Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund


Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_202-2


The medieval concept of happiness has its origins in the writings of Aristotle and Augustine. Both Aristotle and Augustine posit a single end for all human moral activity: for Aristotle that end is eudaimonia, the perfection of the potentialities within the human soul; for Augustine that end is beatitude, the eternal perfection of the soul granted by God. For centuries, Augustine’s ideal dominated medieval moral thought, but in the thirteenth century medieval authors had to confront philosophical challenges to the Christian understanding of human perfection. The earliest commentators on the Ethics of Aristotle understood Aristotle’s notion of happiness as a perfect activity of the soul as support for their own belief in the possibility of the perfection of the beatified soul. The writings of Robert Kilwardby, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas redirected the attention of medieval authors to questions of the relation between earthly happiness and perfect beatitude, the cause of happiness, and the function of moral and intellectual virtues as the foundation of human goodness. Aristotle’s notion of happiness never supplanted the Augustinian view of human purpose, as is evident in the criticisms of the philosophical doctrine of happiness by Henry of Ghent, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStonehill CollegeEastonUSA