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Aquinas – Wealth and Power Essay

In Question II, Thomas Aquinas breaks down the complex question of where or in what man’s happiness consists, mainly by emphasizing wealth and power. While people dream of obtaining both wealth and power in their life, Aquinas emphasizes that both are neither good nor bad, and both make up a means to an end. Aquinas argues that happiness does not consist in “wealth” or “power”, yet presents another argument where he states that happiness can, indeed, be associated with wealth and power.

Aquinas begins his second question and first article by pondering the question of whether happiness consists in wealth. He breaks down the two types of wealth into artificial and natural. He describes natural wealth as something that “relieves man’s natural needs, such as food, drink, clothing, travel, shelter and so on.” In other words, natural wealth fulfills the needs of humans to live and “cannot be man’s ultimate end.” On the other hand, artificial wealth is “sought only for the sake of natural wealth.” Augustine argues that a man would have no artificial wealth unless he had natural wealth to begin with. With natural wealth, there is a finite amount of objects one needs in order to survive. For example, a person doesn’t not need to buy several large pizzas to satisfy their hunger, just a few slices to get some food in their stomach and go on with their day. On the other hand, artificial wealth revolves around objects for which people have endless desires for, such as money.

There are some people in society who feel that the only thing that matters in life is the amount of money you can earn before you die, just a dollar sign. However, money cannot buy happiness, wisdom, strong relationships, or virtue. Augustine backs up this point by quoting Proverbs 17:16 “What does it avail a fool to have riches, seeing he cannot buy wisdom?” Aquinas takes into account the arguments that say that happiness can, in fact, consist of riches by offering examples such as “all things obey money” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). Although he covers both possible sides, he offers his own stance on the question in his response where he covers the differences between artificial and natural wealth.

In Aquinas’ fourth article, he discusses the question of whether happiness consists in power. He argues that it is impossible to have happiness in power for two reasons. The first is that “power has the nature of a principle, whereas happiness has the nature of an ultimate end,” emphasizing that power is a means to an end. Second, he states that power is both good and evil and “happiness is the proper and perfect good of man.” Although the hook for a popular song, the quote “no one man should have all that power” uniquely resonates in Aquinas’ argument against happiness consisting of power. People may believe that if they have a greater sense of power, then they feel more important and “happier.” The more powerful someone grows, the greater their fear grows of losing the very power they obsess over.

A classic example from history is Joseph Stalin’s command over Russia. He was given so much power on behalf of the communist USSR that he let his sense of power overcome him. When he had caught word that there was someone planning a revolution in his cabinet, he had every single one of his high commanding officers killed. Very simply, power makes people do very abnormal things to remain in their high position. However, Aquinas argues that power can’t solve every problem in a person’s life. To quote Og Mandino, “All the gold in the world cannot buy a dying man one more breath– so what does that make today worth?” This quote accurately depicts that no matter how much power and wealth someone has, it all means nothing when you are facing death. Although one may seem highly satisfied with the power he possess, it is easily revocable and those with power fear they will lose it.

Aquinas presents that questions of whether happiness consists of “wealth” and “power” and presents firm arguments against each. Although he may find faults with each idea, especially the warnings of the abundant use of wealth and power, his idea still remains that both “wealth” and “power” are neither good nor bad things. For example, if a man is making enough money to feed his family and make a living for himself, that is a fine example of using wealth for good. However, Aquinas reminds us of the arguments against having “wealth” and “power” makes up a person’s overall happiness. Using both of these values for happiness is simply a means to an end, Thomas Aquinas emphasizes that these things do not lead to everlasting happiness, an argument that I agree with.

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