Vol I No. 7
Daily Thought

Man's End: Thomas Aquinas

by William J. Martin


Whether it belongs to man to act for an end?

Objection 1: It would seem that it does not belong to man to act for an end. For a cause is naturally first. But an end, in its very name, implies something that is last. Therefore, an end is not a cause. But that for which a man acts is the cause of his action; since this preposition “for” indicates a relation of causality. Therefore, it does not belong to man to act for an end.

How can a man be moved by an end and not by a beginning? An end is what one arrives at because He has been caused to do so. A beginning is, therefore, the cause or reason that moves a man. Man ought to be moved by what is first and not what is last. What is first is what moves another. What is last is that to which one is moved. In addition, a man is moved by that ‘for which’ he is, thinks, and wills. Thus, a man acts for a cause or reason and not for an end.

Objection 2: Further, that which is itself the last end is not for an end. But in some cases, the last end is an action, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. i, 1). Therefore, man does not do everything for an end.

Man does not act for that which is last. What is last is not for anything or it does not exist for anything else. Because the last end is not a means, lesser ends that serve it cannot be causal either. So neither the last end nor other ends are the causes or reasons for man’s action. The last end exists for itself and nothing else, and if it is the concluding end then it cannot be the cause of man’s activity.

Objection 3: Further, then a man seems to act for an end, when he acts deliberately. But man does many things without deliberation, sometimes not even thinking of what he is doing; for instance, when one moves one’s foot or hand, or scratches one’s beard, while intent on something else. Therefore, man does not do everything for an end

It would seem that much that a man does he does without thought or deliberation. So many actions seem to be instinctive or derived from bodily reactions and impulses. Does a man actually think and will when he acts? Is he conscious of serving an object at all times? 

On the contrary, All things contained in a genus are derived from the principle of that genus. Now the end is the principle in human operations, as the Philosopher states (Phys. ii, 9). Therefore, it belongs to man to do everything for an end.

The end for any creature is its purpose, end, or aim. It is that ‘for which’ a thing is made and that ‘to which’ a thing must be moved if it is to be perfected. Every part that blends with every other part in the constitution of man’s nature is made for an end. Lesser ends serve greater ends. This is to say that every part has a purpose or end that blends with every other part so that the final end, aim, and purpose of man might be discovered intellectually and perfected actually.

I answer that, Of actions done by man those alone are properly called “human,” which are proper to man as man. Now man differs from irrational animals in this, that he is master of his actions. Wherefore those actions alone are properly called human, of which man is master. Now man is master of his actions through his reason and will; whence, too, the free-will is defined as “the faculty and will of reason.” Therefore, those actions are properly called human which proceed from a deliberate will. And if any other actions are found in man, they can be called actions “of a man,” but not properly “human” actions, since they are not proper to man as man. Now it is clear that whatever actions proceed from a power, are caused by that power in accordance with the nature of its object. But the object of the will is the end and the good. Therefore, all human actions must be for an end.

Man differs from all other creatures in that he has reason to discern his end and to rule and govern himself so that he might achieve it. He is ‘master of his actions’ through reason and free will. ‘Free will is the faculty and will of reason’. Thus, free will is the exercise of capacity to choose what one knows to be good. Human actions, in contradistinction to the actions of other creatures, are the result of deliberation and the voluntary act. So a man is properly human when he wills the good that he is thinking on. So to be human a man must proceed with deliberate will. The object of the human will is its end or final good. Thus, a man’s proper or final end is his created nature, to which he is moved and moves by reason of his desire to find his perfection.

Reply to Objection 1: Although the end be last in the order of execution, yet it is first in the order of the agent’s intention. And it is this way that it is a cause.

The end is not only what man arrives at in the order of execution and time. It is also what moves man first in the order of thought. It is an end temporally but it is a beginning spiritually. So what man ends up with at last is what has moved man from the very beginning and at first. The end is thus the causal beginning.

Reply to Objection 2: If any human action be the last end, it must be voluntary, else it would not be human, as stated above. Now an action is voluntary in one of two ways: first, because it is commanded by the will, e.g. to walk, or to speak; secondly, because it is elicited by the will, for instance, the very act of willing. Now it is impossible for the very act elicited by the will to be the last end. For the object of the will is the end, just as the object of sight is color: wherefore just as the first visible cannot be the act of seeing, because every act of seeing is directed to a visible object; so the first appetible, i.e. the end, cannot be the very act of willing. Consequently, it follows that if a human action be the last end, it must be an action commanded by the will: so that there, some action of man, at least the act of willing, is for the end. Therefore, whatever a man does, it is true to say that man acts for an end, even when he does that action in which the last end consists.

For human action to be the last end it must be willed deliberately. What is being willed is an action in conformity to the final end or an action for the sake of the end in itself. The final end is God himself. The activity of willing from the human side is not elicited since if it was, it would not perfect the will as servant to the object of reason. So it is proper to say that man deliberately wills to submit himself to God for the sake of God alone. So the activity will be perfected when a man acts not out of self-interest or what he can gain from God but simply because the object itself –God in Himself, is to be desired for Himself. So what a man ought to desire is God and for no other reason than that God is desirable as the both the end and cause of all else.

Reply to Objection 3: Such like actions are not properly human actions; since they do not proceed from deliberation of the reason, which is the proper principle of human actions. Therefore, they have indeed an imaginary end, but not one that is fixed by reason.

         Actions that are done by the animal part of man are not properly human. They relate to sense perception and the imagination. They are moved and defined by appetites, instincts, and needs. They are not productive of the soul’s good, except accidentally and in so far as they enable the soul to pursue its final end as the cause of its happiness and well being.