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Subject: The Argument Against Heaven Via Finite Happiness rss

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Clay
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Ok, there is an argument that I've been seeing at increasingly frequent intervals as of late that heaven (A place of infinite happiness) cannot exist because happiness is contingent upon being finite. Now, let me start (Well, I guess I've already started, haven't I?) by saying that I'm not defending the existence of heaven, I assure you I'm as atheistic as ever, but this argument just strikes me as utterly absurd.

Why is limitation (Usually in the form of a finite temporal duration) a requirement for true happiness? It's been said many times, but nobody has ever really bothered to explain their reasoning. Of course, this assuming that they actually have some sort of reasoning behind the statement...

Anyways, I was pondering this earlier this morning (Though I guess it couldn't have been that much earlier, at this point) and am just curious as to the full nature of this argument with all premises intact. It seems to be oddly common lately (Or at least, it's common in the places I frequent online) so hopefully someone here shares this notion and is willing to defend it. If not... well, we can all sit and tell each other how silly it is.
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I would have a serious question about the assumption that heaven is a place of infinite happiness. I don't think that is an accuration description of what heaven is.

I know that doesn't address your actual question but I guess I don't care.
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Clay
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That's what the common interpretation seems to be these days and what I have been told most often. Of course, I don't think it exists at all, but if you'd like to correct the information that you believe to be faulty I'd gladly welcome it (Though not necessarily accept it unconditionally).
 
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I'm with you on this Hippie.
I think the argument demands that "happiness" be a relative state and that if the happiness is "infinite" then there can be no relativity.

But I see no imperative that happiness be relative.
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If ignorance is bliss, and bliss is happiness, then ignorance is happiness. If heaven is eternal happiness, then I suppose a case could be made for heaven being eternal ignorance.
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MisterCranky wrote:
If ignorance is bliss, and bliss is happiness, then ignorance is happiness. If heaven is eternal happiness, then I suppose a case could be made for heaven being eternal ignorance.


Are you arguing that we're already in Heaven?
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I am merely saying that the case could be made--I can't really be bothered to do it.
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You might be interested in a general sketch of this issue for St. Thomas Aquinas.

Happiness is not a state but an activity... that is, neither a feeling nor a habit but a doing. Here he is following Aristotle pretty closely, for whom happiness is an activity of the soul expressing the highest and most complete virtue. The distinction between the views of "happiness as state" and "happiness as activity" should not be underestimated... the former tends to a hedonistic conception of happiness, the latter to a eudaimonist conception.

St. Thomas considers human reason to be a faculty of infinite scope, as shown by its ability to cognize all bodies, simultaneously cognize contraries, etc. He understands the (free) will as a derivative faculty of reason. Thus man's reason and his will are unlimited, i.e. infinite, in their capacity to cognize and to desire.

So St. Thomas asks what could possibly satisfy an infinite reasoner/desirer over infinite time (he has previously addressed the issue of the immortality of the soul so that is assumed at this point). He correctly reasons that no finite series of goods, of whatever magnitude, could possibly satisfy a being of infinite capacity for cognition and desire. After all, wouldn't virtually anything become boring and unsatisfying after a while? The only possible prospect for happiness, he reasons, is for the rational man to directly cognize the essence of a good which is an actual infinite. Now he has already addressed the issue of God, Who turns out to be an actual infinte good and the only actual infinite good.

So forget all that stuff about clouds and harps.

Heaven and eternal happiness for St. Thomas Aquinas consists in 'beholding' (a word used analogically) the essence of God, in Whom man's intellect beholds the open scheme of all things (indeed, of being in itself and absolutely as well as all derivative beings) and man's intellect and will together soar to the zenith of wholeness and intimacy. Only in the actual infinite good are man's boundless capacities actually filled up. For St. Thomas, God is Being per se.

And again, St. Thomas specifically denies that this is a state. You're not passively watching "God TV". Your soul is eternally racing at light speed into the point at which dimension, space, time and multiplicity vanish into a single 'point' which transcends all of those things.
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The Message wrote:
That's what the common interpretation seems to be these days and what I have been told most often. Of course, I don't think it exists at all, but if you'd like to correct the information that you believe to be faulty I'd gladly welcome it (Though not necessarily accept it unconditionally).


Correct what information? You haven't actually provided anything more than your opinion or the opinion of others. I don't even know what"heaven" you are talking about. Are you talking about a Christian concept of heaven? or maybe Islamic? I guess one could even say that Nirvana is a kind of heaven. I think it would be helpful to know precisely what you mean by "heaven" and on what you are basing your definition of it.
 
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How is happiness contingent upon being finite?
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Obviously it's not. Everybody knows that anybody is capable of maintaining happiness for all eternity. It's just inane to suggest that it needs some sort of contrasting state to even have any meaning. Of course, if it's an activity, then none of the above applies. It made me happy to post this little chunk of nonsense.
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Being neither atheist nor believeing in heaven, i would be intellectually interested in a serious answer to the OP but I suspect it is merely one of those arguments one often encounters in which the people making it are attacking an intellectual strawman while firmly convinced they're not doing so.
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Clay
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Requete wrote:
You might be interested in a general sketch of this issue for St. Thomas Aquinas.

Happiness is not a state but an activity... that is, neither a feeling nor a habit but a doing.


I'm going to have to disagree there. Happiness is an emotion and emotions are essentially states of being. I will grant that happiness is almost always directly linked with an action, but happiness itself is not a 'doing'.
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Benjro wrote:
The Message wrote:
That's what the common interpretation seems to be these days and what I have been told most often. Of course, I don't think it exists at all, but if you'd like to correct the information that you believe to be faulty I'd gladly welcome it (Though not necessarily accept it unconditionally).


Correct what information? You haven't actually provided anything more than your opinion or the opinion of others. I don't even know what"heaven" you are talking about. Are you talking about a Christian concept of heaven? or maybe Islamic? I guess one could even say that Nirvana is a kind of heaven. I think it would be helpful to know precisely what you mean by "heaven" and on what you are basing your definition of it.


The Christian heaven, as I'm not aware of any other religions that call their heaven-equivalent by that name. Of course, given the varied amount of denominations and the fact that every human is going to have different ideas even when the basic ideology is the same, there isn't going to be one concept of said Christian heaven. This is just the one that seems to be most common in modern days and the one that I've seen arise most often.

Perhaps it would just be easier for you to explain what heaven is (Or rather, what you think heaven is), since you seem to be privy to information that I am not.
 
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whac3 wrote:
Being neither atheist nor believeing in heaven, i would be intellectually interested in a serious answer to the OP but I suspect it is merely one of those arguments one often encounters in which the people making it are attacking an intellectual strawman while firmly convinced they're not doing so.


Most likely. Hopefully someone around here who believes the statement "Happiness must be finite" (Or whatever variation on it they choose) could explain the reasoning behind it but I'm not holding my breath.
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The Message wrote:
Requete wrote:
You might be interested in a general sketch of this issue for St. Thomas Aquinas.

Happiness is not a state but an activity... that is, neither a feeling nor a habit but a doing.


I'm going to have to disagree there. Happiness is an emotion and emotions are essentially states of being. I will grant that happiness is almost always directly linked with an action, but happiness itself is not a 'doing'.


Your view is the one that Aristotle and St. Thomas (and, arguably, the Christian tradition) explicitly reject (that happiness is an "emotion"... obviously it's true that emotions count as states). That disagreement is so basic that it's probable that you won't see the point of many, or even any, Christian philosophical positions if you hold that happiness is an emotion.

In your opinion is there even any substantial distinction between "happiness" and "pleasure"?
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Clay
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Requete wrote:
The Message wrote:
Requete wrote:
You might be interested in a general sketch of this issue for St. Thomas Aquinas.

Happiness is not a state but an activity... that is, neither a feeling nor a habit but a doing.


I'm going to have to disagree there. Happiness is an emotion and emotions are essentially states of being. I will grant that happiness is almost always directly linked with an action, but happiness itself is not a 'doing'.


Your view is the one that Aristotle and St. Thomas (and, arguably, the Christian tradition) explicitly reject (that happiness is an "emotion"... obviously it's true that emotions count as states). That disagreement is so basic that it's probable that you won't see the point of many, or even any, Christian philosophical positions if you hold that happiness is an emotion.

In your opinion is there even any substantial distinction between "happiness" and "pleasure"?


I would say that yes, there is a difference between 'pleasure' and 'happiness'. I know I for one have experienced 'pleasure' without actually experiencing any 'happiness' with it. What was your point?

You've said that happiness is not an emotion, it's an action. Would you like to do more than just say that and provide some sort of rationale as to why that should be true? Honestly, the stance that 'happiness is a doing' seems fairly incoherent, as 'a doing' is a verb and I don't know many* people who have 'happinessed' something.

So please, explain this viewpoint for me and why you think it has any logical merit whatsoever.

*any
 
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The Message wrote:

I would say that yes, there is a difference between 'pleasure' and 'happiness'. I know I for one have experienced 'pleasure' without actually experiencing any 'happiness' with it. What was your point?

You've said that happiness is not an emotion, it's an action. Would you like to do more than just say that and provide some sort of rationale as to why that should be true? Honestly, the stance that 'happiness is a doing' seems fairly incoherent, as 'a doing' is a verb and I don't know many* people who have 'happinessed' something.

So please, explain this viewpoint for me and why you think it has any logical merit whatsoever.

*any


Regarding "people who have 'happinessed' something": OK, so first we have to get our definitions straight. When people talk about something being an "activity", that word is a sign for two genera of operations: first, operations which go from the agent into external matter, like "ignite" or "cut"; second, operations which remain in the agent like "will" or "understand". I would think that you would be somewhat aware of the distinction. Regardless, when happiness is called an activity, it is obviously in the second (internal) sense of the term.

Regarding "pleasure" and "happiness": You are exactly correct to distinguish the two, and you have put forward the best reason for that distinction already.

Now to answer your question. Happiness is something that is sought as an end; some things are sought purely as a means, such as medicine (nobody wants it for itself, in itself; it is generally wanted for health or relief). Happiness is actually sought as a self-sufficient end, which is to say that it is sought for itself and not for some further thing (though by calling it "self-sufficient" that doesn't mean that in having it you need nothing further... you obviously need food and water, for example; but it's not sought for the purpose of those things). So as an end, happiness is clearly something quite commodious to the human nature. And after all, what we're talking about here is specifically "human happiness"... if something like a barnacle is capable of happiness we have no reason to think that it would be anything like the happiness of a man. So for both these reasons it is evident that happiness cannot be discussed except in reference to man's nature.

The most expansive and potent faculty of man is reason; it is from this also that his free will derives. So both because it is the premier faculty of man's nature, and because his whole capacity for deliberation and choosing derives from it, whatever man's happiness is it will have to take reason into account. Whereas the sense powers are passive in nature (they all require the imposition of matter or energy on the receptor), reason is by nature an active power. Reason operates by acting upon its objects (signifiers and signifieds... symbols, ideas, etc.) to produce new content (further symbols, ideas, relations, etc.). To use reason is to perform an activity, in the second sense of activity outlined above.

Since man's highest and most complete power is active, he cannot have a self-sufficient end which is passive. This is quite obvious: a rational creature cannot be happy with an unengaged reason any more than a motile sensate creature could be 'happy' if it was chained in place and restricted from moving.
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The Message wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Being neither atheist nor believeing in heaven, i would be intellectually interested in a serious answer to the OP but I suspect it is merely one of those arguments one often encounters in which the people making it are attacking an intellectual strawman while firmly convinced they're not doing so.


Most likely. Hopefully someone around here who believes the statement "Happiness must be finite" (Or whatever variation on it they choose) could explain the reasoning behind it but I'm not holding my breath.


Happiness is not only finite, it's in short supply. I've only been married twice and I know this for a fact.
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Requete wrote:
So as an end, happiness is clearly something quite commodious to the human nature.


I was following you up to this point, and here, you've lost me. Happiness is "spacious" to human nature? Could you explain this a bit more? As a sentence, it makes no sense to me.

Aside from that, I'd be interested to know how you distinguish pleasure from happiness from contentment from satisfaction. (I'm sure there are other close-to-synonymous words I'm leaving out here.)

So far, I'm not finding your reasoning persuasive -- it has an angels-dancing-on-heads-of-pins kind of feel to it for me. But perhaps I'm not following you, and I'm interested to learn more.

To the OP, I've never heard the argument that happiness must be finite to be meaningful. I've heard that it must be opposed to be meaningful -- that positive means nothing to us without a negative. (I don't believe that to be true -- I think happiness can be experienced without a benchmark or opposite.)

I find all of the theorizing about heaven odd and more-or-less meaningless, whether it's the extrapolation that Requete made in this thread or the thing I heard on the radio that everything we enjoy will be in heaven -- knitting needles if we like to knit, etc. At the point that anybody is getting detailed about an afterlife plan that nobody has experienced, my eyes start glazing over (virtually or otherwise).
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Requete wrote:
Since man's highest and most complete power is active, he cannot have a self-sufficient end which is passive. This is quite obvious: a rational creature cannot be happy with an unengaged reason any more than a motile sensate creature could be 'happy' if it was chained in place and restricted from moving.


I'm going to take your assumptions as givens (e.g., that reason is the most expansive, potent aspect of human nature). (As a separate point, I'm interested to know the basis for those kinds of statements, because they don't strike me as obvious or as necessarily true, and you are presenting them as facts.)

Your point here seems to me to be that reason is itself active, which means that happiness must be active. (As another separate point, I'm missing the connection here -- why would a "self-sufficient end" necessarily be active just because the principal component of human nature is active? That doesn't strike me as a given, either. Do you, by self-sufficient end, mean something like "sole end result" -- that the human goal is limited to happiness? If so, then I understand your point better, but I don't know that I agree.)

At any rate, at the point that "thinking" is active, then how is it inconsistent to claim that "experiencing an emotion" is active? Having an emotion is a doing, yes? So I don't see how what you're saying is different from what the OP was saying -- so far, what you're saying seems to be a nonstandard description of what "having an emotion" is rather than a true difference.
 
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Aside: I was using commodious as "suitable", which is its original derivation from commodus. An archaism on my part, I suppose.

corross wrote:
Requete wrote:
Since man's highest and most complete power is active, he cannot have a self-sufficient end which is passive. This is quite obvious: a rational creature cannot be happy with an unengaged reason any more than a motile sensate creature could be 'happy' if it was chained in place and restricted from moving.


I'm going to take your assumptions as givens (e.g., that reason is the most expansive, potent aspect of human nature). (As a separate point, I'm interested to know the basis for those kinds of statements, because they don't strike me as obvious or as necessarily true, and you are presenting them as facts.)

Your point here seems to me to be that reason is itself active, which means that happiness must be active. (As another separate point, I'm missing the connection here -- why would a "self-sufficient end" necessarily be active just because the principal component of human nature is active? That doesn't strike me as a given, either. Do you, by self-sufficient end, mean something like "sole end result" -- that the human goal is limited to happiness? If so, then I understand your point better, but I don't know that I agree.)

At any rate, at the point that "thinking" is active, then how is it inconsistent to claim that "experiencing an emotion" is active? Having an emotion is a doing, yes? So I don't see how what you're saying is different from what the OP was saying -- so far, what you're saying seems to be a nonstandard description of what "having an emotion" is rather than a true difference.


That's a lot of asides in there. I'll start with the main question and we can discuss that first.

You're asking what the difference is between an activity like thinking and having an emotion... which seems to you as active also insofar as you are 'actively' possessing it. This is a question of agency. If you take a knife and stab me, you could say that I am "actively being stabbed"... but that's an abuse of word "active". I am in fact the passive element in that relation... the target, if you will. It is you who is doing the operation and me who is receiving it (the stabbing). Likewise, if I write letters on a page you don't say that the page is "doing something... it is being written upon"; rather, you say that I am the agent, doing the action (writing), and the recipient is the page.

Let's take a step back here and look again at the whole argument. The gist of it is this: reason is an essentially active power. It performs operations upon signs, ideas of things and ideas of relations (relations of signs to ideas, relations of ideas to things, relations of ideas to ideas, etc.). Your reason, this active (I would be tempted to say mercurial), dynamic force is a central part of who you are. Therefore your prospect of happiness is inextricably tied to your nature as a rational being. Intellect, if you will pardon a bit of poetry, is like a fire, always reaching upwards and consuming what it touches... crackling with an intrinsic energy. There is no way that mere passion (passive reception... like emotions, which are epiphenomena of pleasure and pain) could satisfy an intrinsically dynamic creature such as man.
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Requete wrote:
Aside: I was using commodious as "suitable", which is its original derivation from commodus. An archaism on my part, I suppose.


Well, I do love asides (as asider and asidee, if I may coin or unintentionally appropriate those nouns), and I thank you for this one. I also love quibbles, and here I go.

So, here, you were saying that happiness is "suitable" to human nature? Certainly, this makes more sense than its being "spacious" to human nature, but it also doesn't seem to say much. Yes, happiness is compatible with human existence. That doesn't seem to say much to me, since I can't imagine anyone arguing that happiness (as action or state of being) is inconsistent with human nature.

Requete wrote:
You're asking what the difference is between an activity like thinking and having an emotion... which seems to you as active also insofar as you are 'actively' possessing it. This is a question of agency. If you take a knife and stab me, you could say that I am "actively being stabbed"... but that's an abuse of word "active". I am in fact the passive element in that relation... the target, if you will. It is you who is doing the operation and me who is receiving it (the stabbing). Likewise, if I write letters on a page you don't say that the page is "doing something... it is being written upon"; rather, you say that I am the agent, doing the action (writing), and the recipient is the page.


I think that you are using examples that make too much a black/white distinction between actor/agent and passive participant. Let's mix it up a bit, eh? Let's say that somebody is spoon-feeding me creme brulee. (I love creme brulee.) I am a participant in that action, and I am actively experiencing and enjoying that moment. Let's flip it around, now. Let's say that I am feeding a delicious spoonful of, well, whatever, to whoever enjoys the delightful whatever. I enjoy that, too.

Is one of those moments more "active" than the other? Is one more truly "happy"? If so, why?

Quote:
Let's take a step back here and look again at the whole argument. The gist of it is this: reason is an essentially active power. It performs operations upon signs, ideas of things and ideas of relations (relations of signs to ideas, relations of ideas to things, relations of ideas to ideas, etc.). Your reason, this active (I would be tempted to say mercurial), dynamic force is a central part of who you are. Therefore your prospect of happiness is inextricably tied to your nature as a rational being. Intellect, if you will pardon a bit of poetry, is like a fire, always reaching upwards and consuming what it touches... crackling with an intrinsic energy. There is no way that mere passion (passive reception... like emotions, which are epiphenomena of pleasure and pain) could satisfy an intrinsically dynamic creature such as man.


Well, all of this reminds me of John Donne, and I'm a fangirl there. I'm still not persuaded by the reasoning -- the whole idea of what's "intrinsic" as opposed to "extrinsic", and what we're receiving vs. supplying, and how all this applies to things like essential human natures and the afterlife and such.

What you say sounds pretty, but it doesn't ring true to me, so far.
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