An Investigation Into the Relationship Between Aristotelian Eudaimonia and Christian Discipleship: A Thomistic Perspective

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2022

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This thesis project explores Thomas Aquinas’ writings about eudaimonia (human flourishing, happiness) and its compatibility with Christian discipleship. Eudaimonia and Christian discipleship are not mutually exclusive ideas but can be synthesized in a meaningful manner. Moreover, I explore rational and theological ideas that challenge Thomistic understandings of bodily perfection in the attainment of happiness in this mortal life. In the second part of his imminent work The Summa Theologica, Aquinas seeks to integrate Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology. The cornerstone of his theoretical system is eudaimonia, human flourishing, well-being, or happiness. Aquinas ultimately concludes that perfect happiness (beatitude) cannot be achieved in this life. However, imperfect happiness is possible. Interestingly, this situates Aquinas between Aristotle, who believed in the attainability of eudaimonia in this life, and Augustine who taught that happiness was unattainable in this life. Rather, Augustine’s hope for happiness stemmed from his eschatological vision of the afterlife. The first part of my dissertation is exploratory by design, carefully examining Aquinas’ views on the essence and requirements for happiness, the dynamics of the will, the nature of intelligent substances, and the cultivation of the virtues. Through examining part II of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and Book 3 of his Summa Contra for the Gentiles, I critically explore the unity and sometimes disunity of Aristotle's ethical paradigm with Christian discipleship. The second part of my research project consists of a four-week Bible study entitled The Quest for Happiness: A Four-Week Journey With Thomas Aquinas. In addition to teaching the bible study, I will provide reflections on my experience with the class for my growth and development as a leader. Aquinas provides his readers with a unique ontological lens for discerning the dynamics of human behavior. His perspectives are neither antithetical or hostile toward Christian discipleship but provide unique perspectives on the will, human proclivities, and morality. Aquinas’ Aristotelian analysis of the will provides hope that in achieving a deeper understanding of moral behavior, we can better achieve our ultimate telos, eudaimonia, in this life and the life beyond.

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Williams, Donald Edward (2022). An Investigation Into the Relationship Between Aristotelian Eudaimonia and Christian Discipleship: A Thomistic Perspective. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/26777.

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