The Ultimate End of Man

4. Definition and Kinds of Ends. An end is “that for the sake of which anything is done ” (Aristotle), or, that to which the agent’s activity is directed.

The more important kinds are the following: 1. The end of an action (the intrinsic and objective end) is that to which the action tends of its very nature directly and immediately : for example, the natural end of an act of almsgiving is the relief of the neighbour’s need. The end of the agent (the extrinsic and subjective end) is that which the agent himself chooses as the primary or secondary end of his own action. This may but does not necessarily coincide with the end of the action itself. Thus, for example, if by giving alms the agent intends to relieve poverty, both ends are the same ; but if the agent performs the act through vanity or the desire to seduce the poor, then the two ends differ. The end of the action is known also as the moral object of the action, and the end of the agent is correspondingly termed the moral motive (end) of the action.

2. The principal (or primary) end is that which is chiefly intended by the agent and more than anything else moves him to action ; the secondary (or accessory) end is that which is not desired for itself alone but impels the agent to act only in conjunction with some other principal end.

3. The ultimate end is one which is desired in such a way as not to be referred to any other ; the intermediate (or proximate) end is one which is desired for its own sake but in dependence on and in reference to a higher end.

Some theologians assert that an intermediate end is not an end in the proper and strict sense of the word but only a means towards an end. This would appear to be a question of terminology.

There seems no reason to deny that an intermediate end possesses the strict character of an end, provided that it be desired for its own sake and not as a mere instrument.

Note, a) The principal end may be also the ultimate end, but not necessarily ; v.g., the ultimate end of all the actions of the upright man is God, but the principal end of one of his actions could be a created thing.

6) The end and the good are materially the same but formally different, in so far as the good is something desirable or suited to man’s appetites, whereas an end is something to be attained through the use of means.

6. First Proposition. The ultimate end of man is God Himself so that in all his actions man must direct himself towards God and give Him glory.

Presupposing the existence of God as a person and the creator of the world, it is easy to prove the above statement. Man in common with the rest of creation must have as his ultimate end the same as that intended by God in His act of creation. Now the end which God had in view when creating the world could not have been other than Himself ; He must be His own end, otherwise He would no longer be infinitely perfect. Therefore God is the end of all His creation, and all creatures must tend towards this end — namely, they must give glory to God. Irrational creatures glorify God necessarily, rational creatures freely.

Man is bound to give glory to God in all his actions by service and obedience, by love and reverence. Hence the advice of St. Paul: “In eating, in drinking, in all that you do, do everything as for God’s glory ” (i Cor. x. 31). It is not necessary that man expressly and explicitly intend the glory of God in all his actions; it is sufficient that he elicit an act of charity sometimes and thus virtually direct his actions towards God.

7. Second Proposition, a) Man finds his happiness in the attainment of his ultimate end ; h) the more perfect his attainment of this end, the greater his happiness ; c) man does not and could not find happiness in anything else.

Proof, a) Happiness may be aptly defined as the permanent (viz. indefinite) possession of perfect good which completely satisfies all man’s desires. Now this possession of perfect good is realised in the attainment of man’s ultimate end, namely God. Therefore human happiness consists in the attainment of the ultimate end. Let us consider the major of this argument. Perfect happiness requires : i) a permanent or indefinite possession of goodness, since happiness ceases once the good is lost or could be lost ; ii) the possession of perfect good which satisfies completely all man’s desires, because the object of his desires is universal goodness and therefore any imperfect good is bound to leave man dissatisfied. The minor of the argument should be evident from the following : God is man’s ultimate end, as proved already ; He is infinitely perfect, and once united to Him man can never be separated from Him. This union with God as man’s ultimate end is effected through knowledge and love.

b) The second part of the proposition is easily proved. The more perfect man’s union with God who is both infinitely perfect and happy, the more perfect and happy does he himself become, in the same way that the nearer one approaches to a warm and blazing fire, so much the greater heat and light does one receive. And thus it follows that the blessed in Heaven do not enjoy the same amount of happiness. “ There are many dwelling-places in my Father’s house ” (John xiv, 2). Therefore although all the blessed see God, the perfection of their vision varies.

c) The third part of the proposition is denied by rationalists both past and present who place man’s happiness in pleasure (Epicureans), or in virtue and the resigned acceptance of pain (Stoics), or in other forms of created things. No useful purpose would be served in listing all these false opinions concerning man’s final happiness, since there is no created good which is perfect in every respect and which endures for ever. Therefore such things cannot constitute the true happiness of man, as is evident from the definition of happiness. St. Bernard has said wisely : “ The rational soul, while it may occupy itself with other things, cannot be satisfied by them.”

8. Third Proposition. The ultimate end of man (viz. perfect happiness) cannot be attained without supernatural grace which is given in sufficient degree to every man through the redemption of Christ.

Proof. The ultimate end of man is found in his intimate union with God — namely, in man’s vision of the divine essence. But no created intellect by its own powers and without the aid of supernatural grace can see the essence of God.

The second part of the proposition is evident from the fact that God has implanted in every soul an inescapable longing for true and perfect happiness. Therefore it would not be fitting for God to refuse sufficient means for the satisfaction of this desire in the attainment of happiness. It must also be remembered that Christ died for everyone and merited grace for all so that they might be saved.