Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robert Pasnau

Second Advisor

Mitzi Lee

Third Advisor

Dan Kaufman

Fourth Advisor

Chris Heathwood

Fifth Advisor

Christina Van Dyke


This dissertation is a philosophical study of Thomas Aquinas’s theory of human happiness. I aim to give a careful, charitable, analytical, systematic exposition of his theory of happiness. The project is motivated both by the belief that Aquinas is a worthy interlocutor in thinking about happiness and by the conviction that happiness plays a foundational role in Aquinas’s broader ethical thought. The study takes as its point of departure a detailed summary of Aquinas’s Treatise on Happiness in the Summa Theologiae. In addition to providing a comprehensive sketch of Aquinas’s basic account of human happiness, that summary reveals a series of difficult interpretive questions, the answers to which determine how we think about the most fundamental elements of Aquinas’s theory. The questions it raises are: What is Aquinas’s method? According to Aquinas, what is perfect or heavenly happiness fundamentally? What is imperfect or earthly happiness really? And what fundamentally explains degrees of perfect and imperfect happiness? Only when we have answers to all of those questions can we claim to have a systematic understanding of Aquinas’s views in this domain. Answering each of these questions occupies a chapter of the dissertation. The first and last of these questions have received little sustained attention from commentators, and so I break new ground simply by attempting systematic, detailed answers to them. In the case of determining Aquinas’s account of the deep natures of perfect and imperfect happiness, I argue for novel interpretations of Aquinas’s views that, in my view, better capture the texts and are more interesting philosophically. In doing so, I also offer reasons for rejecting dominant and long-standing interpretations of Aquinas’s views on these matters. Taken together, my dissertation constitutes a systematic rethinking of Aquinas’s theory of human happiness.

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