A Roman Catholic Perspective

 Monsignor Peter R. Beaulieu, M.A., S.T.L.

A project to assist medical professionals, patients and families in understanding Roman Catholic teaching on the quality of life and other moral issues. This is a work in progress.  Please check periodically for updates.


"Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific exposition, nourished more on the teaching of the Bible, should shed light on the loftiness of the calling of the faithful in Christ and the obligation of bearing fruit in charity for the life of the world" (Optatam totius, n.16).

Eudaimonia – Right Action that Leads to Well-being

In Aristotle’s, Nicomachean Ethics, what has come to be labeled eudaimonistic ethics entails right actions that lead to human flourishing or the greater well-being of each human person’s unique self-understanding. If you extend the notion of well-being from its narrowest point to its broadest scope, then, even social ethics can be deduced from that intellectual starting point. Later on, Saint Augustine adapted the original Greek concept into beatitudo. Subsequently, St. Thomas Aquinas transformed Augustine’s notion of beatitudo into ultimate well-being or happiness as the direct perception of God (i.e., the Beatific vision) or complete blessedness. This general ethical theory encompasses any conception of morality that puts human happiness and the fulfilled life of the individual moral agent as the center of ethical concern. Plato, too, articulated what could be called a form of reverse eudaimonia—since people cannot be happy doing evil, they must do good—happiness cannot be found in conduct at odds with the human person. The human soul has three parts: (1) reason and judgment; (2) spirit, courage, and pride; and (3) appetites and desires.

Understanding Any Ethic of Happiness

Morality is based on desire, not obligation in stark distinction with the work of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant. Happiness (or eudaimonia) is not equivalent to pleasure or the absence of pain, which would be hedonism, nor is it getting what you want. Instead, because happiness is achieving the good life, any ethic of happiness is a normative ethic that yields objective standards of what constitutes human flourishing (or moral excellence), norms by which an action can be judged as right or wrong.

The individual agent seeks his/her own good—a life of fulfillment and human flourishing.

Three basic assumptions: (1) All people want to live well; (2) Living well depends upon the choices that we make; and (3) Intelligent choices require thought and reasoning.

There are also three basic human inclinations: (1) Biological—food, shelter, health and so on; (2) psychological—emotional and cognitive satisfaction, as well as the freedom to exercise some choice; (3) Social—desire for healthy interpersonal relationships of love and friendship; mutual (or contractual) agreements rooted in the concept of justice, participation in the polis (or social community). Therefore, proponents of this ethical theory believe that there is a deep-seated, shared view of what constitutes the good life.

Virtues are habitual actions that contribute to the good life and safeguard it. Basic inclinations that concern moral virtue are: (1) satisfaction of appetites---temperance; (2) Action despite fears or risks---courage; (3) seeking close personal relationships—love; (4) seeking honor and/or personal recognition—dignity.

Todd A. Salzman, ed. Method and Catholic Moral Theology: The Ongoing Reconstruction. Omaha, NE: Creighton University Press, 1999

.____________. What Are They Saying about Roman Catholic Ethical Method? Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003.

Servais Pinckaers, OP. Trans. by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble. The Sources of Christian Ethics. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995

._________________. "The Place of Philosophy in Moral Theology." L’Osservatore Romano. June 16, 1999, p. 14.

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