Guest speaker presents theories on happiness, human nature

Margaret Peppiatt
Staff Writer

A philosopher offered explanations for true happiness and the trustworthiness of human nature during an academic lecture in the Gentile Gallery Friday at 3 p.m.

Alexander Pruss, who holds doctorate degrees in mathematics and philosophy and is a professor of philosophy and the director of graduate studies at Baylor University, first discussed the nature of happiness in his talk entitled “Trusting Human Nature.”

Happiness is something worth having for its own sake, according to Aristotle, Pruss said. He named pleasure, money, health, moral goodness, love and art as examples of what people might believe bring about happiness.

Pruss said that permanent death gets in the way of happiness because it cuts short the practice of moral goodness, friendship and love.

Happiness thus depends on something infinite, he said.

“It seems that our fulfillment, our true happiness, requires something infinite. And, since we are finite, that infinite thing has to be outside of us,” said Pruss.

Pruss talked about an eternal friendship with an infinite being, which requires an immaterial soul because the brain cannot infinitely expand to accommodate such a relationship.

Pruss concluded that true happiness requires eternity, an infinite being and the soul.

Turning to the topic of human nature, Pruss said happiness could simply be the result of an evolutionary process that gives people the illusion of being happy. In this case, human nature is deceptive and not to be trusted.

Pruss countered this argument by presenting a theory of natural faith, saying that virtue is founded on the spiritual virtue of faith found in scripture.

“One of the central tenants for St. Thomas Aquinas was that grace builds on nature,” Pruss said, “and it makes sense that the supernatural virtue of faith would be building on something natural.”
According to Pruss, natural faith is “about trusting the things that have gone right unless there is a specific reason to doubt.”

He said materialism would hold that people trust human nature only by luck, but the best explanation for trustworthiness is the existence of an infinite being.

The talk was the annual St. Edith Stein lecture in Christian philosophy sponsored by the department of philosophy.