierkegaard does believe that there is a God. Because his father was so burdened his entire life by the thought that God would take his children before they reached the age of Christ at his death, he imposed many religious obligations upon his children along with his Christian faith. Søren must have believed there is a God because of his pursuit of theological knowledge his entire life. It is also known that he broke off his engagement with one whom he loved dearly so that it wouldn't interfere with his relationship with God.
            Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was born on May 5th 1813 in Copenhagen. He was child number seven of seven born to Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard and Ane Sørensdatter Lund. Michael was a very melancholic man who was very religious and full of guilt. This guilt was thought to have been imposed by the fact that Ane was conceived out of wedlock. Michael imposed this guilt upon his children whom he believed would all pass away before the age of 33; the age of Christ at his death. Since his childhood, Michael had cursed God. His surname is derived from the fact that his family was indentured to the parish priest, who provided a piece of the church (Kirke) farm (Gaard) for the family's use. Michael inherited his uncles fortune and augmented it by various investments. He gave to his only surviving sons, Peter and Søren, his material wealth and his sharp intellect and guilt.
            Søren was a melancholy child. He learned to avoid teasing by having a canny appreciation of other people's psychological weaknesses. He distinguished himself at school by excelling in Latin and history. Surprisingly, he struggled in Danish which was his mother tongue. He eventually became a master of Danish and was one of the two great stylists of it in his time; the other being Hans Christian Andersen. Although Søren's mother is never mentioned in his writings, her tongue is omnipresent. Because Søren has said in one of his works “… an omnipresent person should be recognizable precisely by being invisible," we can speculate that she is even more present in his works than his father.
            It seemed he was destined for a life as a pastor in the Danish People’s Church. In 1840, just before he enrolled at the Pastoral Seminary, he became engaged to Regina Olsen. He broke the engagement not long after because he thought it would distract him from his supernatural calling. The breaking of the engagement allowed Kierkegaard to devote himself monastically to his religious purpose, as well as to establish his outsider status (outside the norm of married bourgeois life). It also freed him from close personal entanglements with women, thereby leading him to objectify them as ideal creatures, and to reproduce the patriarchal values of his church and father. In 1848 Kierkegaard had a spiritual crisis. His works after this point began to bluntly attack the church and Christendom's complacency. He hoped to anger his contemporary Christians enough to inspire in them a stronger relationship to their faith. In 1850 he published Indøvelse In Christendom (Practice in Christianity), under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus.


"Søren Kierkegaard." Stanford Philosophical Encyclopedia. 2009. Web. <>.
Kierkegaard, Søren . Fear and Trembling. 1st. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.
Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness Unto Death. 1st. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983. Print.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Either/Or. 1st. New York: Penguin Press, 1992. Print.

[1] McDonald, Williams, “Soren Kierkegaard” accessed 4/26/10

Monday, September 27, 2010

Friederich Nietzsche

1. Does God exist? If yes, why? If no, why not?
According to Nietzsche, God does not exist. He is best known for his proclamation that “God is dead”. He does not offer arguments for this belief directly, but does explain how belief in God, morality, and value might have arisen. These things, he argues, are not objective qualities of the universe, but rather were created by humans for self-serving reasons. He differentiates between noble morality and ressentiment morality. Noble morality came about through the ‘power to name’ and did not require the existence of God for its justification. The wealthy and powerful ‘blond beasts’ determined that their qualities were good qualities and named them as such. For example, these knights were white-skinned and so named white as good, which made black bad as a by-product of the positive-naming process. Ressentiment morality came about through resentment by the weak, poor, and powerless and did require God for its justification. This resentment was aimed at the people of the noble morality and is a process of negative-naming. The holders of this morality determined that those who are wealthy and powerful are bad and the meek and poor must be good as a by-product of the negative-naming process. This morality was written into the Bible so that it appeared that the qualities of ressentiment morality were the favored of God.

2. What is the connection between God and human fulfillment? Do we need God to be happy?

Nietzsche does not believe that God is necessary to achieve a sense of morality, and many people associate living a moral life with living a “good” and happy life, using the terms interchangeably.  According the Nietzsche, the development of morality does not come from some all knowing higher power, but rather is an ongoing process that is created by people and people’s perceptions and understanding of what actually constitutes “good.”  He explores this in his first treatise of Genealogy of Morality, suggesting if we remove this Godly exterior surrounding morality, morality as a whole loses its holy appeal and becomes something that people feel they are more able to probe, question, and manipulate; their own beliefs created it, so they also hold the power to change it.  This kind of philosophy contributes to happiness because it gives people independence and puts them in control of their own path rather than leading them to believe they are subject to the approval or disapproval of some higher power.  Not only does this sense of control lead to happiness, it also makes people more proactive and likely to actively engage in their own destiny rather than sit back and just let things happen to them.  He addresses this slightly with his argument on slave and master morality, discussing how slaves feel resentment towards their masters and this resentment leads to the buildup of negative emotions towards the masters because of the control they extort over the slaves, while the masters live life more in the moment and take successes and sorrows as they come, neither becoming excited over accomplishments or devastated over pitfalls.  This is representative of a Godly relationship between people and God; people are the slaves and God is the master, and people begin to resent God if life does not go as they wish.
Another component Nietzsche advocates is the power and mastery of an individual’s own free will. In treatise two he discusses how the development of conscience came about because of people’s ability to make promises.  When people make promises, they subject themselves to a sort of predictable behavior because they have to be capable of remembering the promise made and of holding themselves accountable and following through.  Predictability creates a set of social rules and customs, and this gives way to a sense of responsibility and people who can make promises because they have mastered their own free will by showing their capacity to make decisions.  This is the precursor to his philosophy on the will to power, which asserts that people essentially want power other people and the power to control.  This can be seen in large scale all the way down to the trivial, and is the driving factor behind most behavior.  People want others to know that they are the dominant one in whatever setting and will do what is necessary to gain that level of control.  This contributes to happiness in much the same way that viewing morality as an everchanging process contributes to happiness: people like knowing they have the ability to control and make changes regarding their lives and destinies.  Obviously, when certain people are in power over others, this creates suffering on the part of one group.  Nietzsche feels that the concept of God was created by men in an attempt to guarantee that no suffering ever went unnoticed.  In that sense, God is not needed for happiness, but is more of a safe haven for those who are in pain and is someone in which they can justify their suffering because, otherwise, it would be for nothing

3. What practical advice does your philosopher give for how to live a good life?
The good life is attainable by men with a higher nature. It is not a life of happiness (in fact it may even guarantee a difficult life of social ostracism), but it is a life of excellence. To live this life of excellence, one needs a spirit “strengthened by wars and victories, for whom conquering, adventure, danger, pain have become a need; for this one would need acclimatization to sharp high air, to wintry journeys, to ice and mountain ranges” (Nietzsche, 66). This person is creative, strong-willed, and enjoys solitude. So, essentially, the good life for Nietzsche is a lonely life of hyper-masculinity and fascist ideals.

4. How would your philosopher define human happiness, or the good life for human beings? What ethical standards, character traits, and principles are most relevant?

Nietzsche was not a moralist.  He was a moral critic.  He believed that happiness was rather irrelevant to the good life, and that morality was actually an hindrance to human excellence, an excuse for weakness.  Nietzsche wanted people remove themselves from oppression and live a life of excellence. 
The first plank of this platform is to remember that Nietzsche divided good into two meanings: one being that of Socrates, in that a good knife is sharp, and the other being the antithesis of evil.  A murderer is evil, not because they have violated a holy dictate, but because they are a bad person, one who is not using their time and abilities best.  A bad knife cuts poorly, a bad person acts poorly.

Nietzsche correctly points out that morality is not about being good, it is about not being evil.  the ten commandments is composed of many things you shouldn't do, and a couple of things that you should. One shalt not steal, shalt not kill, shalt not commit adultery, these are all ways to prevent yourself from being evil, not a recipe for making yourself good.  Thou shall love your neighbor.   Good people spend their time loving their neighbor, but this is true for the nature of love and neighborliness and is likely as selfish as not.  The commandment recognizes an already existant rule of morality.  The only exceptions are the commandments addressing the name of God and the sabbath.  These can be seen as cultural dictates, not moral issues, and can be dismissed.

This is an important character trait that Nietzsche would approve of, this positive morality, this search to be more than not evil.  It is license to try to be great.  Remember, being a bad person can occur because of failure or lack of talent, being an evil person can only occur by will of a bad person to persist in badness.  A bad person disvalues other lives, an evil person acts on that lack of value by killing.  If they did not kill someone, they would not be a good person, just not an evil one.  A good person values life.  This is a positive statement, and one about the nature of the person, not their beliefs or actions. 

An ethical standard Nietzsche might consider is one of greatness.  Like Aristotle before him, he didn't believe in a morality that limited action to prevent badness, but an understanding of the virtues of a human.  Basically, Nietzsche wanted his knives to be sharp.  He can often seem to be advocating for selfishness or pride, as he does in presenting the ubermensch in Thus Spake Zarathustra.  How ever, remember that Aristotle would not have felt this way: the ubermensch encouraged other people to shrug off their oppression and look to find the good, not avoid the bad.  He was a good person, by his own nature.  His excellence necessitated his pride.  To be meek, to be wary of mentioning his goodness would actually decrease his goodness, by keeping it to himself.

Nietzsche was very against Christian morality because it was not one of native humanity.  To outsource moral discovery to this God is to relieve humanity of the burden to be moral.  If God exists, then it is his job to be perfectly moral.  It is the job of the human to follow his commandments as best they can.  Basically, it is up to God to be good and up to us to not be evil.

5. How would your philosopher describe human nature and its relevance to morality and happiness

            Nietzsche had strong views about the “base” nature of humanity.  He viewed humans as inherently “immoral” beings, but only in the sense that our natural impulses go against the moral code we ourselves invented.  Nietzsche wasn’t quite a moral relativist, mostly because he believed the natural state of humans to be preferable to the “ascetic ideal” we have created.  He called the moral movements of society and religion “slave morality,” and viewed adherence to it as a needless and lifelong conflict with oneself.  Nietzsche believed our society curbs our nature constantly, and that we should embrace the features that appear to make us “base” but would actually lead to greatness.  As such, Nietzsche described himself as an “immoralist,” in that he would not submit to the false morality we created in direct opposition to human nature.
            To oppose the popular moral code, Nietzsche articulated what he called the “Will to Power.”  He believed that all human behavior could be understood as a struggle to gain more and more power over others and over the world.  He later expanded this idea to apply to all living things, suggesting that the evolutionary will to survive was a function secondary to the Will to Power.  He uses war and ancient societies as examples of this aspect of human nature.  In war, we risk our lives for power over others, and ancient heroes did not simply value life – they wanted power, glory and greatness, and often died at a young age to try to secure it. 
Nietzsche saw all human behavior through this lens, which opposed most philosophical ideas of his time (and most philosophical ideas now).  The Will to Power manifests in humans through ideas like ambition, achievement, and striving to reach the highest possible position in life.  It is a struggle for greatness and admiration in your own time and for remembrance when you’re gone.  Nietzsche believed human nature was this desire for power and greatness, not to be “happy” (as utilitarianism might suggest) to be “good” (as Aristotle might suggest) or to be “united with the divine” (as Christian philosophy might suggest).

6. You can give some of the biographical information about your philosopher that is interesting and/or relevant to his views.

The life of Friedrich Nietzsche was ultimately one of tragedy, which could help to explain the bitter nature of some of his philosophical writings.  He was born on October 15, 1844 – a shared birthday of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, his namesake.  Much is made of Nietzsche’s father having been a Lutheran minister, but his religious influence on Nietzsche was short-lived.  Before Nietzsche’s fifth birthday, his father died of a brain ailment.  Less than a year later (in 1850), his younger brother also died, leaving Nietzsche with his mother, older sister and grandmother, who died in 1856.  These early encounters with death no doubt helped shape Nietzsche and his worldview, although he overcame them and became an accomplished student of theology early on. 
Nietzsche came of age in the 1860s, a time when Europe was focusing more attention on natural sciences and just as Charles Darwin was challenging traditional truths about the natural world.  This was no doubt influential to Nietzsche, who shifted his focus to philology and philosophy and began reading the works of atheistic and pessimistic authors like Schopenhauer and Friedrich Albert Lange. Nietzsche became fascinated with the ideas of naturalism, materialism and the general rebellion against tradition and authority that helped define the cultural movement at the time.
He became a professor of classical philology at the almost unprecedentedly early age of 24, but his first book damaged his reputation as a classical scholar badly.  In the 1870s, Nietzsche shifted his attention to philosophy instead, where he experienced utter insignificance.  His first five books as an independent philosopher sold so few copies that no publisher would touch his sixth, On the Genealogy of Morality in the 1880s.  Printed on a “vanity press,” Nietzsche had to pay the complete cost of its publication, adding monetary worries to his ever-growing list of anxieties.
Nietzsche suffered debilitating medical problems from the time he was a child, with symptoms including bouts of severe, almost blinding shortsightedness, migraines and violent indigestion.  A severe horseback riding accident in 1868 and illnesses in the 1870s worsened his condition, and he was forced to resign from gainful employment by 1880.
It became increasingly clear to Nietzsche that his writings were not well received in his homeland of Germany, and employers made it known that he was not welcome there.  He traveled constantly in search of work and weather more conducive to his health, having broken his relationships with his mother and sister over a failed courtship.  Nietzsche had few friends and lived in solitude, and his unpopular philosophical views destroyed professional relationships as quickly as personal ones.  An exception was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who was no more pleasant or happy than Nietzsche.
In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse.  From a psychiatric ward, he sent what he called “Madness Letters” to old friends and public figures alike, indicating a complete breakdown.  He suffered two strokes before 1890, the latter leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to speak or walk.  After contracting pneumonia, a third stroke killed Nietzsche on August 25, 1900 in the care of his mother and sister.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thomas Aquinas

Biographical Information

The birth year of Thomas Aquinas is debated, most commonly documented as 1225, though some will argue 1227. Aquinas was born to father, Landulph who was Count of Aquino, and mother, Theodora who was Countess of Teano. It was foretold of Thomas’ future that, “He will enter the Order of Friars Preachers, and so great will be his learning and sanctity that in his day no one will be found to equal him".  At age five, Thomas first began to study with the Benedictine Monks and was noted as having been strong in devotion and meditation. Around 1236 it is noted that Thomas went to University of Naples by the request of Monte Cassino. Before long, Thomas was able to retell the lessons from his professors with more detail and description than that which was originally used. Between 1240 and 1243 Thomas joined the Order of St. Dominic under the guidance and influence of a prominent preacher from Naples, John of St. Julian. The order feared that Theodora would capture Thomas, and thus they sent him away but two of his brothers were soldiers, and they were able to capture him during this process. Aquinas remained captive for two years in which his family attempted to ruin his vocation, before he was released. Through this time, he was able to obtain copies of the Holy Scriptures, Metaphysics by Aristotle, and Sentences by Peter Lombard. IN the year 1245 Thomas went to Paris as a student under the care of Albertus Magnus, the best professor within the Dominican Order. The pair returned to Cologne in 1248 and Thomas began to teach as an apprentice. While teaching a course on Sentences, Thomas Aquinas produced the base plan for his own interpretation Summa Theologica. When it was time for Thomas to receive his Doctorate degree, there was great debate among the church and the school officials. In 1257 Thomas Aquinas received his doctorate. This is when Thomas Aquinas life became to focus on prayer, writing, teaching, and spreading the word of God. Aquinas greatly enjoyed the ability to do such and continued until December 6, 1273 when a vision came to Thomas saying that he could write no more. Aquinas made the statement that, "I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value". At this point, Thomas is said to have began preparing for death. It was March 7, 1274 when Aquinas fell to his death. Because of the many miracles that were proven from the life of Thomas Aquinas, he was canonized a saint by John XXII on July 18, 1323. The body of Thomas Aquinas was given to the Dominican Order through the command of Urban V in 1369. In 1628 a shrine was erected in Thomas’ honor, only to be destroyed during the French Revolution. The body was erected at this point and moved to the Church of St. Sernin where a gold and silver sarcophagus holds the body. The Cathedral of Naples, and the University of Paris also have relics of bone from Thomas Aquinas.


Kennedy, Daniel. "St. Thomas Aquinas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 26 Apr. 2010 <>.

Does God exist? Why or why not?

Yes, God most certainly exists for Aquinas. His whole theory not only relies on God’s being, but is also entirely rooted in principles surrounding his existence. Aquinas outlines a “Hierarchy of Being” in which God is listed as number one, angels second and humans directly below the supernatural realm at three. This order recognizes that the higher up on the list, the greater capacities/abilities are available. This list, therefore, attributes to the fact that God is the most supreme good in this life, so his existence is implied. Aquinas argued that we do need God for the good life in order to show us what the good life is, thus, enabling us to live it.

What is the connection between God and human fulfillment? Do we need God to be happy, or not?

After stating his 5 proofs for the existence of God, Thomas Aquinas goes on to describe the appropriate relationship we are to have with God, and how this relates to human flourishing and happiness.  Aquinas believes that human fulfillment can only come through God, and also having a personal relationship with him.  The ultimate flourishing for humans on earth is knowing and loving God, and the highest good is knowing God’s truth and emulating it. 

He does, however, realize that this is an unachievable task! God is all good and perfect in his ways.  Because we are imperfect beings, we will never be able to reach true happiness here on earth.  We will always have something to strive for or a flaw we need to improve.  Because we cannot be perfect, we cannot truly be in God’s prefect image, and therefore we can never truly be happy here on earth.  This is because we as humans are in between the material and immaterial world, which Aquinas spells out in his hierarchy of being.  The immaterial world contains God and all of the angels, and the immaterial world contains animals, plants and inanimate objects.  Humans are unique in the fact that we are in both worlds, having both a physical body and an immaterial soul.  As long as we are attached to the material world, we cannot achieve the highest good of emulating the character of God because we are flawed creatures.

This does not mean, however, that we should not attempt to copy his perfection.  Everything we do should be grounded in a desire to know and love God.  We can increase our knowledge of and likeness to God through the development of our capacities such as intellect and will.  As we grow closer to God, and increase our knowledge of God, we are better able to know and understand his truth, and therefore we are better able to imitate his nature.  This brings us closer to our ultimate goal of emulating God’s perfection, which Aquinas states is the highest form of human flourishing, which eventually leads to our closest form of happiness here on earth before we can reach true happiness in its perfection in the afterlife after we completely enter the immaterial world.

He also points out several things that are not related to human happiness.  He specifically states that happiness does not come from wealth, honors, fame, glory, or power.  An aquinas state that these cannot be keys to happiness because evil men can have all of these things, but evil is not compatible with true happiness.  Also, a man can obtain all of these things yet still be unhappy.  Aquinas points out that everything on the list depends, at least to some extent, on fortune.  Some men are more fortunate than others, yet fortune cannot dictate happiness.  Aquinas believes that happiness can be achieved by anyone no matter what their status or wealth is in this world.  Essentially, happiness is a completely internal good.  This differs from the views of Aristotle who believed there are several external needs for human happiness.

What practical advice does your philosopher give for how to live a good life?

Aquinas would define a good life for humans as recognizing and exercising the rational capacity of the soul. The rational capacity of the soul is considered the greatest facet of human character according to Aquinas, simply because it moderates all of the other capacities and is continually striving towards the greatest good, which is God. Recalling that God is at the apex of the “Hierarchy of Being” previously addressed, it is suggestive to the fact that there is nothing greater for one to seek. Aquinas advocates that an individual who continually strives toward knowing and loving God is ultimately progressing towards a good life, which leads to a happy life. Aquinas defines happiness in two different forms, though both clearly recognize God as being the necessary center. First, there is the sort of happiness that is a mere reflection of the better sort, this defined in article 7 of Aquinas’ The Treatise On The Last End. Think allegory of the cave sort of happiness, which is represented by Aristotle's works (i.e. contemplation of God's thoughts, striving for virtuous living, etc.). This pseudo-happiness is a mere impression of true happiness which cannot be achieved in this life, only imitated. The true and perfect sense of happiness, however, is exhibited in the Divine Essence of Him. Aquinas writes in article 8 of The Treatise on The Last End:
It is impossible for any created good to constitute man's happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man's appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man's will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Ps.102:5: "Who satisfieth thy desire with good things." Therefore God alone constitutes man's happiness. (Christian Classic Ethereal Library)

The final aim consists of supernatural communion with us and God, this far surpassing any capacities possessed by humans. If we recall the foundation of these forms of happiness, we naturally understand that Aquinas believes God is the key to a good life and happiness in all its variations. For this reason, the only possible method for attaining a pseudo sense or mere reflection of flourishing in this life can be achieved through pursuing the sentiment of knowing and loving God. This involves perfecting the intellect in accordance with the will so as to skew them towards the things of the divine.

In order to fashion such a lifestyle so as to yield the most fulfilling and greatest good, Aquinas outlined various virtues to aid in the process. According to him, it is imperative that we cooperate with God and allow him to transform our very nature so that we might be better equipped to embrace the divine beatitudes. The Cardinal Virtues, namely: prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance, are all necessary to constitute a moral lifestyle. These characteristics are exemplary for how to approach various situations in life so as to capitulate the best outcome. Aquinas also presents the Theological Virtues of faith, hope and charity to encourage partaking of the divine nature. These virtues aid in keeping individuals oriented towards the things of God. They also stress the immense dependence placed upon God by humans. By implementing these virtues into a lifestyle, a reflection of God is exemplified and this naturally draws us closer to Him. With all of this in mind, it would seem reasonable to argue that Aquinas believes human happiness cannot be constituted by any created human good. In the text he indicates that the ultimate aspiration is indeed happiness, "For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him" (Christian Classics Ethereal Library). It seems that happiness is an innate goal for everyone; in fact, the ULTIMATE good. Clearly, only God is truly capable to fulfill this void because he totally embodies and exhibits what happiness is all about. Any created human good simply would not suffice since God is happiness and happiness is the ultimate goal.  


Aquinas, Thomas. "Christian Classic Ethereal Library". Calvin College Computer
Science. April 12, 2010 <>

How would your philosopher define human happiness, or the good life for human beings? What ethical standards, character traits, and principles are most relevant?

Aquinas believed that human flourishing comes from knowing and loving God and that everything we do should be ultimately grounded in our desire to know and love Him. As part of this quest, there are certain standards and principles deemed important by God that we as humans are responsible for possessing and upholding. Aquinas believed that the supreme moral principle in God’s eyes was to ‘love one’s neighbor as oneself’, much like the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In order to carry out this principle or to follow the Golden Rule, one must be virtuous.

Aquinas thought a virtue to be a habit that makes a person and his or her actions good, and an action could be considered good if it brings us closer to God. He divided the different virtues into two categories. The first category encompassed the Cardinal Virtues and the second category included the Theological Virtues. The Cardinal Virtues were four virtues that could be acquired by humans during their lifetime and could be very dependent on situations and life experiences. The Theological Virtues, on the other hand, were virtues given directly from God and infused by His grace.

According to Aquinas, the four Cardinal Virtues were prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance. Prudence focuses on one’s ability to use reason when governing oneself, and the ultimate goal of prudence is to look for the good that one can do. Fortitude is the virtue concerned with the strength and courage one has when facing obstacles or adversity. Justice is the virtue that deals with a person being just, impartial, and fair in their decisions no matter the circumstances. A just person uses reason to make these decisions. Finally, temperance is concerned with showing moderation in action, thought, or feeling and a temperate person is satisfied with the simplicity of things. Again, the Cardinal Virtues were thought to be acquired thanks to different situations and life experiences. For example, we’re not always born to be the strongest and most courageous of individuals but sometimes we endure situations that give us these traits, or the virtue of fortitude.

The three Theological Virtues were faith, hope, and charity and these virtues were thought to be given directly to us from God. Faith is the virtue concerned with the firm belief one has in something for which there may be no proof. To narrow this down and compliment Aquinas’ view, faith is the belief and trust in and loyalty to God. When one has faith, they are ultimately searching for the truth, and in this context the truth could be viewed as the way the world came to be. Hope is the virtue that focuses on a desire to obtain something and in this context hope is the desire to obtain that which is good since what is good is closely related to God. Finally, charity is the act of showing goodwill and selfless love toward others. Aquinas believed charity to be the ultimate good and linked this virtue closely to God and His will.

With all of the virtues, it is easy to see how they correlate to the supreme moral principle of ‘loving one’s neighbor as oneself.’ Each virtue is related to either closely monitoring one’s own behavior to create more positive relationships with those around them or showing the selfless love toward others that God deems to be incredibly important. 

How would your philosopher describe human nature and its relevance to morality and happiness?

According to Aquinas, human nature includes two parts of the human which includes the body and the soul. He describes how human brains do not think, but the soul in fact is the part of the human that contemplates. Aquinas statest that “In the present state of life in which the soul is united to a passible body, it is impossible for our intellect to understand anything actually, except by turning to the phantasms” (Summa Theologiae, Treatise on Man, Question 84, Article 7). What he is saying is that the soul processes sensory data by obtaining “phantasms” or mental pictures, which will in turn lead to forming abstract universal concepts. Overall, the aim in life for humans he says is to contemplate these universal concepts that are formed by phantasms. Since this is so, and since God is a type of universal concept, then human nature is to contemplate God.  Aquinas believes that what God does is contemplate his own existence, so if humans contemplate God, then they are being like God.

Aquinas also speaks on the original sin of man being the downfall of human nature.  According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aquinas believes that  the original sin of Adam and Eve caused many consequences on the nature of man. It states, “the consequence of this loss is the disorder and maiming of man’s nature, which shows itself in “ignorance, malice, moral weakness, and especially in concupiscentia, which is the material principle of original sin” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Aquinas sees human nature as not being completely corrupted by sin, but that it is passed down through generations of man stemming from the original sin in the garden of Eden. Because of the fall of man, human nature includes such things that stray from the definition of moral, so Aquinas believes that we need God’s help in order to restore the good of our nature and bring us into conformity with His will. God gives us his grace which comes in the form of divine virtues and gifts.

Aquinas also sees human’s as rational beings and their reason is comprised of two powers which are the cognitive and appetitive powers. The cognitive power is the intellect which makes it possible for us to know and understand, as well as makes us able to capture the goodness of a thing. The appetitive power is the will which is the native desire for the understood good.  According to Aquinas, “since good is the object of the will, the perfect good of a man is that which entirely satisfies his will” (ST, Treatise on the Last End, Q5, A8).  The intellect must supply the will with the object, and when the intellect tells the will that something is good or bad, the will can then follow through with the correct action.

According to Aquinas, human morality is properly actualizing the capacities we have by our nature as human beings. Those humans who truly seek to understand and see God will necessarily love what God loves. This type of love requires morality, which is given to humans through God’s grace. He also goes on to say that true happiness for humans “consists in the vision of the Divine Essence” (Summa Theologiae, Treatise on the Last End, Question 5, Article 5). True happiness for Aquinas is being in God’s presence and seeing Him with his/her own eyes. However, the way that humans can find the best happiness as humans is to contemplate God and His existence, while also loving and becoming like God. He shows this by stating, “But it did give him free-will, with which he can turn to God, that He may make him happy” (ST, Q5, A5 ). This shows that man may become happy in this world’s definition of happiness simply by choosing to turn to God and love Him.

Monday, September 13, 2010


There has been discussion in our class on Aristotle’s beliefs of various issues.  These included God’s existence, what constitutes as a good life, and the relationship between the two.      First off, Aristotle believes that there is only one god.  He explains the reasoning for this conclusion using the Metaphysical concept of the “unmoved mover”.  He states that the heavens are a constantly moving entity that is eternal.  Since it is constantly in motion and communications motion to all things, it requires the presence of an Unmoved Mover.  This mover is one that shows potential to be something else and one that always stays consistent in itself.  It is made up of all the attributes that define its existence, while it also shows potential to exist as another entity exists.  The Unmoved mover exists for the purpose of moving the first mover while remaining unmoved and eternal.  The first mover moves the heaven without itself being moved, either self moved or moved by another entity. Aristotle believed that the Unmoved mover is that of God, because He could not impart motion as the first efficient cause.  In order to do so, it would suggest that God himself is a movable entity, and if God can be put into motion, then He would be moved and movable. God is the only being that has found to be Distinct from the natural world.  He is self-existing, and therefore necessarily exists apart from everything.
            He is the only entity that can transcend past itself while still being of itself. He is eternal, unchanging, and therefore does the best thing.  God believes that contemplating is the best of things.  He believes that the best things are those that are good and simple in nature.  Because of his own contemplation of his thought, Aristotle believes in God’s existence.  One of human nature can reach fulfillment and enlightenment through contemplating God’s existence.  The following premises state:
(Premise 1) If Happiness is a virtuous activity, then it will be in accord with the most supreme virtue.
(Premise 2) The most supreme virtue is theoretical study and contemplation.
(Premise 3) The most supreme object of contemplation is the divine.
(Conclusion) It follows that happiness consists in the activity of contemplation of the divine.
            This conclusion emphasizes why God exists, and it is a fair assumption to believe that God is needed for the fulfilling life.  Aristotle’s main philosophy is all about how we as humans can have a fulfilling life.  He lays out some of the most prominent doctrines concerning human ethics that we still use and discuss today.  His definition of Happiness has been used to shape much of our thinking in the western world.  For one to be happy, they must simply be a virtuous person.  
            Where does God fit into Aristotle’s plan though?  For Aristotle, happiness is something that we can work towards.  We achieve it through our life style. So in that sense, we do not need God to be happy.  We can be happy all on our own.  However, human fulfillment is an entirely different thing. 
            The God of Aristotle is described as the first mover. He is the One who started the universe in motion.  But that’s where He left it for Aristotle.  God is far too busy contemplating the things that He has created and span the vast universe to care too much about the few humans that live on earth.  But the best that we can do is to try and focus on the divine intellect of God.  “The intellect is the highest thing in us, and the objects it apprehends are the highest things that can be known.”  This means that the greatest Good that we can do for ourselves in this lifetime is to think about the highest things, or the things that God would think about.
            It is in that sense that we need God for the complete fulfillment of our lives.  However, he doesn’t seem to say much else on the matter.  The majority of his time is spent explaining how we can be happy and live a pretty good life, not necessarily around God.  Aristotle puts more emphasis on the Doctrine of the Mean.     
            Aristotle believes that a good life is lived through being virtuous.  These virtues should become a habit within the person.  Because of this misconception, it is believed that living a life of mindless routine is the happy life.  However, this is not the case.  Aristotle believes that one must actively live with moral virtue.  By doing so, the mortal virtue is a “hexis”.  This is the active condition one must try to hold themselves to.
            The way we can do this is to always be prepared of all the external circumstances we may face in our life.  New obstacles in life allow the person to face adversity, and they can either fall deficient of the mean or excessive of the mean when acting with virtue.  The different event triggers the passive condition because the person is unaware of how to act while observing the situation.  After repeated exposure, the passive condition becomes the active condition because the virtuous action becomes a habit.  However, this action is not virtuous unless one is in stable equilibrium of the soul.  One needs to be able to choose his or her actions knowing for the sake of doing what is right. 
            The desires and impulses that surround us propose a distraction when trying to live the virtuous or good life.  Throughout life experience, we become more adapted to such temptations.  Even though temptations are passive, they are consistent throughout our life.  Through repeated exposure of these temptations, we can either give in too much or give in too little.  We then fall outside of “The Doctrine of the Mean”.  We are then not content because we are either acting deficiently or excessively on our desires.  Only through living virtuously in the mean, can we be truly happy.
            This moral activity can be taught unto young children from society.  When young they are naïve, but they are more mature as they age.  This maturity defines his or her character because of their virtuous activities, which becomes an active condition.  This can be seen in society because one must conform to society at least to some extent in order to be recognized as virtuous. An example of a person that defies a life of living virtuously could be psychopaths because they selfishly give in to desires excessively without the care of others.  In an individualistic society, this can be seen as rash.  However, the person that conforms too much can be seen as cowardice in this individualistic society because he or she is not being true.  However, these actions can be viewed subjectively by person, but objectively by society.  An example of a system that enforces virtuous activity would be our justice system. However, Aristotle believes that people do not take our laws as seriously when trying to live a life of virtuous activity.  Instead, our actions are influence more by the people close to us or what he considers genuine friendship.  He believed that genuine friendship is a beautiful thing because we are able to act selflessly virtuous for our good friends.  Without genuine friendship or the highest form of friendship, one cannot obtain happiness.  He believed that the highest good in this realm is the beautiful.  By living virtuously, one experiences the beauty of doing good to one another.
            According to Aristotle there are three different kinds of lives that a person can live: a life for pleasure, a life for politics and a life of studying.  Being a little bias Aristotle chose the life of studying to be the highest form of life, in particular studying the good life. The good life for Aristotle is centered on being good, virtuous and finding our telos.  In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines the word good as many different things. He defines the word good as “what-it-is, as god and mind, in quality, as the virtues, in quantity as the measured amount, in relative, as useful, in time as the opportune place” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I Chapter 6, 25-27).  All of these definitions for the word good make it tough to decipher which exactly correlates to the good life for human beings. One would assume that Aristotle was talking about the virtues when he was deciding what the best life for humans was because he goes into such great detail of the virtues.  The virtues are all encompassing and if followed to a tee would produce the greatest of lives.  Human good is found in happiness because happiness is the means to our end. That happiness is found in the virtues and more accurately stated by Aristotle, “and so the human good proves to be activity of the soul in accord with virtue and indeed with the best and most complete virtue” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I Chapter 7, 16-19).  If indeed that is true then what is the highest and most complete virtue?  This is debatable and while all virtues are important to the entire picture the two virtues that govern the others are wisdom and prudence. Wisdom combines experience with knowledge in order to make rational decisions while prudence is a measuring stick used to stay between the excess and deficiency.  One could assume that a person who was wise and also prudent would live the best life because they would not only know the virtues, but they could find a perfect balance of the two. According to Aristotle, the telos acting in accord to virtue and the highest virtues of wisdom and prudence allow us to work towards the greatest end.
            Aristotle believes that, “human beings should aim at a life in full conformity with their rational natures; for this, the satisfaction of desires and the acquisition of material goods are less important than the achievement of virtue.  A happy person will exhibit a personality appropriately balanced between reasons and desires, with moderation characterizing all. In this sense, at least, "virtue is its own reward".  True happiness can therefore be attained only through the cultivation of the virtues that make a human life complete” (Nichomachean Ethics I7).  He explains that through the nature of virtue is when we develop virtues of character. The virtues are repetitive until they become habit.  Aristotle believes that we should all strive for that intermediate state of being.  This means that we should neither indulge excessively or deficiently.  This claim is supported by his well known “The Doctrine of the Mean “.  An example put to practical use would be courage.  A person should neither be overly courageous or he or she would be considered rash.  However, he or she should neither be deficient in courage or they would be considered cowardice.  A real life example could be a terrorist sacrificing his own life.  His actions appear rash, at least in our perception.  A person who is deficient in courage may fail to take a test because of the fear of failure, despite studying.  This person is then viewed as cowardice.
            Aristotle believes that worldly pleasures will lead us to an incomplete and unfulfilled life.  However, this is difficult because it is our human nature to be constantly tempted and distracted by such things.  He states that it is the actions that lead to these virtues that will guarantee the most happiness.  However, every person should do different actions due to their different innate abilities.  One should repeatedly do what they enjoy doing as long as it is not in the excess or deficient.  For example, an artist should keep on painting, and a musician should keep on playing music.  One needs to do this in order to find a meaningful and fulfilling life.  This prevents one from boredom and the monotony of life’s routines.  It gives a person a purpose for living in this life.
            Aristotle believes that “contemplation is the highest form of moral activity because it is continuous, pleasant, self-sufficient, and complete” (Nichomachean Ethics X 8).  Since God is so supreme, it is impossible to fully comprehend God’s reasoning behind the things he does.  Therefore, contemplating on his nature is a never ending process for one to do.  One cannot get tired of such an activity because progression of learning about God’s nature cannot be measured in objective terms.  Therefore the debate on God’s existence is never ending.  It is safe to assume that this activity gives a person individual purpose and a sense of conformity because one can question God’s nature either individually or in a group setting.  If one is able to contemplate God’s existence, one should act as if he or she is thriving to live like God.  By doing otherwise, one will fall shorter of upholding “The Doctrine of the Mean”.  Since God is the knower, creator, and first cause, one must thrive to live up to his standards.  The only way to do this is to first contemplate God’s existence in order to understand his reasoning. 
            It can be argued that Aristotle’s views seem biased or one-sided given that he was a philosopher and that he believed that theoretical wisdom was the ultimate virtue.  How convenient of him for believing that everyone else is like him.  The claims he makes are supported only by a hodgepodge of premises that cannot even be proven.  However, the beauty of his works contributed to further investigation and examination of such claims.  True or not, his claims have influenced the opinions of countless individuals throughout time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Introducing this blog

This blog contains the work done by groups of students in my Spring 2010, and in the future Spring 2011, sections of PHI 388, in which we examined several answers to the question, "Do we need God for the good life?"

Over the next few weeks, I'll be rolling out, in chronological order, a summary of some prominent answers to this question. Feel free to comment in the comments section, if you're so inclined.

Here's a description of the course:

Is God really a delusion? Does religion truly poison everything? Or do we actually need God to be fulfilled as human beings? Is the best life one in which we always get what we want?  Are our brains hard-wired for religious belief? These are some of the questions that we’ll discuss in this course.

The central question to be explored in the class is “Do we need God for the good life?”  Initially, it might seem that this question only allows for two answers—either yes or no. However, a variety of answers have been given which this course will explore. As we consider these answers, we’ll need to think about many other things, including whether or not God exists, human nature, and what is needed in order to live a truly fulfilling life. For example, is fulfillment found in wealth, power, success, being a good person, or knowing God?  Is it found in some of these? None of these? 

 In order to consider the answers that have been given by prominent thinkers through the centuries, we will read a variety of works that address these issues. This course will draw from the insights of thinkers in philosophy, religion, biology, history, and literature in order to encourage students to think about this question in a deep way. We’ll look at the ideas offered by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Friederich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Leo Tolstoy, and contemporary philosophers as well.  By the end of the semester, students should have developed, or more fully developed, their own answers to this question, as they consider the past and current debate about these issues.