I am grateful to Stewart Goetz for his thoughtful engagement of my short article (“The Pursuit of Happiness: C. S. Lewis’ Eudaimonistic Understanding of Ethics,” hereafter, “Pursuit”) within this wide-ranging and insightful account of C. S. Lewis’ ethics. I also thank the editors of this journal for the opportunity to respond, in order, hopefully, to clarify some matters and to advance the discussion. I will, first, clarify several confusions in Goetz’s article about my account of ethical eudaimonism (hereafter, EE) and Lewis’s relation to it; second, raise some critical questions concerning Goetz’s own reading of Lewis on “happiness”1 and pleasure; and, finally, commend Goetz’s emphasis on an important aspect of Lewis’ ethics that I leave obscure in “Pursuit.” I limit my discussion of Lewis’ writings to those passages cited by Goetz.2
Several confusions distort Goetz’s critique of my account of EE and, I believe, compromise his own reading of Lewis. Given the obscurity of EE these days, misunderstanding is nearly inevitable, even apart from the deficiencies of my brief presentation. Although EE was the singular approach to ethics in the ancient and medieval world, it is now virtually unknown – which is why I wrote the article.3
I address three confusions here. First, Goetz misunderstands my central account of EE and how it relates to Lewis. Consider the following passage:
In making his case that Lewis was a eudaemonist, Horner says that “All too often, the pursuit of happiness represents to us something actually immoral: ‘because I want to be happy’is probably the most common reason we hear—or give—for justifying morally wrong behavior….But Lewis disagrees.”
But Lewis does not disagree. Indeed, it is evident from the just-completed survey of his thought about pleasure and happiness that he believed the desire for pleasure and happiness is what leads people to act immorally. People are cruel because they want to experience the intrinsic goodness of pleasure and cannot achieve their goal through permissible means. No one, Lewis said, acts badly for the sake of acting badly. They act badly to get the good that they desire.4
But Lewis does disagree, and explicitly so – although not at all as Goetz portrays the discussion. (The centrality of this confusion requires me to summarize and clarify some core elements of my article. This will be my longest response.)
Goetz’s citation comes from the initial part of “Pursuit,” where I establish its essential terms and shape, based on a contrast between two very different conceptions of ethics: a classical (ancient and medieval), eudaimonistic approach, with which I identify Lewis, and a modern approach. The article begins with a quotation drawn from Lewis’ essay (originally a sermon) about Heaven, “The Weight of Glory.” Goetz recognizes this as central to my account, stating that “[t]o persuadeus that Lewis was a Eudaemonist, Horner quotes the outset of Lewis’ essay ‘The Weight of Glory,’ which reads as follows…”5 In his own quotation of the passage, however, Goetz stops short, omitting the crucial portion upon which my subsequent argument is built – and so misses my point.6 Here is the omitted portion of my original quotation:
We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
(The second sentence, in particular, expresses the central contrast of “Pursuit.”) “Although Lewis’ subject in this sermon concerns Christian discipleship more generally,” I introduce my comments, “he begins with a point about ethics.”
With characteristic awareness, Lewis knows that the legitimacy of being motivated by the promise of Heaven’s rewards will at first appear to be morally out of bounds for the Christian. The view in most “modern minds” of Christian ethics, and of Christian discipleship more generally, is that doing the right thing is most essentially a matter of self-denial, sacrifice, and “disinterested” fulfillment of obligation. Any positive relation that morality has to our own happiness or well-being – any essential connection between “doing good” and “my good” – is ruled out. Put differently, the “pursuit of happiness,” for us, is not a specifically moral pursuit.
The contrast I go on to develop is between these two distinctive conceptions of morality. The “modern” orientation, which “we” (that is, moderns) hold, recognizes no positive relation between morality and the agent’s desire for her own good. Rather, it regards all considerations of the agent’s “happiness” (well-being, flourishing)7 as irrelevant to, or even incompatible with, the demands of morality. By contrast, the classical orientation, that of EE, sees such considerations as central to what ethics is about.
Understood in relation to this contrast, Lewis’ sympathies are obvious: he affirms the classical idea that “to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it” is a good thing, and he explicitly rejects the “modern” alternative to it. That is, Lewis disagrees with the modern orientation toward ethics – which was my point. Goetz, by contrast, construes me as arguing that “Lewis disagrees” with something else entirely: the notion that no one acts wrongly for the sake of pursuing happiness. Goetz rightly objects to this, but it misses the actual argument.
Moreover, Goetz’s objection turns my account of EE on its head. He rightly affirms that Lewis held that “the desire for pleasure and happiness is what leads people to act immorally,” and that “[t]hey act badly to get the good that they desire.” This hardly constitutes evidence against Lewis as a eudaimonist, however, as it expresses precisely the conception of human action that I describe as characterizing EE. “Classical thinkers such as Aristotle,” I note in “Pursuit,” “thought of all distinctively human or rational action as end-directed.”
An intentional action, that which comes within the purview of moral evaluation, is an action that is done for a reason, performed for the sake of an end, for the sake of realizing some good – i.e. something the agent takes to be good or worth seeking. The end for which an action is performed may be sought or desired for its own sake, or for the sake of yet another end, or both for its own sake and for the sake of a further end. Ultimately, however,an individual’s actions are to be rationally and motivationally grounded in a final or ultimate end that she seeks solely for its own sake. Such an end will represent her integrative vision of the good life, what she takes to be the highest good worth living for, that for the sake of which she seeks everything that she seeks.
“Ancient philosophers,” I go on to point out, are “generally agreed in referring to this chief end as (one’s view of) eudaimonia” – hence, “eudaimonism.” Because the Greek term “eudaimonia” is traditionally rendered in English as “happiness,” most discussions of EE, including my own, use “happiness” and the “pursuit of happiness” – among other terms – in their descriptions of the view. But most also stress, as I do in “Pursuit,” that “eudaimonia” does not carry the subjective, superficial, and selfish connotations of modern notions of “happiness” – for example, as a state of pleasure or contentment. For this reason, I note, “it has become common in recent years for scholars to render ‘eudaimonia’ in English not as ‘happiness,’ but as ‘flourishing,’ ‘well-being,’ or ‘the best life’” – all terms I also use in the article to refer to the ultimate end identified by EE, so as to avoid confusion with modern notions associated with “happiness.”
This teleological, good-directed conception of the structure of human action, according to eudaimonists, gives morality its structure: one’s moral life is essentially expressed in one’s pursuit of what one takes, rightly or wrongly, to be one’s ultimate good (Lewis’ “to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it”). That this is the general structure of morality all eudaimonists agree; where different eudaimonistic theories diverge is in their more specific accounts of what the ultimate good – what they take to be true flourishing or “happiness” – actually or rightly consists in, whether pleasure, virtue, union with God, or something else. Nothing turns, with respect to denominating a theory as “eudaimonistic,” on its specific answer to that question. This is why such diverse ethical visions as those discussed in “Pursuit” (Aristotle, Seneca, Augustine, Aquinas) are all considered forms of EE; there is no single “eudaimonistic” view of what true “happiness” consists in.
It should be clear that the picture of human action that Goetz rightly attributes to Lewis lies at the very heart of EE itself.8 Thus, not only does Goetz’s objection miss my actual argument, it points toward, rather than away from, Lewis’ eudaimonism.
Second, Goetz confuses my account of Aristotle’s own specific conception of eudaimonia with claims about EE (and about Lewis) more generally. Goetz states, for example, that “[t]here is nothing in what I have quoted that would suggest that Lewis was, as Horner argues, a eudaemonist who holds that the happiness of an individual either is synonymous with his doing or his living well or consists in living a moral or virtuous life.”9 But I “argue” nothing of the sort; nowhere do I attribute such views to Lewis or to eudaimonists in general. Goetz draws them from my brief account of Aristotle, where I apply them to Aristotle alone.
Third, Goetz conflates claims about (the Greek term) “eudaimonia” with assumptions, including typically modern ones, about (the English term) “happiness.” Although I emphasize the differences between the two terms, Goetz identifies them without qualification. He notes, for example, that Lewis did not believe that “decent behaviour” means “behaviour that pays,” interpreting this as evidence that Lewis was not a eudaimonist: “If Lewis had been a eudaemonist, we would expect him to have claimed that decent behavior does pay in this life because being moral just is being happy.”10 Here, the second and third confusions are combined (conflating Aristotle’s specific views of eudaimonia with EE as a whole and identifying them with modern assumptions about “happiness,” including construing “happiness” as what “pay[s] in this life”). None of this has basis in EE, or in my account of EE. True, Lewis did not believe that doing the right thing always “pays” in terms of present benefits such as feeling good, pleasure, or financial gain (Lewis’ point in the context). But neither did Aristotle, nor any of the other eudaimonists I discuss. And I make it explicit that Christian eudaimonists like Augustine and Aquinas locate true flourishing beyond this life, solely in God – which is exactly Lewis’ view.
Goetz’s critique of EE, then, rests on some fundamental confusions. In my view, confusions about EE also compromise Goetz’s otherwise rich account of Lewis on pleasure and “happiness.” His actual citations of Lewis do not support, as he claims,11 a non-eudaimonistic interpretation. Here I critique two aspects of Goetz’s account that bear directly upon EE.
First, Goetz rightly emphasizes that Lewis has a distinctly positive take on pleasure, seeing it as intrinsically good. But what follows from this, in relation to EE? According to Goetz, it provides clear evidence against Lewis as a eudaimonist: “Indeed, Lewis’ own view of pleasure and happiness was so non-eudaemonist in nature that he suspected a reader might conclude that he was a hedonist.”12 This, again, indicates a fundamental confusion about EE, for, as attested in the history of philosophy, the more natural conclusion would be exactly the opposite. Because of their uniquely positive understanding of the relationship between morality and the pursuit and enjoyment of what one takes to be good, eudaimonists are regularly accused of being hedonists. In fact, classical hedonists like Epicurus were eudaimonists; their specific conception of human flourishing, since they identified good solely with pleasure, was of a life of pleasure. Most eudaimonists reject the identification of good and pleasure (they are not hedonists), but they still see pleasure as good.13
This understanding makes better sense of Goetz’s citations of Lewis on pleasure. The targets of Lewis’s remarks – those who are suspicious of pleasure and desire – are not eudaimonists, but the modern, duty-oriented ethicists inspired by Kant, with whom Lewis “disagrees” in “Weight of Glory.” By contrast, Lewis appeals, as his allies, to the “old Christian teachers”14 who affirmed sexual pleasure – Augustine and Aquinas, Lewis’ primary “old Christian” influences, would surely be the chief examples. But they were eudaimonists, and their eudaimonism was intrinsic to their endorsement of pleasure. Far from pointing away from eudaimonism, Lewis’ positive view of pleasure points precisely toward it.
So also, second, does Lewis’ view of “happiness.” I have further quibbles with aspects of Goetz’s account of this,15 but I restrict myself here to observing how Lewis actually uses the term “happiness” in the passages Goetz cites. Pace Goetz, the picture that emerges is classically eudaimonistic. As in general contemporary English practice, Lewis uses “happiness” in a variety of ways. Rather than assume that he means the same thing in each case, we need, as Goetz affirms early in his article, to “let Lewis speak for himself.”16 As Goetz emphasizes, Lewis often speaks of merely “present happiness”17 and of the pleasures and comforts that this comprises.18 In this sense, Goetz rightly interpolates “produces happiness” into Lewis’ discussion of “behaviour that pays,” which Lewis spells out in the context in terms of financial gain, sexual pleasure, safety, comfort, and being well thought of by others.19 Along these lines, Lewis worries of the effect of God’s sending “happiness” in this life, because we may forget Him.20
But this is not all that Lewis says about “happiness.” He also uses the term to describe the ultimate end for which we were created by God, who made us “for no other purpose than to enjoy it.”21 In “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis, noting the desire for “natural happiness,” affirms that we “remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy,”22 a point that exactly parallels classical Christian eudaimonistic arguments by Augustine and Aquinas – that true happiness is found only in the beatific (from beatus, the Latin counterpart to eudaimonia) vision, or union with God. Like these earlier Christian eudaimonists, Lewis assumes the fundamental validity of the desire for “happiness.” Rather than disparaging it, as in the “modern” understanding, he raises it to its true, ultimate level, as a desire that can only be fully realized in its true, ultimate object – true happiness.23 Thus, although Lewis sometimes speaks of “happiness” in merely present, subjective terms, he also does not hesitate to describe it, in classically eudaimonistic terms, as the true ultimate end that all humans are created to seek.24 In this, he fits squarely within the eudaimonistic tradition.
Goetz concludes that, “[t]hough Lewis was steeped in the classics, he did not himself embrace the classical understanding of happiness.”25 This, however, Goetzs imply does not show. Instead, the evidence he adduces indicates the opposite.
Finally, Goetz rightly stresses an important aspect of Lewis’ ethical thought I leave somewhat obscure in “Pursuit,” which is that Lewis’ understanding of human life and its ultimate end goes beyond what is merely moral. In this, Lewis’ understanding of ethics diverges from classical pagan eudaimonists like Aristotle, who, arguably, saw ethics as comprising the whole of life, and the ultimate human end as more narrowly and specifically “moral.” It does not diverge, however, from the classical Christian eudaimonism of Augustine and Aquinas. Indeed, Lewis here follows his “old Christian teachers” in just this respect.
Like Aristotle and all the eudaimonists I discuss, Lewis is a eudaimonist: he understands human life in terms of the teleological orientation of one’s whole life toward one’s ultimate end, the ultimate fulfillment of one’s desire for flourishing. More specifically, moreover, again like Aristotle and the others, Lewis is an ethical eudaimonist: he understands morality in terms of the agent’s pursuit of what she takes to be her ultimate good. However, unlike Aristotle – but like Augustine and Aquinas – Lewis is not merely an ethical eudaimonist. He sees the moral life, although eudaimonistic in its structure, as an arena that is limited or circumscribed. Living virtuously, according to Lewis, while truly good, does not constitute the human good. “Mere morality is not the end of life,” says Lewis. “You were made for something quite different from that.”26 The true ultimate human end, the human good, for Lewis and his Christian eudaimonist forebears, is union with God.That is true “happiness.”
It is in relation to the ultimate end of enjoying God that Lewis speaks of Joy, contrasting it with lesser “happiness” and pleasures. (But we saw that sometimes Lewis also refers to this ultimate end as “happiness,” properly understood. Again, like us, Lewis uses “happiness” in different ways.) As Goetz rightly emphasizes, Lewis sees “mere morality” as transcended in Heaven, where “ought” and “duty” will fall away, and “morality will be swallowed up” in “the Divine Life.”27 The true human end, that is, is ultimately a matter of worship rather than ethics – as vividly portrayed in Lewis’ words that form the final citations in both Goetz’s and my articles: “The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”28
It is important to see that this picture is irreducibly and inescapably eudaimonistic. True, it is not merely an expression of eudaimonistic ethics; for Lewis and his Christian forbears, the true human end is not “merely” ethical. But ethics is a part, indeed an important part, of human life. And it is a part that Lewis and his teachers understood eudaimonistically as well. C. S. Lewis was more than an ethical eudaimonist. But he was – fully – an ethical eudaimonist.
Cite this article
- I will generally refer to happiness in quotes. Since the specific meaning of the English termis part of what is in question, “happiness” refers to the notion in a thin, not as yet fully specified, way.
- Page numbers refer to Goetz’s “C. S. Lewis on Pleasure and Happiness” immediately preceding this response.
- My aim in “Pursuit,” pace Goetz, was not to argue that Lewis was a eudaimonist, but simplyto give an account of EE. I state this explicitly: “To demonstrate [that Lewis is a eudaimonist],and to show how he answers Christian-inspired objections to this view, are tasks I take upelsewhere. In the present paper I merely aim to give a brief introduction to eudaimonism andits pedigree, and to point in the direction of its virtues.” Much of Goetz’s critique of my account is based on his misunderstanding of its purpose.
- Goetz, 294.
- Goetz, 284.
- Goetz does quote the omitted portion in a different context (Goetz, 292).
- In the passage cited from “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis does not use the term “happiness”to draw this contrast on particular uses of the English word “happiness.” In any case, Lewis does use “happiness” in the requisite way elsewhere.
- Goetz elsewhere (Goetz, 287) correctly attributes Lewis’view of human action in this re-spect to his being “steeped in classical literature and philosophy.” But the approach of classical philosophy was entirely eudaimonistic.
- Goetz, 294, Goetz’s emphasis. See also Goetz, 284 (twice) and Goetz, 291.
- Goetz, 291.
- Goetz, 295.
- Goetz, 301-02. See also Goetz, 294.
- Aristotle and Aquinas have sophisticated accounts of how pleasure and good are closelyrelated but not identical, and how this close relation comes to be confused in hedonism. Aquinas considers pleasure a proprium or “necessary accident” of what is good: experiencingpleasure is the proper, appropriate effect of realizing or attaining what one sees as good. Itproperly accompanies the good, but is not identical to it. See Summa Theologiae, IaIIae.2.6.
- Goetz, 298.
- For example, Goetz repeatedly claims that Lewis’ “view seems to have been that happinessis intrinsically and exhaustively composed of experiences of pleasure” (Goetz, 284; see Goetz,292, 294, 295), but I find no justification of this claim in the passages cited.
- Goetz, 290.
- Goetz, 291.
- Goetz, 291.
- Goetz, 291.
- Goetz, 292.
- Goetz, 290. See also Goetz, 291.
- Goetz, 292.
- See also citations of Lewis in Goetz, 292 and 301.
- A further connection between Lewis and classical Christian eudaimonists is evident in thedistinctive terminology he uses in these contexts, including “enjoyment” and “fruition.” TheLatin roots of these terms, Lewis knew as a medievalist, had a deeply eudaimonistic historyand connotations. They signify the experience of something as good in itself, as an ultimate end.
- Goetz, 301.
- Goetz, 293.
- Goetz, 293.
- Goetz, 301.